By Chauntee and Monique Ross | From the November-December 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Sisters Chauntee (violin, vocals) and Monique (cello, vocals) Ross of SistaStrings have recorded two albums with Peter Mulvey, most recently Love Is the Only Thing on Righteous Babe Records. They’re members of Allison Russell’s touring band, the Rainbow Coalition of the Loving, and spent the summer of 2022 touring with Brandi Carlile.
Title of Work Being Studied: “Her Name Was”
Date Composed: Fall 2018
Name of Edition: Own manuscript
Chauntee: My sister, Monique, and I are working with an original piece, “Her Name Was.” After the shutdown in 2020, we decided to make a huge life change and move from our hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Nashville! It’s been a year since the move, and we have found such a home and camaraderie in the string community here. This led to working with the amazing composer/cellist Larissa Maestro on a couple of our songs. She arranged the most gorgeous string lines, and we simply never want to hear the song again without those parts! We used this version to enter NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. Additionally, we are in the process of writing and recording demos for our debut album and revisiting our approach. This song has had such an impact on our growth as songwriters and artists.
Monique: I am extremely passionate about this piece. I was in a toxic relationship with the father of my child, and it consumed every part of me. Something about abuse makes you isolate yourself and feel like no one could possibly understand what you are going through. This piece was written not long after I left that situation to create a healthy environment for myself. Chauntee and I were roommates, but at that time, Chauntee was away on tour with the Sphinx Virtuosi, and I was back in our house in Milwaukee. Did I mention how alone I was feeling?! While in the shower, I was trying to look at my life from outside of myself, and the lyrics to this song began to pour out of me. When I listen to those original voice memos, it is beautiful and heart wrenching because I was in such a vulnerable and broken state of being. The song sat unfinished until Chauntee returned home.
Chauntee: Growing up, it was all about the strings for us. We took lessons and went to festivals and invested so much time in that part of our music education. Singing was more of a hobby than anything we took seriously. It was more of a natural thing to sing, and we began weaving it into our song choices and compositions. While singing came naturally for us, singing and playing our instruments simultaneously did not. There was a lot of time and intention required to figure that out and we’re still learning! The key is to never give up and don’t take yourself too seriously.
SistaStrings is our passion project, but within that, we are collaborators as well. We’ve collaborated with artists of all genres over the years and that has only enriched our relationship with music. This song was written in 2018, but we started SistaStrings in 2014 after college. In collaborating, we were able to find our unique style and learn a lot about songwriting, composing, and the business side of being independent artists.
What SistaStrings Plays
Chauntee: I absolutely love my Vanna So violin that I’ve been playing since 2008. It was made in 2007 and I’m its first owner. The wife of the violin shop’s owner is a violinist in the Chicago Symphony, and when the CSO was on tour she used this violin. She loved the instrument as well but thankfully didn’t keep it when she found out a college-bound teenager wanted it.
I love a pop of color, so I use a seafoam Tonareli case. It looks like a baby cello case, and I adore it. I have two bows that I use. The first is a William Harris Lee bow that’s super bouncy and bright. For my gigs with amplified instruments, I’ll use my viola bow, which I get with a mixture of the black and white hair. I break bow hairs a lot of the time playing in rock bands or shredding solos.
Monique: We’re from Milwaukee originally so I got my cello from a local instrument maker. It has a rich sound that immediately captured me. It’s not always about how much an instrument costs, but rather if it fits into your musical life. I have a couple of cases, as I’m touring a lot these days. I have a Bam case that I got this year. It’s lightweight and portable, which is crucial when you spend a lot of time in airports!