Music teacher creates stories for kids

Kristen Grimmer

Steven Elisha does more than deftly teach cello techniques and musicality to his students or artfully perform masterpieces on his own cello. He is also an artist who seeks to transcend the norm by fusing his own musical improvisations on his instrument with creative tales in what he calls his “Mr. Cello Stories.”

Elisha, who is the cello professor at Washburn University, started his Mr. Cello Stories a few years ago in Toledo, Ohio. At the time he was working with a poet to provide a musical counterpart to fit the poetry. After their performance together Elisha decided to try this idea out on his own. He began to put his own improvisations with made up stories in order to teach younger children more about music and thus Mr. Cello Stories came about.

Elisha first gains the interest of the audience by telling a whimsical story he makes up as he goes along while he plays music on his cello to go along with the words of the story. His improvisational music works to help set the mood of the story and to emphasize different parts. After a couple of these he picks children who volunteer from the audience to come up and help him. Then he begins weaving another story while asking the children to pick words to fill in the blanks he leaves while continuing to add his improvised musical counterpart. This way the children can help to direct the story and flex their own creative juices with Mr. Cello.

Elisha said he aimed the performances of Mr. Cello Stories toward children because he felt that there was a great need for younger generations to become involved in some way with music and the arts.

“Children have such wonderful imaginations. Many of them will be future musicians so something like the Mr. Cello Stories can draw them into the world of music,” Elisha said.

Alice Eberhart-Wright brought her great-granddaughter to one of Elisha’s performance of the Mr. Cello Stories. She said that she felt it was delightful for all ages to watch but especially so for the children because it interests them to music in a unique way.

Larisa Elisha, artist in residence at Washburn University, says that what her husband does with the Mr. Cello Stories is wonderful.

“This type of spontaneous improvisation is very creative. When children are allowed to be in such close contact with a world class musician it can be a turning point for them,” Larisa Elisha said.

Elisha continues to perform the Mr. Cello Stories throughout the year even with his busy schedule because he feels that programs like his that work to enhance children’s musical creativity should be an important facet of their education.

Samuel Cho, a student in the music department at Washburn University, agrees.

“It’s a very creative idea, to put a story and music together at the same time. Dr. Elisha has a great sense of humor and you can see that when he interacts with children,” Cho said. “He really cares about his students and his work.”

Stephen Elisha and Larisa Elisha will be performing on Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in White Concert Hall in the Elaris Duo and Friends concert. For a closer look at Mr. Cello Stories visit