It was the first of November, the night the John Byrne Band hosted a release party for Byrne’s new CD, “A Shiver in the Sky,” at World Café Live.
Maura Dwyer, who plays both fiddle and cello for the band, had just gone offstage to the green room to warm up the violin. Before she did that, she had propped the cello up in a corner, which, she says, is usually a stable position. Suddenly, she heard the sound of guitarist Andy Keenan crying out in alarm onstage. That was followed by a resounding bang.
Long story short: Dwyer’s cello had tumbled off stage, breaking in two pieces.
John Byrne, who was also offstage, has a pretty fair idea how it happened.
“We were sound checking the drums,” Byrne explains. “I guess the vibrations from the kick drum (the bass drum) somehow did it. The cello went right off the stage. Nobody was even near it. None of us could believe it.”
Neither, of course, could Dwyer.
“It was really hard to look at,” she recalls. “I’d had the cello for a long time, and it was like an old friend. My parents bought it for me 20 years ago when I was in high school. I had to keep reminding myself that a cello doesn’t have any nerve endings and couldn’t feel pain.”
The full extent of the damage still isn’t known, she says. The cello is now in the hands of a luthier—“for major cello surgery”—who hopes to have it back to her in about a month.
At the same time, Dwyer is relieved that the break was so clean. The cello actually traveled about eight feet from where she had left it. The damage could have been much, much worse.
“It’s going to be a serious and expensive repair, but it could have been a lot worse,” she says. “The neck broke off pretty cleanly. The body of the cello didn’t have a scratch on it. There was a really fine crack near the neck area, though that might have already been there. It was pretty wild.”
The show must go on, of course, and Dwyer was able to secure a substitute. “It worked out,” she says. “My husband was near the violin shop in New Jersey and was able to pick one up. The cello arrived with just moments to spare.”
Also fortunately for Dwyer, she has a lot of friends—perhaps more than she knew.
Earlier this week, Byrne posted a GoFundMe page online, trying to raise $2,500 to help cover the costs of the repair. By Wednesday night, the appeal had brought in $2,600.
“It’s incredible. I’m blown away by it,” says Byrne. At the same time, he’s not surprised. There’s a large community that has grown around his band—and music in the Delaware Valley in general—and they evidently recognized a good cause when they saw it.
Many musicians contributed, which Byrne also finds unsurprising. “I think musicians know what it’s like when they have an expensive piece of equipment,” he says. “It’s a huge deal.”
The generosity of others is also, he says, a tribute to Maura Dwyer.
“Maura has probably been with me the longest,” Byrne says. “She was one of the first people I went to over 10 years ago when I knew I wanted to try something different. I had this idea of the cello taking the role of the uilleann pipes but to also do other things with my original music.”
Maura has a pretty big fan base, he says. When Byrne introduces his band, “the biggest cheer definitely comes for Maura. That says a lot about her as a player and a person.”
The money raised will come in handy, he adds. Whatever is left over from the cost of repairs will go to the charity Musicopia, which, among other things, provides musical instruments for students in need.
As for her part, Dwyer finds the generosity of others gratifying.
“I feel like I’m still processing it,” she says. “I wouldn’t be comfortable asking for attention myself. The generosity of so many people coming together is really amazing, and I’m very grateful.”