Saskia Rao-de Haas – She’s Invented the Indian cello

That foreigners who come to India fall in love with the country is stating the obvious. Saskia Rao-de Haas, a native of Holland, had travelled all the way to India to pursue her love for music and receive tutelage from the legendary -Hari Prasad Chaurasia. This is almost a decade ago.


De Haas, a cello student in Holland, came to India to discover more rhythms for her cello. During one of her training sessions she found that the seating arrangement was discourteous. While the guru sat uncomfortably on the floor, she had to sit elevated on a chair with her huge cello. “That is when I decided to create an Indian version of the cello. I got in touch with a friend who is an instrument builder in Holland and we discussed the design,” said DeHaas.

Her invention, the cello that she designed is many sizes smaller than its inspiration, and is equipped with five playing strings and 10 resonating strings versus the standardized four playing strings in a cello. “I started experimenting and the resonating strings were added to make it Indian. We created an acoustic version and an electro-acoustic version,” she explained.

De Haas’s friend manufactured three India cellos. Two of them are with her and her students. The third is possessed by a Dutch playing musician. Amid all these, De Haas met her soul mate and husband, sitar exponent Shubhendra Rao, at a gig. They married and have been residing in India since 2000.

She teaches children acquire skills in vocals, flute, xylophone and simple percussion, with support from volunteers. “The first year of the training is all about basics. Vocals are the easiest to train in. After two years, we let children specialise in any music instrument too,” she said.

The couple has also set up the Indian Music Foundation (IMF) under which all these training projects happen. IMF also designs music curriculum for schools. “The schools which have implemented the curriculum love it. Shiv Nadar and Mother’s International are examples,” quoted De Haas.

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