With me from left – Bayla Keyes and Lois Shapiro of Triple Helix, and concert presenter Ruth Haddock, director of the Jefferson Academy of Music. We’re in front of a mural of Alexej von Jawlensky’s “Schokko with Red Hat.”
First off, sorry to be gone so long! I realize that it’s been far too long since I posted, but I do have a good excuse. Many of you know about my dream to start a community-based string quartet, and it’s up and running. We’re called 4-Way (in honor of Cincinnati’s famous chili), and we’ll have a website and PR materials up any day now. In fact, we are rehearsing for our debut concert, on Sunday, March 13 at Cincinnati’s Taft Museum. I will post more about that soon, but today, I wanted to share a story about a recent adventure I had.
As our recent quartet rehearsals have reminded me, so much of playing chamber music is slow, painstaking work – everyone practices their part, comes to rehearsal and hashes out the details of how the music will sound. EVERYTHING is up for discussion – how fast is it going to go; how loud is this section; does this phrase go to here or to there; up-bow or down (there’s a discussion that can kill an entire afternoon!); could we play this section more in the style of a hurdy-gurdy; etc.
And then, there’s the dots. Many notes in a piece of music will have dots on them, and musicians love to sit around and talk about what they mean (usually, that the note is shorter than it could be). This can take all day. There are some rehearsals where I’ve felt “Forget about seeing the forest for the trees, we’re arguing about one pine needle on the ground.”
In all seriousness, all this detailed work is essential to making music, and the back and forth that goes on in rehearsal is actually a lot of fun. But, sometimes I wonder, “What if we could skip all that and fast forward to the fun part?” I had that exact experience this past Sunday.
Thanks to some quick thinking by one of my employers, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, I got a last-minute chance to fill in with a terrific piano trio, Boston’s Triple Helix. Their cellist, Rhonda Rider, got sick and couldn’t make the trip for their concert at the Columbus Museum of Art (luckily, she has recovered).
It was a real treat for me to play with such a high-level group – I felt the way a minor league baseball player must feel when they get called up to the big leagues. Pianist Lois Shapiro and violinist Bayla Keyes, who have played in this group for 20 years, were incredibly gracious and welcoming – I felt right at home immediately.
And of course, we didn’t have time for any of the discussion I mentioned earlier- we had one rehearsal Sunday morning, and the concert was that afternoon. I had played the music before, and the trio of course had as well, and so my job was very easy – just jump in and try to keep up with their interpretation. They had done all the decision-making already – I just got to have fun!
In one way, it reminded me of the very first chamber group I ever played in, when I had only been playing the cello for a year.
My teacher got a call from the School for Strings, a New York Suzuki school – they needed an extra cellist for a string quartet, and she sent me. I was 12, and walked into a group that was made up of 14 year-olds. We started playing a quartet by David Stone (I still remember the opening tune), and I remember thinking, “I have no idea what is going on here, but I’m enjoying it!” From that day forward, playing quartets has been my favorite way to make music.
Being the least experienced player in that group was great for me, and over the years, I’ve had the chance to be the low man on the totem pole a few times, both as a student and professional. Sunday’s concert was a nice reminder that there’s always lots to learn from great colleagues, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that with 4-Way in the weeks and years to come. As I mentioned, I’ll have an update from our rehearsals and more information about that March 13 concert soon.
In the meantime, to Bayla and Lois from Triple Helix, presenter Ruth Haddock of the Jefferson Academy of Music, as well as my ProMusica bosses, Executive Director Janet Chen and board president Steve Keyes – thanks for a great time!
Till next time,