Monday, May 10, 2010

String Quartet – A Fragile Ecosystem

Hi Y’all – here are some Blog notes from Kate.

The fragile ecosystem of the “string quartet” has often been described in joking terms – (“a bad marriage between four people”, for example, or: “What’s the difference between a string quartet and a pizza? – a pizza can feed a family of four”). Quartets don’t generate lavish incomes, and the dynamics of interacting can challenge even the most cooperative among us! News of the latest “musical chairs” rotations in quartets around the world never surprises me.

The cooperative dependence of string quartet life goes very deep. “Change one, you change the whole” is profoundly lived out in string quartet life.

Serafin String Quartet was founded in 2001, and has enjoyed hard-won stability in personnel since 2007 when Ana joined us. SSQ has endured through changes – starting with the sudden and unexpected loss of founding violist, Tony Simmons, in 2005, when he was killed in a car crash at the age of 38. In the face of this tragedy, we “changed one” and later found that the group had changed entirely. SSQ has shown resilience and sustained its presence when others would have long ago sounded their last chords.

What allows or inspires one ensemble to continue when others would stop? Not sure- but in the case of SSQ, our esprit, purpose and ability to make our work “about the music” have certainly contributed. And, most serious quartet players I know are pretty darn persistent.

Serafin String Quartet consciously recognizes our professional inter-dependence in a number of ways:

First, we are cognizant, individually, of the importance of “being there” and that the group cannot be what it is if one of us is not there. Rehearsals and concerts are serious commitments. Sure, we can play the concert somehow, and cover the engagement – but without the four of us there, we are not really SSQ – not reflecting the hours of rehearsal, study, thought and practice that go into crafting the right style, balance, tone, color, etc that we have decided upon, together, for each work. So, we share the recognition of, and respect for, our personal responsibility to the group and the other members – for the “greater good”.

Secondly, we operate like a business in specific ways. We have a letter of agreement between the four of us, stating the key elements of our commitments to one another and to the entity. And we have financial policies and practices that articulate how we will manage our expenses and pay-outs to the members of the group. We follow a budget and project our expenses and income.

Third, we meet periodically and discuss our expectations, goals, objectives, projects, finances, and philosophy. And we strive, not perfectly, but pretty well, to keep the discussions open amongst the four of us and keep “parking lot” conversation to a minimum – certainly about any issues related to the Quartet.

Finally, we like each other (!) and respect each others’ musicianship and artistic accomplishment. We have a good time together most of the time – laugh a lot, work hard, and do our best to accommodate each others’ idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, without compromising what we are striving to achieve as an ensemble. We take a lot of satisfaction in sharing the Quartet experience, and our lives.
Here we are, enjoying each others'company, and a few beverages.

I have a pillow in my house that a friend gave me – it says “chamber musicians play well with others!”

Certainly – that is one of the cardinal rules of healthy ensemble life! For me, life in SSQ is a labor of love that yields artistic fulfillment. It ain’t always easy, but it sure is worth it!

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