Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Why We Do It – Reflections on Opening Night”

After our recent concert opening The Arts at Trinity series in Wilmington (DE), my quartet mates and I shared an exchange of messages from several concert-goers that was especially gratifying. It highlighted for me, rather dramatically, and certainly very movingly, “why we do it”.

Why do we do it? Why do we play string quartets??  Well - for the music, for the art, for the process , of course!

But …let me tell you what happened this time.

Larry’s message was from a father who is seeking the best spot for his daughter, a high-school cellist, to attend college as a music major.   The father was relating how special it was for his daughter to be there, to talk with Larry afterwards, and to hear “the wonderful music Serafin String Quartet provided”. The gentleman said he drove almost 100 miles to get there will do it again in April (when SSQ will return to close Trinity’s season). “Every mile was worth driving,” the man wrote. How heartwarming for us to connect with this caring and attentive father, and how exciting that we were able to deliver an experience for his daughter, and for him, that they both want to repeat!!

Tim received a message from an adult amateur violinist who plays in the Community Orchestra. Hearing us play the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet triggered a touching reminiscence of her dear, life-long pianist friend, now in elder years and experiencing dementia. Today, her pianist friend can only poke a few notes out here and there, but at the time she “played a pretty mean piano!”  This listener was spirited back 25 years, recalling how she and her friend, with some devoted others, read through the Dohnanyi from time to time,  Hearing the quintet flooded this listener with memories of reading through the piece with this friend and their happy satisfaction at exploring this wonderful work together. “I treasure those times,” she wrote, “they were some of the most valuable times of my life. It’s what I call feeding the soul.” How gratifying for us to be a conduit for this listener to recall and reconnect with “what matters”.

I also received a message – mine from one of my nearest and dearest friends, who described herself as an “unsophisticated” listener, new to classical music. She shared with us her amazing experience of finding a thrilling and profound connection to her emotions while listening to the Mozart, Beethoven and Dohnanyi – each one evoking in her a different landscape of feelings, images and ideas. It was one of the most “tuned-in” expressions of the connecting to the content of the music that I have heard – and prompted me to assure her that, far from “unsophisticated”, she actually is tapped in to the real essence of the music - and completely “getting it” at the most important level –  listening with a sophisticated heart!! For more than 30 years she believed she did not, would not, or could not appreciate classical music.  How thrilling for us to be part of her discovery of the varied, deep, and expansive world of classical music and the riches it delivers to the attentive listener!!

These messages spanned 3 generations – and each was dramatic, heartfelt and enthusiastic – reinforcing my confidence in the greatness of the artworks of chamber music that we are so privileged to perform. And, more importantly - it reinforced to me their inherent accessibility and ability to touch any receptive heart!   This, I must say, is why we do it!!

-Kate Ransom  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Musical Welcome

Last fall, I made a big life change: moving from Canada to the US indefinitely to join the faculty of the University of Delaware.  Luckily, the first people I got to know in my new home were the Serafin String Quartet.  Before I was a member, before even beginning to teach at the University of Delaware, my first experience here was preparing for a concert with them when former violist Molly Carr had a conflict.  I was immediately drawn into their special world of music-making.  Apparently, I was also on trial for the job, and I can assure everyone that if you are going to audition for anything, it's best to be unconscious of the fact.  Much more pleasant! 

I want to talk a little about the rehearsal process I dove into last August, as I feel that's at the heart of what makes this group so wonderful.  Quartet playing is about communication: you are all trying to craft a powerful message to the audience, and as anyone who watched the recent presidential debates can attest, there are thousands of tiny details that affect the impact and the presentation of this message. The way four different people with vastly different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents arrive at a unified concept is fascinating. Firstly, there are the raw materials.  Everyone has their own unique way of hearing the piece they are playing together.  How they hear their own line, but also how they hear the group’s message can be very different at times.  What's amazing is that before any words are even spoken, with sensitive listening, quartet musicians respond to what the others are playing, and thus communicate their intentions.  Like good friends or family members who bring out the best in you, quartet mates challenge your ideas.  I’m an idealist, believing that though the best product comes from experimentation with many ideas, we can still arrive at a consensus.  The curiosity and openness of this group, but moreover  the dedication to excellence when musical ideas are formed, is truly inspirational.  Right away, the Serafins felt like the best musical friends I could hope for.  

I can’t resist taking a second here as I introduce myself to say a word about the viola.  Canadians are notoriously poor self-promoters, likewise violists, but I think I can get away with it in this, my first blog-post.  For me, the middle voices are the heart, the inner warmth of chamber music.  Of course we have our solo moments and, like all instruments in a string quartet, have to play many roles at different times.  But the essential role in much of the classical repertoire we play is a contrapuntal inner voice, representing the tenor or alto voice.  In the works of great composers (e.g.  Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, all on the menu this delicious season!) the inner voices add an amazing dimension.  They are often the parts lending subtle harmonic colour to a melody, or providing some rhythmic undercurrent that transforms the meaning of the piece’s main line.  In the case of Beethoven’s Harp Quartet, which we will perform October 20th at Trinity Episcopal Church, the viola provides a harrowing counterpart  to the first violin’s serene opening melody in the second movement.   When I am an audience member and I catch myself emotionally disengaged, I take a moment and listen to the workings of the inner voices.  Usually in moments I am a weepy puddle.  In fact this technique is not recommended on dates, or any moments where you would prefer to look respectable post-concert.  However, if you are seeking an intense, overwhelming classical music experience, the inner voices are where it’s at!

Until next time,
Esme Allen-Creighton