From the Archive

More reasons why eighth blackbird rules.

What I Learned Watching eighth blackbird’s YouTube Channel on a Saturday Night:

1. They use the metronome. A lot. And it is hooked up to an enormous amp.

2. They sometimes don’t rehearse with a score and have to run around looking at each other’s parts to figure out what is happening. Like us!

3. They appear to be willing to do almost anything, including spend a lot of time with a choreographer teaching them various movement techniques.

4. They memorize insanely complicated music.

5. They look like they are having a LOT of fun.

This makes me all the more excited to begin rehearsals of Patrick’s piece tomorrow. I only hope we can throw ourselves into the performance of this music with half the virtuosity, gusto and good spirits that 8bb does!

- Ellen

The lofty goals of our training -- and then, everything else.

After our first major performance of Beethoven’s Opus 18 no. 5 last Thursday, Chicago Q got the wonderful opportunity to perform it again last night, as part of Kate’s final DMA violin recital at Northwestern. It’s always great to perform a major work for the second time — knowing for certain that you’ve done it before, successfully, is a liberating feeling. (P.S. That’s right — Kate is (almost) done with her doctorate! Major congratulations! We may start calling her Dr. Carter in rehearsal, just for kicks.)

On the ride home, Liz (our cellist) and I were talking about quartet intonation. Liz had been listening to some recent performance recordings, and feeling like we still have significant work to do in the intonation department, and learning whom to tune to at crucial moments. (Hint: she’s a particularly interested party because the answer is almost always, to the cello!) I completely agreed with her, and I mentioned how my own rush of adrenaline often compromises my ability to adjust tuning during performances. We talked about ways to address this: speaking with experienced quartet cellists, reading others’ ideas on tuning strategy, and — of course — continuing to rehearse and train our own ears at the highest possible level.

We both (well … almost, in my case!) have Master’s degrees in music performance and have spent the bulk of our lives immersed in highly technical matters such as these. In fact, Liz spent her MM degree at Wisconsin as cellist of the graduate quartet-in-residence. Yet amazingly, in the car, Liz said: “I feel like we’re still new at this!” And I knew exactly what she meant.

The journey of students and teachers

If there’s one thing that being at the WCMS Festival this summer taught me, it’s that every musician is on his or her own journey. Teachers, mentors, parents and friends are there with us, nudging us this way or that way, exposing us to an idea, a piece of music, or a person who could change our trajectory forever. But at the end of the day, it’s really no one else’s journey.

As a teacher, I’m accustomed to feeling like a tour guide on my students’ journey. I’ve been traveling in the land of the violin for awhile, and I know some things they don’t know. I’ve made mistakes, and I can help my students avoid them. The way I play, the exercises I teach, the pieces I assign, the language I use, the attitude I expect — these are all major signposts along my students’ unique paths. As every teacher knows, this feels like a Very. Big. Responsibility.

Behind the scenes: the beginnings of FJORDS

A couple nights back, Q met up with our friends and collaborators Manual Cinema to hammer out the details of our big collaborative project, FJORDS, based on poems by Zachary Schomburg. We’re so excited! If you’re not familiar with Manual Cinema’s work, check out their website, which has some beautiful trailers to give you a taste of what they do.

Myrmyr gives a masterclass in awesome

Last weekend, Tyler and I went to see the Oakland-based electroacoustic duo Myrmyr at Enemy, a tiny secret-type venue on the third floor of a building right near the buzzing intersection of Damen, North & Milwaukee in Wicker Park. I’d seen a photo of Myrmyr, along with a recommendation from Peter Margasak, in the Reader that day.

Their photo made me instantly excited. I can haz women composers and string players?

Arriving at Enemy was sort of like arriving at a meeting of Fight Club. Three flights of abandoned, industrial stairs; a tiny plaque reading ENEMY in neon green; a heavy metal door. “After you,” my brave husband said.

Composer/performer therapy session 1

Monday night was our first composition workshop with Kyle Vegter and Manual Cinema, in preparation for our February collaboration, FJORDS. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that this workshop was awesome because of the ways in which it required all parties to leave their egos at the door (of Aimee’s new, awesome Bucktown apartment). Sometimes I think performers and composers need to get therapy together. So many neuroses to contend with.

Goodbye violin, hello fun stuff

Last night’s composition session with Kyle, also known as Composer/Performer Therapy Session 2, was awesome.

Kyle has a great home studio setup in his basement; last night we recorded Kyle’s piece WHAT WOULD KILL ME, inspired by Zachary Schomburg’s poem of the same name. (Zach uses all caps in his titles — I don’t mean to yell!) Manual Cinema is going to use the recording as the music for an amazing Kickstarter campaign video.

The music is is totally starting to come together. Now that we’ve rehearsed, looked at the score, and practiced our parts (see previous panic post about sightreading), the music came through in all of its creepy, atmospheric and colorful glory.

But forget all this string quartet business. Let’s talk about the REAL reason that I am excited.

Lots going on in Q territories.

We are SO excited to welcome our new cellist, Sara Sitzer! This means, though, that we’re saying a bittersweet goodbye to our founding cellist, Liz Weamer. After several years of successful freelancing and teaching — and working her butt off as a founding member of our group — Liz has begun a new career in physical therapy, and must now part ways from us.

Chicago Q Ensemble wouldn’t be what it is today without Liz’s amazing musical and organizational contributions. She remains a friend and teammate for life!

Happily, Sara and Liz know each other well from their years at UW-Madison. Sara joins us after three years in Miami playing with the New World Symphony; she recently won a seat in the Elgin Symphony and so has joined her husband Richard here in Illinois. She’s an amazing player, a lovely person, and an entrepreneur (she’s the founding artistic director of her very own music festival, the Gesher Festival in St. Louis). We’re so lucky to have her!

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