Bringing who we (actually) are to chamber music

I had a pretty big revelation last week about what, exactly, I’ve been hoping to accomplish through my work with Chicago Q Ensemble over the years. In my time with the ensemble, I’ve often felt a sense of searching, experimenting, trying things out and seeing what feels the best.

Last week, I think I realized what I am searching for. I am searching for a way to connect my chamber music performances to the person that I am, the life that I am living.

That might seem sort of silly, because of course, music (and what it expresses) is deeply connected to our human experience. And every time we step onstage with our instruments, we are bringing ourselves and everything we have to the table.

But I think I’ve always wanted the connection to be more concrete than that. I wanted to place the music in a context that expressed my vision for what the music is. I wanted to be saying something. But how can we say something in our own voice when we are, in fact, working to bring the composer’s voice to life? Being a “mere performer” sometimes has a distancing effect on me. Could there be room for both my voice and the composer’s voice? The ensemble’s vision, and the composer’s?

In our upcoming show THREE-SIDED, which will debut at Constellation on November 24, Q is exploring that question. Our staging collaborator, Deirdre Harrison, is working with us to use theatrical elements — movement, interaction, lighting, onstage objects, clothing — to bring the ensemble’s personal experience and personal context to life. We’re delving into the symbolic, emotional, physical and musical content of Andrew Norman’s “A Companion Guide to Rome” and shaping a particular arc of experience for the audience.

What does all of that mean? We’re learning. Deirdre brings an amazing and diverse theater background to our work together, as well as great skill as a leader and facilitator of creative discussion and collaboration. We’re looking at performance artists and movement-based theater for inspiration. We’re thinking about what it might mean to process onstage in silence, or assume the posture of a 9th-century martyred saint, or light a match onstage within inches of a cello. How does the Norman connect to Aimee’s fifteen months spent injured on the sidelines? What about my year and a half grieving my mom? What about Sara’s personal journey?

Q has always placed interdisciplinary collaboration at the heart of our mission, but I think this is the deepest we’ve ever taken that idea. We can’t just slap some photos up on a screen or tack a monologue onto a Beethoven trio movement. We have to look deeply at where the connections really lie. We truly don’t know where the process is going. It’s scary and it’s exciting. We hope you’ll join us for the results in November and beyond.

PS: Due to an unusual problem with our email newsletter, we think many of you may have missed our September announcement about Kate’s departure from the group. If you didn’t get the news, we invite you to check it out anytime, and also to keep up with Kate on her website,