Collaboration, or joining the rest of the world

Let’s face it: a lot of us musicians have a big chip on our shoulder(s). Our shoulders, in fact, are very tired from two decades or more of professional training — and that’s before we turn thirty. When we finish school, hit the big time ( … ), and launch our careers, it seems only right that people pay some attention to us.

As a string quartet, it’s an expectation for us that when people come to see one of our concerts, WE will be the show. That’s what chamber music is all about, that’s what we’ve worked so hard for. Right? Two violins, a viola and a cello: what more could anyone want?

Well, turns out this mentality hasn’t been working so well for classical music lately. Some people don’t even know what a string quartet is, and they’re definitely not convinced it’s the best way they could spend their Saturday night. Many people, who could eventually be turned on to classical / chamber / contemporary music, haven’t seen the way that this music could become more integrated into their daily cultural lives. And part of the reason is that we haven’t done a great job of integrating.

Enter collaboration. These two weeks, we have the marvelously fun experience of rehearsing with Manual Cinema. It’s a collaboration that throws an entirely new set of elements into our process: “So, should the glissando come when the bird is flying off the screen?” “What kind of mood do we want when the father and son get separated?” Suddenly, the music we’ve rehearsed so diligently is utterly flexible. We’re making a cut? We’re adding a repeat?! What would Mozart say!? Well, the composer’s right here and he’s okay with it.

I think a lot of classical musicians might have trouble sharing the spotlight, or question whether all the extra trouble is worth it.

But I’m deeply convinced that it’s not only worth it, it’s the kind of thing we need to start doing more often. We need to put ourselves outside our comfort zones, and find new ways to be a part of artistic life. Chamber music belongs in far, far more places than it currently lives. Maybe the question shouldn’t be, ‘How do we get more people at our concerts?” Instead, maybe it should be, “What do people love? What are people excited about? And how can a string quartet be a part of that?”

From the very first Manual Cinema show I ever saw, I’ve felt strongly that they were creating something very, very special. And we get to be a part of it for FJORDS. What this means is that a whole bunch of people — who might NEVER have come to our shows otherwise — are going to get a glimpse of what a live string quartet can be: sad, romantic, luscious, scary, funny.

We’re very lucky indeed to have this opportunity and couldn’t ask for more fun, flexible and great collaborators. Thanks Manual Cinema, for sharing your (big, new, beautiful) screen with us.