These performances are also just so much fun for us. I always feel like we're celebrating what I love most about playing in a string quartet: the incredible scope, depth, and variety of the repertoire. We played selections from works by Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak, Ravel, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. It's simply amazing to me how different the sound world of each of these composers is, and I love being able to experience them all in one program.
After the performance, we had the opportunity to hang out with the audience and capitalize on one of the great perks of playing in a club: the transition to the post-concert celebration is absolutely effortless. One audience member told me that this was his first classical music concert in a very long time. Would he have made the leap back to classical music if it had been in a concert hall and not at the Varsity? I wish that it would have crossed my mind at the time to ask him. Regardless, I'm pretty sure he had a great time, as did we. Many thanks to everyone at MPR who made this event happen.
However, since we have embarked on the journey of playing in non-traditional venues, such as the Varsity Theatre in Minneapolis, we have learned that there is a good chance that we will not ever fully know what to expect beforehand. Actually, the same conditions are present: acoustics of the venue, vibe of audience, all of the things I listed before, but somehow, the margin of what can happen seems so much greater. This is what makes it such an adventure and potentially so exciting.
I'll give you an example from a few years ago. It was the fist club show for our residency at Barbés, in Brooklyn, and since we were about to record the complete string quartets of Ligeti, and we knew the audience there could handle it, we decided to play all of Ligeti's quartets. It was so exciting. The tiny room was packed as if people were sardines, and at one point, it got so warm that someone actually fainted. Luckily, I think that person was totally ok. The thing I was struck with, however, was the sense of community - while we were playing and explaining a little about the pieces, it felt like everyone there was really part of one community with us to take this adventure into Ligeti's quartets, and then when this person fainted, the same sense of community was present. Everyone around this person made sure everything was ok and that the person was taken care of, and then when they were sure that everything was ok, the Ligeti continued. Of course, there's also the story of the drunk guy who knocked over Dan's stand, but I won't go into that one....
Fortunately, the Varsity is not nearly as small as Barbés, I don't think anyone fainted, and our stands were out of reach, but I still felt that there was a real sense of community for the exploration of what we were doing, and for that, I'm very thankful.
The quartet has been busy as well. We've been traveling a lot since the beginning of March - we've been to Blacksburg, VA, Helena, MT, Logan, UT, La Crosse, WI, and most recently to Chicago.
A lot of the work we've done at these places have involved some sort of outreach work. We were at the above-mentioned places for about a week each (with the exception of VA and Chicago), each week culminating in a concert. The rest of the time was spent doing outreach activities in the public schools.
I call this past month the 'Month of Outreach.' Even when we were home, we were doing outreach around the Twin Cities as part of our residency with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as going up to St Cloud a couple of times.
Outreach can be a very difficult and all-consuming activity, especially if you're doing 3-4 of these in one day! In this situation, not only are we performers, but we must act as educators, disciplinarians, and public speakers! This is not really something that is taught at Conservatory... However, we've been around the block long enough to know what to expect.
In order to have a successful outreach, you must present it in a way that will make it accessible, entertaining, and 'cool' to the children (as well as being educational). This means curtailing and adjusting programs based on musical experience, education, age/grade, number of children, etc. But, even with this knowledge, you never really know what to expect until you're actually there - you must go in prepared to be flexible.
This blog posting was supposed to center around our performance at the Varsity Theater, which happened last week. I mention our experiences with outreach in public schools above, because our approach to these is actually quite similar to the way we prepare for a performance at an 'alternative' venue, such as the Varsity. My approach to this, is to basically think of our audience as grown-up children. Attention spans, usually longer in grown-ups, will be shorter in those not accustomed to listening to classical music. And the whole point of playing in 'alternative' venues is to target an audience demographic that normally wouldn't come to a concert in a more traditional setting - so we have to tailor our program so that it will leave a lasting impression on someone who might not ever listen to classical music.
If we left the Varsity that evening having turned even just 2 or 3 people on to classical music, I would be happy.
Oh yes, and one of the perks of playing at a place like this? Drinking on the job! And, there's something very cool about being called a 'band member,' and getting wristbands that say 'VIP.'