The Parker Quartet, our artists-in-residence last year, played Carnegie Hall the other night, and got this warmly appreciative review from the New York Times. Congratulations to the group.
And we're still basking in the success of last week's drive--again, a big vote of thanks to all of you who contributed.
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.'
Posted at 3:48 PM on March 10, 2010
by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Parker Quartet
The Parker Quartet just returned from their final "outstate" concert in the Artists-in-Residence series, playing last week in Decorah. They will perform again at the Varsity in Minneapolis on April 15. Read the quartet's previous entry
Being in Decorah was a particularly great experience for me because my sister Chrissy now lives there! Chrissy is a cellist, and is teaching this semester at Luther College. She recently received her DMA from Rice University in Houston, TX.
On the day of the concert, I had a bit of time to explore Phelps Park, which is very close to Chrissy's apartment in Decorah. It was incredibly beautiful, and a great place to be on the afternoon of a concert--very refreshing, but not strenuous to explore. Below are some pictures from the park. And yes, that is a buffalo in the last picture. Fake, but life-size. Don't know who put it there...
Other little surprises:
- The Hotel Winneshiek is a very nice, old world style hotel with a unique structure, big comfy rooms, and bathrooms elegant and large enough to be called a luxury studio in New York City. By the way jet tubs are sweeeet.
- The music department at Luther College is the largest department at the college!
- I had the opportunity to listen to an undergraduate quartet play the opening movement of Mozart's Dissonance quartet. We spent an hour discovering how beauty reveals itself in the Adagio, and they helped me realize that the character of the Allegro is like going to a party.
- Oh what a great hall. 350 seats, good acoustics, good vibe, nice design. . . Who would of thought that Decorah would have a fantastic chamber music hall??
- Oneota food coop. A very satisfying coop.
- Jess and I visited a nice little shop called Grooves (I think). I like to sort through used CD's and DVD's when we are in random cities and this was a great place to do that. We walked away with 3 albums for $16. 1) Nina Simone 2) Music of Zaire and 3) the Forrest Gump soundtrack.
All in all, I had a good time visiting Decorah and it's nice to see that music lives strong in that town. Signing out - Dan
And what a great 'traditional' concert space! I was remarking with one of the teachers at Luther College, how fortunate the students were to have that hall as a recital space. The hall seats about 300 (i'm guesstimating), so it is not a small hall, nor is it a large one. It's got a high ceiling, nice wood, nice color aesthetic, and overall a great acoustic, which gave everything a nice glow. It was also intimate; never at any point did I feel 'lost' on stage, or that we were losing the audiences' attention.
One word about yesterday's audience, and the audiences we've played for in the past month - I wish we could have audience like this all the time! Thanks in large part to the promotional skills of MPR, every concert we were playing to a full house. The demographics were varied, from young kids to college students to grizzled chamber music aficionados, and you could sense that everyone there was engaged and there to listen. During the Q&A session, a young woman asked us why we loved music, and loved playing music. My answer to her would be "for moments like this." It may sound a little corny, but is there any greater satisfaction than knowing that this music that we play - this music that is so much greater than us, and that we spend hours, days, and entire lifetimes studying, internalizing, and presenting - is reaching out through time and space, and, in one way or another, affecting them in a profound way?
On a more personal note, yesterday was also special because it was my birthday. It is not rare for concerts to fall on our birthdays - Dan and I were griping backstage that this year both of us had 'working' birthdays - and it was not the first time that this had happened. I found myself contemplating that, for better or for worse, the quartet really is like a family. I don't remember the last time I celebrated a birthday with my own family - I left home when I was 16 - and this year, not only am I not home, but my girlfriend is out of town as well. But the one thing that is constant? I know that my quartet will be there - whether by choice or not! - to commemorate another passing of a year with me. It was certainly nice, at the end of the concert, to have an entire audience of people sing 'Happy Birthday' to me. Thanks for that.
Special thank you to Chris Cross and Steve Staruch of MPR, to Jubal and Chrissy, faculty at Luther College, to the students who played for us, and finally, to the audience, without whom none of this would have been possible.
Posted at 11:55 AM on March 4, 2010
by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Parker Quartet
Posted at 3:04 PM on February 5, 2010
by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Parker Quartet
So as we left the coffee shop with steaming joe in hand we piled into our minivan (which is, by the way, God's gift to string quartets) and Kee proceeded to drive towards home. In order to get back to the interstate we had to drive down Main Street and as the car starts moving Kee says in his morning/monotone voice, "there's a bear on main street." I'm sitting in the back just trying to stay conscious enough to take a few sips of my coffee so without looking, I go "yeah right man."
"No, really. There's a bear on main street."
"OH MY GOD THERE'S A BEAR ON MAIN STREET!!"
"That's what I said."
Sure enough, there was a black bear in this little town on Main St. headed for a big metal garbage can. So like typical dumfounded tourists we jumped out of the van, pulled out our phones and started shooting pictures of him like he was a hollywood celebrity. None of us wanted to get too close of course, and since our photo taking materials were sorry excuses for capturing anything in some detail we all ended up with photos that looked like a random street with a black dot in the middle which I always pointed to when showing my friends and told them that was bear's furry behind. I don't think any of them believed me.
The Mitchell Auditorium at St. Scholastica is a wonderful hall to play in. The sound is bright, clear, and resonant. I also liked the size of the hall. Not too big, not too small. Great for chamber music. The audience was spectacularly quiet. I felt like everybody was listening intently which is always a nice energy to feed off of when we're on stage. It helps us focus and ultimately helps the music come out clearer. It was also wonderful to see an audience that encompassed a wide range of age. Some of the younger students I saw there I recognized because we had worked with them the day before and some others I didn't recognize. It was also the first time that I felt like the audience was into the Q & A session at the end of the concert. They asked some really good questions and there seemed to be some really knowledgeable people there who are enthusiastic about chamber music. Always a good thing!! We didn't spend much time in Duluth so I didn't really get to explore a lot. We did hit a great restaurant called the Zeitgeist Cafe and Jessica, Bodie, and I checked out Keene Creek Dog Park - a little fenced in area at the intersection of Grand Avenue and I-35 where dogs can run around wildly which Bodie is extremely talented at. I didn't even have to train him to do that.
Despite the brevity of this trip, I was still able to succumb to a strange phenomenon that I'll call road-transference. Road-transference is the psychological adoption of someone as a parent-figure while traveling due to a sub-conscious need for stability. As I am not a natural wanderer, I often find myself in the midst of road-transference. Most often, the object of my road-transference will be someone who seems capable, reliable, and caring. In Duluth, the person whom I adopted as road-mother was Patty Mester, MPR's regional station manager; In Bemidji and Sioux Falls, it was Kristi Booth, the regional network director. And now I'm starting to realize that this is sounding a little creepy...but the effects of road-transference are negligible! Most often, I will just be a bit more at ease with whomever has been adopted. Don't worry, Patty and Kristi, I won't be calling you at 2 a.m. in desperate need of relationship advice!
Tuesday morning in Duluth was a real road-mother/daughter experience. Patty and I had the great pleasure of waking up early for a 6 a.m. interview at the local TV station. Patty brought me coffee, drove me over to the station, made sure I had everything I needed once we got there...classic road-mother nurturing. Once we got to the station, I realized that the amount of coffee I had consumed was not up to par with the people working there. I had sipped down half a cup with the goal of being just lucid enough for the interview, but leaving myself the possibility of passing out once I returned to the hotel. I was aware that everyone else was speaking much more quickly than I, but I was also very sure that I was not capable of matching their speed. At the end of the interview, I played a bit of solo Bach, and I remember thinking, in my early-morning stupor, "I'm just gonna take it easy..." I have since watched that interview online, and I can't believe how slowly I played! The record was set that morning for the earliest I have ever attempted to play the violin.
We also gave a master class and, of course, a concert in Duluth. Many of the students we heard had learned the music on their own, so I was very impressed by the level of self-motivation. Our concert in Mitchell Auditorium was well-attended (thanks to MPR for their amazing audience-building) and the audience was extremely attentive--probably one of the quietest audiences we've ever encountered! I totally appreciated the audience's focus, but I was also very glad when they opened up during our Question and Answer session after the concert. It was nice to walk away feeling that we not only connected with them on a more abstract level through the music, but also on a personal level.
It was cool to be in Duluth. After driving amongst a lot of flat land, it's kind of funny to all of a sudden be around hills. I've been wanting to check out the North Shore (people say that it feels like you're at the ocean). I guess Duluth is sort of on the way to reaching this part of Lake Superior's shore. If anyone is planning to visit Duluth, I would definitely recommend Pizza Lúce for breakfast (try Pesto Eggs Benedict or Breakfast Burrito!) and Zeitgeist Café for dinner. Definitely the best food on our tour so far.
We have about a month before our next MPR Artist in Residence concert in Decorah (it's on Kee's birthday!). It will be great to visit there because we'll see one of Karen's sisters, who is teaching there this semester. In this month, I will visit one of my best friends in London (we have a week off because Dan is playing with a chamber orchestra on the east coast), we'll play concerts in Annapolis, MD, St. Croix, and here in St. Paul, and one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is that we'll learn a new Haydn quartet, which we'll play in Decorah. It's seriously awesome!!!
It felt good to be busy again. This past week, the rest of the members of the quartet were playing as guest members the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, with whom we've been in residence with since last year. They didn't need any cellists last week, so as a result, while everybody was busy attending rehearsals (sometimes 5 hours a day!) and playing 3 concerts over the weekend, I was getting up at 10 (on a good day), practicing, doing whatever...! and still had so much time on my hands that I didn't know what to do with myself. The quartet was only rehearsing 2 hours a day, as opposed to our usual 4, because after that much orchestra rehearsal, who has the stamina and mental focus to go into ANOTHER, and arguably more involved, rehearsal??
A great benefit that I had with all this free time, was that I had time to get my cello adjusted. A lot has been said at the Q&A sessions after the concerts about our instruments. For those of you who weren't there, I play on a cello made in Milan in 1844, by the Italian luthier Giaccomo Rivolta. It is relatively low maintenance for an old instrument, but like any antique, can be a bit temperamental and must be cared for and looked after.
My cello has been sounding a little bit out of whack, since I got back from the Christmas holidays. The sound was less resonant, it was tougher to produce a good sound, and it just didn't feel very good to play - it felt like I was sawing through a piece of wood with an unresponsive stick. And I suspect intonation was harder to hear, both individually and in the group, because the overtones from the notes that were sounded from the follow-through of the bow on the string, was higher than the actual pitch! This was really infuriating, as what at first sounded like it was in tune, would, upon release of the sound, suddenly become a bit sour and cringe-worthy.
Fortunately, the adjustment changed all that! With a few taps on the bridge, a few taps on the soundpost, and some straightening of the bridge, my cello sounded like $300,000 again. And, unlike last year, where I spent close to $800 to get open seams and cracks in my instruments patched up, I had NO cracks!! Progress!
Anyways, Duluth. Like I said, it was an easy ride - we all drove back to the Twin Cities after the concert, and even then, with slick, icy roads and at times stifling darkness, it took just a little over two hours. Duluth reminded me a little bit of Pittsburgh (I mean that in the best way - I LIKE Pittsburgh!), with its rolling hills, bridges, and industrial feel. We were staying at the Holiday Inn Waterfront in downtown - this area reminded me a bit of Halifax. I wish that I had had more of a chance to walk around and explore the city! It would have been much more enjoyable than driving around. Driving in Duluth was a bit nerve-wracking. Driving in a new city is always a bit disorienting, but here I found it even more so - I never knew where to turn, I couldn't figure out where the roads were, it was so damn hilly (and slippery! front-wheel drive no good...), there were one-way signs everywhere... Stressful.
I did manage to spend a little time, in an area right by the water - is it the Canal Park area? (I think I drove down Lake Park Ave. - what a charming little street, populated by cafes, antique shops, artisan shops, etc.) When I had gotten my cello adjusted earlier this week, I had taken off my mute and forgotten to bring it back from the shop. This was bad because in the Ravel, the mute is needed to create a plethora of more 'muted' colors (think of the color red, and the mute as the water you would use to dilute that color, creating a color that is more porous and translucent). So I googled instrument shops in the Duluth area, and found Christian Eggert's shop. Although I cannot say anything about the level of skill there (as I didn't get any work done on the cello), it certainly seemed to be well stocked! The space was incredible too - lots of light, lots of wood, and a view of the lake and the canal. One of the luthiers in the shop (was he Christian Eggert?) was extremely friendly as well, giving me a brief history of Duluth.
The concert itself was held at the College of St. Scholastica, in their Mitchell Hall. I really liked the hall - it was gladiator seating (where the audience was looking down at us), and the stage was not raised, but instead at ground level. The stage itself was wide and spacious, and the acoustic, even for such a large hall, was warm and glowing. The program was the same as before, with Steve Staruch introducing us and the first piece, and moderating a Q&A session at the end. Although it was the same program, and we knew what to expect going into the concert, the overall vibe felt a bit different. I was finding it hard to mentally focus, and to really find inspiration from within myself. Perhaps it was the fact that the hall itself seemed so big, or perhaps it was that I had spent too much time practicing all day and was spent (the quartet didn't start rehearsing until 5 pm, at our dress rehearsal) - in any case, the performance didn't feel as good as at Bemidji or Sioux Falls. This was certainly not the audiences' fault - I had stated previously that at a concert, not only is the audience feeling the energy of the quartet, but that we feed off the energy of the audience. This being said, the audience was a very 'well-behaved' one - there was no fuss, no coughing, no distractions. Instead, they seemed to be really focused on us and the music. It is my hope that the silence in the audience I heard while we were playing was a silence that was still engaged and taut with attention; and that the silence wasn't a reflection of my own partial lack of focus.
Ah well - although it wasn't our best performance ever, it certainly wasn't the worst we had ever played, and hopefully we were able to communicate the greatness of the music itself, if not our own exuberance at playing these great works.
Here's a shout out to Ethan and Freeman, two high-school students that I was fortunate enough to work with. These guys were really talented, and I hope that they keep up the good work! It was a lot of fun to coach them - I know that I got a lot of it, and I hope that you guys did too. (We worked on the first movement of Elgar concerto, and the cello solo from a composer named Suppe's "Overture to the Poet and Peasant.")
And as always, a special thank you to MPR, who made this all possible. In Duluth, we were aided by the manager of MPR in that area, Patty Mester. Also a special thank you to Laura Gill, a videographer for MPR, who came along with us for this trip and taped the whole thing.
And last but not least, if any of you are on Facebook, I invite you to join our newly created page - just search for Parker Quartet.
The Parker Quartet just returned from the first leg of their tour, playing shows in Bemidji and Souix Falls. They shared some of their thoughts with us about the trip and their performances. Read the quartet's first pre-tour entry
I also had a great time performing and teaching in both cities. Our experiences in Bemidji and Sioux Falls really hit home to me the power that music has to build a community. I could tell that our concert was an event that was on the community's radar, and it was wonderful to share the experience with everyone who attended. We also heard some really talented students play in both cities. I hope they keep classical music in their lives!
And now for the hardships of the trip, which thankfully were not numerous. In fact, the only real difficulty was the length of time spent in the car (4 1/2 hours to Bemidji, 6 1/2 hours to Sioux Falls, and 4 hours back to the Twin Cities). I learned some valuable lessons from this road trip, though. 1) You can never have too many snacks. If they're there, you will eat them all, and you'll still wish you had more. This first lesson is made more interesting by the discovery that, 2) during a road-trip through northern Minnesota in January, your car becomes a large, portable refrigerator. Beverages will stay cool, fruit will freeze before it can go bad...this fortuitously opens up a lot of options in the snack department. And finally, the most painful lesson. 3) Once you hit the Dakotas, if you have even the slightest urge to go to the bathroom, do so immediately at the first viable spot. Don't think that it's not so bad and that you can wait for the next one, because it will be far, and you may not make it...
What an interesting week it's been! On Tuesday, we recorded the Ravel Quartet for Fred Child, on Performance Today. On Wednesday we hit the road for our first concert ever in Bemidji, MN. The quartet took two cars - Dan and Jess with their new puppy, Bodie, and Karen and I in my car. Perhaps the most difficult part of this tour was the actual driving. From the Twin cities it was a little over 4 hours to Bemidji (google maps told us 5 and a half), and from Bemidji to Sioux Falls, it was a little over 7 hours, and from Sioux Falls back to St. Paul was around 4 hours.
Don't get me wrong - I really like to drive. Especially when I'm driving my own car. If this is the case, like it was for this trip, then packing is a lot easier too. Instead of cramming all my clothes, toiletries, suit, dress shoes, music-related stuff (music, music stand, CDs for sale etc.) and God knows what else into one small suitcase (adjusting for liquid regulations for TSA), I can just spread everything out in my car. And, especially with the flying situation the way it is these days, I am appreciating driving even more!
That being said, driving to all these places - all around Minnesota and the eastern part of South Dakota - in the middle of the winter is not something to be taken lightly! Weather was pretty bad - visibility was extremely poor for nearly half the trip. As a result, I am sure we missed a lot of the beauty of the landscape - as well as all the Paul Bunyan statues that I kept reading about. But oh well. It could have been worse. A LOT worse. It was just such a shame to be driving at barely 60 miles an hour when the speed limit was 75!
One of the most interesting things that I saw from the car on the road up to Bemidji was the ice houses on the lakes. Being the "land of 10,000 lakes," and, obviously, being extremely cold, I expected to see some ice fishing. What I didn't expect to see was what seemed to be whole fishing communities out on the lake! Instead of people swaddled up in 20 layers, fishing with a stick and with a metal bucket next to them, which was the image I had in my mind's eye, I saw what I first took to be many colorful port-a-pottys out on the frozen water - which turned out to be these 'shacks' where people build over and around the hole in the ice that they are fishing out of. Supposedly these 'shacks' can be quite elaborate - MTV Cribs, Minnesota ice shack episode anyone?
What was really fascinating about all this was that not only were there these ice shacks, but there seemed to be even roads, and on one lake, I saw what looked like a small river flowing in a crack about 5 feet across!
I am sure the whole experience is very safe, and that residents go out on the frozen ice all the time. Actually, thinking back on it now, I remember seeing these colorful "igloos" on Lake Calhoun last year. It's funny, tho - when we were driving from Bemiji to Sioux Falls, we stopped in Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississipppi (something else I learned on this trip - I thought the Mississippi flowed out of the St. Lawrence River, or from somewhere in Canada, at least!). Someone said it was good luck to walk across the frozen Mississippi together, so the quartet made it its mission to do so - however, when I told my girlfriend, for whom this is her first Minnesota winter (or first time in the Midwest period!), she seemed extremely alarmed. Especially when I took a picture of a hole in the lake and sent it to her :)
Anyways, let's see. In my opinion, the concerts themselves went very well. They were very well attended (full house, with an overflow!!), and after both concerts, we got standing ovations. It is a known fact that it is much easier to hold and maintain an audience's interest, when the artists talk about the music beforehand. This breaks down the invisible barrier between the audience and performer, and creates a more intimate (and comfortable) environment for the listener. In this regard, we were very fortunate to have Steve Staruch, an announcer for MPR, touring with us! Steve, with his stories and personal anecdotes, and with his easygoing familiarity, set the tone for the evening (or afternoon, in Sioux Falls), warming up the crowd and preparing them to greet us and the music. Karen deconstructed the Stravinsky 3 Pieces, as well as the Concertino, for the audience, making it more accessible, and at the end of the concert, Steve mediated a question and answer session between us and the audience. A bit time consuming, but a great recipe for a successful evening of chamber music that is both informative, enlightening, and enjoyable!
To be honest, it being winter and all, I did not really get to see much of the towns. It was my first time in that part of Minnesota, and certainly my first time in the state of South Dakota! It would have been great to walk (or at least drive) around and take some pictures, buy some souvenirs, and get a feel of the local culture, but because it was so nasty outside, that opportunity never really presented itself. However, the taste of 'local culture' I was able to get was through talking to the residents of these two cities.
In Bemidji, I had the opportunity to coach a talented young cellist on the Saint Saens cello concerto. He was a junior in high school, and studying with Peter Howard, former principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was extremely receptive to what I had to say, quick to adjust, and such a nice guy - none of the better-than-you attitude you get with a lot of high school students! Some of the audience members I talked to were such characters as well! I will not soon forget the man who approached me, talking about traveling, asking if I liked touring, etc. - then he said something like "I used to travel around the world myself, when I was around your age. Of course, my band was a lot bigger than yours... the U.S. Navy." Or the high school music teacher who was so enamored by our performance, especially by our Haydn, that she implored us to release some performances of our Haydn on Youtube, because "we are so isolated up here!" Or finally, the man who stated that Bemidji was one of the world's "best-kept secrets" - not only had we come to play here, but next week the Ahn Trio was coming, and a few months after that, Midori.
Sioux Falls was a slightly different experience. First of all, the weather was worse once we got there, so sightseeing was really out of the question. The masterclass we were to conduct was open to the public - this was by far the largest audience we'd had to come see us teach... ever! It was also unnerving because right before the class, I had become re-aquainted with an old friend of mine from high school! She had just finished graduate studies at Rice University, and gotten a job as associate principal viola of Sioux Fall Symphony this past September. This entailed her to teach at Augustana College as well - and here she was, after almost 6 years, listening to us teach a masterclass in front of a crowd of eager listeners! The man seated in front of me was filming the entire thing too on his camcorder - his family is going to have a recording of me dancing around stage instructing the students to play with no vibrato for eternity. Scary thought.
Funny story about the power of MPR's promoting skills. Immediately upon the completion of the class at Augustana, Kristi Booth, the regional director for MPR stood up, announcing the concert at 2pm and expressing her hopes to see everybody there. My friend leaned in to me and said "that's funny that she seems worried that people won't know about the concert. You guys have been on the radio, and they'e been announcing your concert, since, like, November."
Thinking back on it now, I don't know quite what i was expecting at these two places - I had resolved to be an informed tourist (googling these cities before we left), to keep an open mind, and most importantly, to be adaptable. Fortunately, I am happy to say that reality exceeded my expectations. First of all, the crowds were among the most diverse that I had ever seen in attendance at a chamber music concert. Not only were there the usual silver hairs in attendance, but I saw many high school and college age students, and especially in Sioux Falls, many young children, probably no older than middle school age. I certainly did not expect the level of reverence and concert etiquette that was on display! Not once, in any of the places, was there a cell phone ring, or even a watch alarm. No one clapped between movements. And despite the weather, not once was I ever distracted by hacking, whooping coughs, loud throat-clearing, or even the subtle-yet-not-so-subtle unwrapping of a cough drop. Audience members of Bemidji and Sioux Falls, give yourselves a round of applause, or at least a pat on the back, for being among one of my top 10 greatest audiences. We couldn't have done it without you.
Finally, my closing thoughts. At the beginning of this blog post, I touched briefly on the subject of acclimating; on becoming a real "Minnesotan." (or, to be more inclusive, a real "greater rural Mid-west area" resident). Driving for hours through the states of Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, I was surprised to to find myself feeling a real sense of belonging. How could you not feel at home when everybody around you is so friendly, so accepting, and so generous of their time and compliments?
The quartet moved to the Twin cities in the Fall of 2008. For me, this was after living in Boston for almost 10 years. Because of our intensive touring, and my puffed up sense of East Coast elitism, I didn't really get the sense that this was really "home" yet, even as recently as this past September. However, by traveling to these more out of the way communities, and sharing out gift of music with a reciprocating audience; this was the final step that made me feel most welcome, and a sign that I was an integral part of the community here.
A special thank you to Kristi Booth, regional manager for MPR, for all her hard work, and to Steve Staruch. This would not have been possible without you guys. And of course, to Minnesota Public Radio - please continue to support MPR! - one of the best classical stations in the United States, in my humble opinion.
As I think back on this trip, I don't quite remember things in a linear way, so I'm going to list the things that made impressions on me.
My first meal in Bemidji was at Hardees. I was pressed for time, I was hoping there was going to be a cute street full of interesting restaurants, but the closest thing I could find was Hardees. I am a vegetarian, so I had to be creative in ordering - I ordered the ¼ lb. burger topped with Portobello mushrooms and cheese€¦.hold the ¼ lb. burger, please. The cashier took $1.50 off, which I thought was very nice!
After never having seen an icehouse for fishing on the lake, I saw more than I can count.
We went to the headwaters of the Mississippi River - it's located about 40 minutes from Bemidji in Itasca State Park. I found it to be magical, especially with it being winter in a sparkling sort of way. It was so peaceful and seemed to be so well protected. It felt like an honor to be there.
It was awesome that the concerts were sold out!! It's so great to go out on stage when there's a full house. There was an excitement in the air that I think we were feeding off of and also giving back - it was a great exchange.
I loved meeting the students in both cities, at the master classes and after the concerts. They were so down to earth, sincere, and just seemed like they were there for such good reasons. The students we worked with were so receptive and musical, so it was exciting to share our thoughts with them. Some of the college students that came to the concert in Bemidji were great to talk with because they were telling us what it's like to live in Bemidji and then asking what our lifestyles are like, it was like a great cultural exchange.
It is amazing how little there is off of I-29 S from Fargo to Sioux Falls. It didn't help that there was intense fog and freezing rain the whole time, but it is really something to witness.
When we were doing a TV news interview, the person doing the interview thought our warm-up (us not playing together at all!) was what we wanted on the news! I hope she heard the difference when we actually started playing a piece together.
Bodie (Dan's and my four and a half month old Vizsla puppy) was mostly terrific. He's absolutely great in the car, which was helpful to find out, but we also found out that small hotel rooms effect dogs just like they do people - he got a little antsy in the hotel rooms sometimes. He did force us to get out and find some interesting parks, though.
Looking forward to Duluth!
So what I'm trying to say here is that it takes some time for me to properly encapsulate each trip we have. I can tell you floating thoughts in my head like I've never seen Winter more beautiful than on our drive to Bemidji; it made me realize that the concept of black and white in photography and art are not mimics of color but are as vivid and real as any shot of Spring. I can tell you that there are extremely talented youngins all over our country such as Sadie Hamrin who Karen and I had the privilege to work with. And, I can tell you that walking over the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the dead of a Minnesota winter at Itasca State Park is one of the most thrilling things I've ever done. But, the idea behind this blog is to communicate to you all the experiences I had on this trip through my very own eyes and that's exactly what's difficult. It needs to sink in for a while. It needs to sink and sink until that day comes where I'm sitting around with friends or family having a drink and somebody says something that triggers something in the pathways of my brain which leads me to say a word or two about that one time my quartet took a trip to Bemidji, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Because when that moment comes it'll be straight, honest, and completely absorbed. Words trip me up sometimes. Maybe that's why music is for me.
MPR's Artist in Residence The Parker Quartet begins the first leg of their Minnesota tour tonight in Bemidji. The group shared their thoughts on the impending trip.
Being originally from California and having spent over a decade on the east coast before coming to St. Paul, my knowledge of the Midwest geography is, well, lame. I had felt like I had at least heard of Sioux Falls and Duluth, but Decorah and especially Bemidji bewildered me. But, since it was our first meeting with a fine, fine organization such as MPR I wanted to be sure to exude optimism and conviction. So I geared up and declared with enthusiasm, "Bemidji sounds like a wonderful place and it would be great to have a concert there!"
Then someone around the conference table (which always seems either very long or very wide and often both simultaneously) said, "Bemidji is five hours north of here, the concert would be in the middle of January, and Bemidji is pronounced buh-mi-jee not buh-mee-jee." It was at this moment that I realized a few things: that A) Bemidji was a very different place from Fiji B) if this city is five hours north of here that means there are colder places in this country and C) January is going to stink.
Nevertheless, here we are in the new year of 2010 and our first concert, in buh-Mi-jee (you know you would've said BuhMeeJee too) is upon us. Even though January is a hard month I do look forward to visiting this area of Minnesota. I am sure there are reasons why people would dare to inhabit in such lands so I think I'll make it a goal to ask those that I meet how they enjoy their part of the country.
I find that one of the great things about being a musician is that after a concert I find it easy to have a conversation with an audience member. More so then if I had to meet them without having had the music beforehand. I think it somehow has to do with music being a universal language in which all of us can relate to, and for some reason can wield the power to bring out the sense of commonality between humans which perhaps is the best ice breaker I know of.
After Bemidji, we're driving to Sioux Falls, SD. This will be my first time in SD!! I understand that Sioux Falls is the largest city in SD, and if it weren't winter (with everything most likely covered in snow), I would want to visit the corn maze that's right outside of the city! It's actually a maze that you can work through made of corn, and from above, it's beautiful - there's a butterfly shape in the center of the maze! We'll be working with South Dakota Youth Symphony the morning of the concert. Sometimes it can be difficult to give a class the same day as a concert, but how many times are we going to have the chance to work with the youth symphony members of South Dakota? We're so excited to meet these students, it's something we definitely could not pass up!
This will also mark the first road trip with Bodie, Dan and my new Vizsla puppy. Since we already travel a lot, and will have to leave him with our dear friends on a rotating basis, we figured that we could take him this time since it's a road trip (and not an airplane trip). He's an extremely well behaved puppy, but we've never been with him in the car for more than an hour, and we've never left him in a hotel room. We're in pet friendly hotels, and he's great in his crate, so I don't foresee any problems, but I have a feeling that we have an adventure on our hands!
Looking forward to reporting more about the concerts, people we meet, driving in the winter, and Bodie....
Hello, my name is Kee Kim, and I am the cellist of the Parker Quartet.
This week will mark the first concert that we will be doing for Minnesota Public Radio, as part of their Troubadour series. As I am writing this post, I am listening to MPR, where we are on the radio! First was Steve Staruch, announcing our residency for the listeners out there, and then came Allison Young, giving away free tickets to the 3rd caller, and then finally, we came on again, giving a performance of one of Haydn's quartets. I think this recording came from a live concert in Jordan Hall that we gave in 2007, our last year in school.
It is weird to hear us on the radio! To think that our music; well not OUR music, but music that we have spent so much time internalizing, learning, and performing for small, select audiences at chamber music venues, is now available for the 'masses' - the thought is rather tremendous, yet humbling at the same time. Further, I am not listening to MPR from the radio; instead I am listening through my iTunes - which means that anyone with a computer and internet connection anywhere in the world can be listening to what I am listening to right now! Crazy.
Case in point - after our first Performance Today broadcast a few weeks ago, I got several posts on my facebook profile page, from friends all over the United States, congratulating me, and us, on our performance. You cannot ever underestimate the power of public radio. A couple of days ago, I was attending a concert by the Takacs Quartet, at the Ordway Center for the Arts. I was deeply engrossed in my program book before the start of the concert, when a friend sitting in front and to the left of me tapped me on my knee and whispered "the two ladies behind me are talking about you guys." And sure enough, when I focused my ear to the conversation next to me, they were indeed talking about the "wonderful Parker quartet" who they had just "heard on the radio," performing a "beautiful Beethoven quartet." It was a slightly embarassing, yet thrilling feeling, to hear that not only are people listening, but they like what they hear! Thank goodness it is public radio, and not public TV, or else there could be many unforeseen uncomfortable moments..!
As you can surmise, we are already very deeply involved in this residency with MPR. The recordings for PT started back in November of last year, and only now are being aired. There are 4 broadcasts, which means 4 recording sessions - the last one, featuring Ravel's quartet, will be recorded in a few days.
Allison Young just gave away a pair of tickets to a Steve from Sioux Falls - again, what an interesting feeling, to have tickets be raffled off for your concert! See you soon, Steve from Sioux Falls...
Aside from all the time spent in the recording studio (the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser, say that ten times fast), like I mentioned above, in a couple of days we will venture out into the frozen landscape of rural Minnesota, for our first public concert as part of the residency.
First stop is in Bemidji - if you are not a Minnesota native, like me, it is a town that is about 5 and half hours from St Paul, right by Chippewa National Forest (just Google it!). To be perfectly honest, I do not know what to expect. Everybody who I've told that we were going to Bemidji has been like "ooh, better bring your snow shoes" or "ooh, you're going into the boonies," or something to that extent. If it is that cold and rural, who in their right minds would want to venture out of their homes in the frozen landscape of January to watch a chamber music concert? When I expressed this to someone, they gave me a different perspective - maybe it's so cold and rural that when we go there, it will be THE cultural event of the area... Perhaps. Let's just hope that the hall is heated..
More on Bemidji when we get back...