Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Playing String Quartets,,,

I was first introduced to string quartet literature by Harvey Krasney and Rex Britten
at Virginia Music Camp. They were on the faculty and I was a cabin director. Hearing this beautiful music one night, after hours, and findng the quartet playing, I expressed an interest and they invited me to bring my fiddle and join them the next night. Think we read through some Mozart quartets.

Several years later it was my good fortune to be eligible to attend the symphonic workshops at Orkney Springs sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra League. There were many fine string players in attendance and informal chamber music sessions were squeezed in between rehearsals. Availed myself of every opportunity to play quartets over the ten years I attended these summer institutes.

About the same time John Hitchings, Bill Heffernan, Ivor Brown, and I organized the "Roanoke String Quartet". We were members of the Roanoke Symphony and met several times a month and actually performed two or three formal concerts. We also may have played a few weddings. Somewhat later this group dissolved and for many years the only quartet experience was whatever I could arrange with my best public school students.

Then Joyce Foster, a student in my first years at Patrick Henry HS and Carol Sawyer an adult cello student at Roanoke College invited me to be a part of their chamber music endeavors. We enjoyed rehearsing whatever literature we could play and even did some weddings together. Then Lib and I moved to Richmond...

Doug Kellner, the strings teacher at Midlothian HS advised me to audition for the Richmond Philharmonic as a means to make new string friends. I did and was accepted.
During our Christmas performances that first year, Christina Jennings (cellist in the RPO) invited me to a chamber music gathering at her home. And from that time on I
continued accepting invitations to play quartets, quintets, whatever she was interested in pursuing. We read through a significant portion of the quartet literature and once in a while we would tackle a big one such as the Mozart Clarinet quintet in A and a Brahms sextet. When we met as a quartet it was Lani Wisner (violin) me on violin, Ben Warner on viola, and Christina on cello.

When Francis Church who was a cellist in the RPO wanted to know if I was interested in playing some string quartets I couldn’t say “By all means!” fast enough. By this time I had been playing chamber music with Christina’s group (mostly quartets) for about a year, so I felt comfortable joining another group. I’m so indebted to Christina for getting the ball rolling. We continue to meet and explore the wonderful chamber music genre several times a month.

We four men met at Bel Air Presbyterian Church usually on Mondays, Dave played
viola and Larry played 1st violin. Sometimes we were joined by Lenore when we read through Mozart quintets. It soon became obvious that Francis had a wide repertoire of string literature with which he was acquainted and that if I were going to add to the group it would take a significant practice time commitment. After all, this was what I had hoped would happen in Roanoke and did for a few years before family and other commitments dissolved our group.

Then Larry had to undergo a back operation and a lengthy convalescence. Sandi, a delightful lady was called in to play second violin, and it was my happy task to play 1st. This was a new challenge for me as my position in orchestras and quartets has been 2nd violin or viola. I had to practice twice the time to learn the high notes, the fast notes, the melodies that a first violin is privileged to play. During some of this time I performed in the 1st violin section of the RPO. I definitely put on another layer of technical skills. We also looked at some composers whose quartets I had never played such as Grieg, Shostakovich, and Ravel. There were also many standard works from Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn that I read for the first time.

There was also a second quartet that was convened by Francis on Thursdays sometimes in the afternoon. Again, different folks and different repertoire. Last year Sandi got together a chamber music weekend in April where a number of quartets formed to study and perform the literature as well as together as a string orchestra. It was my pleasure to take part in that activity. The Richmond area just has many competent and gracious musicians.

Why this recital of my musical journey? Simply to encourage older string musicians to actively keep up their skills, to meet regularly and grow musically and learn to know people who have usually led fascinating lives. What I began in Roanoke I thought was never going to go forward, there just wasn’t a large enough base to make it happen. Then we moved to the Richmond area, and through the mysterious moving of the Spirit I began to encounter the people who would help me be useful as a musician again. Many would say it was just “luck”. Those of you who read my blog know that I see a Hand guiding my life. The longer I live the more I’m convinced of this truth.

Christian musicians have been instrumental in providing the contacts and opportunities that have kept me going. My grateful thanks to all of you who in any way have had a part in my happy musical and spiritual journey!

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