I just said goodbye to my quartet mates Tim and Colleen Tan and their girls after watching them play in the Big Sky Festival Orchestra. I believe that every other year the Lake String Quartet has parted ways, it's been in a mix up of packing and moving and checking out and frantic departures... basically, a scattering. This year we lingered a little longer and I started pondering music and relationships and how each musical configuration is such a different beast.
I used to play in multiple groups -- jazz bands, rock bands, chamber groups, orchestras.. accompanying singer songwriters. I recall being in 11 different bands at one time in NYC. it was crazy. it was a mad, frantic, social, schlepping, full throttle life style... It was too much at once -- I became involved on the surface, but everything was another gig and there were very few situations that I was really devoted to and willing to commit to, should it come to quitting the others for "the one".
Tonight I watched my dear friends play in the symphony, while making sure their 7 and 10 year olds didn't disobey "classical music etiquette". as was so ingrained in me as a child.. I remember suffering through concerts that seemed to last for weeks.... just wanting to giggle and jump around and... get out.... but occasionally being really, REALLY, moved by some particular piece. I felt for my 7 year old friend next to me as she squirmed and tried to get comfortable and I reprimanded her for whispering to her sister. I still clearly remember being in that very same boat.
At the same time, I was mesmerized by watching the orchestra, and realized that it's the first time I've actually just sat and listened and watched an orchestra in a very long time. It's been a pretty good amount of time since I've played in one, but it is such a different beast than what I do now musically. When you play in an orchestra, it's a game of follow the leader.. You need to do the same bowings and be on the same string as the principle.. you need to be with the conductor and be with the group. You are part of the machine... and it's a beautiful machine, and it's beautiful to be a part of it, but for the most part you give up yourself for the whole, yet you have to master your part or you screw up the whole. When I started playing cello, I was immediately put into an orchestra, and I immediately became comfortable with it.. Later, as I studied more jazz and eclectic forms of music, I became estranged from the orchestra, and had to gradually become more comfortable with it as I got more calls to play. Now I think it is one of the most challenging configurations to play in, which was affirmed to me by my friends as they commented on the strictness of being in a section after the freedom and expression of playing in the quartet.
But, back to the quartet. I just finished my 11th season with the Lake String Quartet. We play a huge variety of music 5 nights a week for 4 hours a night.. We rehearse together.. We spend time with each other on our weekends.. There is no way to hide from any of these other 3 people.. We know what pushes each other's buttons.. We know each other's vulnerabilities and strengths.. We see the hurdles and the good days and the bad days with each other. We know when space is needed, we know when someone needs more attention than we are able to give, we know when a good ol hug is needed. Our communication through music goes way beyond playing notes on a page; it brings up so much conscious, subconscious and unconscious communication that we are completely vulnerable to each other in a way that no other working environment brings about.. Not only do we feel this vulnerability (especially on our "off" days when notes may be a bit more difficult to find than other days, and focusing and being with the group is especially challenging, and we may feel subpar to the job we are supposed to be accomplishing.) but there is also a constant companionship and teamwork involved... If one of us gets off (not that that ever happens), we all need to help to bring the group back together .We always have each other's back -- it's part of the gig. It's a truly beautiful thing. As I reflect on this, I feel such a gratitude towards all of the Lake Quartet - past and present-- for providing such an amazing environment for growth, fun, and authentic expression and beauty and.... being myself. This 11th season has been the first time in my history that a member has changed.. I missed my sister in crime and my backpacking travel agent, Leanne Darling, who was always on board for improvised jazz solos, creating many of our most requested arrangements, and synchronized playing -(including mistakes - which neither of us ever made, but if we did, we somehow managed to make the same mistake at the same time). Carl Larson has been truly a joy to work with and has kicked my butt in upping my playing game as his style is so very different than Leanne's. I guess it was his arrival that made me reflect on just how much I share and open up with these 3 other people, whether I want to or not -- it didn't really occur to me until I realized just how vulnerable I felt on my first "off"day (where I felt my playing to be off, not a day off)... and how I assumed that that he, as well as my long time musical companions, the Tans, was perfectly aware of every clam. I'm used to occasionally (maybe once or twice a season) screwing up in front of the Tans (and the sideways smirk I get from Tim).. that's no big deal... but this guy is a stranger... and darnit... he's a realllllly good player!!! Total kick in the ego. Good medicine.
And now I begin phase 3 of my Yellowstone summer, where I take on the Old Faithful Inn solo once again. I now have total freedom in how and what I play, and all of my communication goes out to my audience, whether they know it or not. A totally different beast than playing with the group and one that is almost just as enjoyable to me in very different ways. If you happen to be at the Inn while I'm playing, please stop and say hello. Thanks for being listening!