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starting a quartet .... any tips


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I am interested in trying to establish an amateur string quartet in my area. I play violin and viola and have a number of contacts but haven't actually asked anyone directly. I've really only played alone or in orchestras over the past 20 years or so but feel the need of a new challenge.

My worries .... matching expectations, playing ability, repetoire, instruments ....

I would appreciate any suggestions in this matters from personal experience. I don't have any quartet parts (only a small library of pocket scores).

Is it better to aim high or strive for something simple at first?

I know it's easy to say, "Just do it?", but sharing experiences can be helpful.

'hopeful'

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You say you have some contacts, so I would just start inviting people over to read quartets. See who you interact well with and who has the same level of enthusiaism as you. Also, I would get some music of your own, say the early Mozarts and go from there. I hope that is not too simplistic advice-wise.

: I am interested in trying to establish an amateur string quartet in my area. I play violin and viola and have a number of contacts but haven't actually asked anyone directly. I've really only played alone or in orchestras over the past 20 years or so but feel the need of a new challenge.

: My worries .... matching expectations, playing ability, repetoire, instruments ....

: I would appreciate any suggestions in this matters from personal experience. I don't have any quartet parts (only a small library of pocket scores).

: Is it better to aim high or strive for something simple at first?

: I know it's easy to say, "Just do it?", but sharing experiences can be helpful.

: 'hopeful'

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Some musicians I know have strong individualized personalities. Others have quirks. Others are just plain wierd. Playing in a (regular) amateur quartet in your own homes, works out well when you,re with people you enjoy being with anyways. It really is (or becomes) an important part of your social life. So don't commit to a regular group until you feel you have found a compatible set of peope.

Also make sure that you sare common goals as well as interests and abilites. Some people are absolutely obsessed with (what they consider) perfection, and will persue the group mercilessly to work on only small quantites of musical material. Others ONLY want to sight-read vast quantites of anything they can get a hold of.

Ability, I find, is not the biggest problem (within reasonable limits of course). I enjoy playing with less advanced or experienced players, if we have a similar patient and serious attitude. We can just choose easier music. There are wonderful pieces that aren't hard (some Mozart, Haydn, Purcell Fantasies).

The other major hurdle is organizing these chamber music evenings. Getting two amateur musicians together at the same place adn the same time requires on average 4 phone calls, 3 musician - 16 phone calls, 4 musicians can require up to 32,536 phone calls!!!! (There's a mathematical formula that explains this). Most of them have e-mail, but don't read it regularly.

Good luck

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You have to answer yourself a lot of questions as you start this endeavor.

(1) Do you want "a quartet" or do you want to play string quartet music?

(2) What istrumental part do you want to play in it?

(3) Are you willing to take on the job of "secretary" and make all the calls to arrange rehearsals?

If it is playing quartets that you want, then you can do this by getting a black-book/calendar and lining up "freelance" sessions with other local musicians who sight-read well and can count impeccably - anything less will be a disaster and lead to harsh words from which friendships will never recover. Actually, this isn't a bad way to "audition" each other. The advantage of freelancing is that you get to play several parts (1st, 2nd, and viola for you) and learn the problems and delights of each. (Personally, I "sit" available to play any of the 4 parts.)

If it is the opportunity to "have" your own quartet that you are looking for, then think about it some more -WHY?

If you have a local community college, perhaps a chamber music class could be established from which quartets and other ensembles would form.

If this is to be your first experience in chamber music, a piano trio is a good substitute. The presence of the piano helps hone the strings' intonation -- also any pianist capable of reasonable sight reading (and faking) of the Piano Trio literature will be a very good musician, worthy of your trust.The piano trio literature is quite substantial.

Drawing from the fellow players in your orchestra is a good beginning for forming a quartet or building a freelancing core. If there are good experienced players in your orchestra, chances are they already have ensembles. You might be able to break in as a substitute in an existing ensemble.

The better the group you play with, the better the musical experience for you.

One final thing to remember in a string quartet, when the music says to play "pp" it really wants just a whisper, barely audible in the chamber.

Andy

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You are starting a quartet, not getting married. You must enjoy the same music and respect each other's musical abilities and opinions. But you don't have to live together unless you become a full-time professional group.

Breaks during rehearsal with snacks are nice but they are also messy and completely unnecessary and very time consuming - only good if you are all socially compatable. Whatever you do don't drink alcohol-it messes up the 2nd half (even half a beer), and makes it less safe to drive home.

Haydn string quartets are the place to start, and Mozart as well as the Beethoven Op. 18, then on to Schubert, etc. Be careful with Mozart - it only looks easy. You have to have an entire vocabulary of very sensitive bowing practices to carry it off - and the thirds require perfect intonation or they sound really bad. This is why you never hear experienced musicians say that Mozart is easy, only inexperienced ones. You may be able to play it at first sight -- but it may take years to make it sound presentable. Later music, with a stronger dependence on other harmonies, fourths, etc., have a broader tolerence for "flexible" intonation and bowing, and may actually be easier. Schubert is one of those.

It is also good to get some string trio music, to wile away the minutes while you wait for the fourth member of the quartet to get there. (I don't know why I think it will always be the 2nd violinist, but that's the way it's been for me.)

Andy

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Avoid snobs like the plague!!!!!!!!! I'm stuck in a quartet where the violist thinks he is way better than me- to make matters worse he is best friends with another member. Anyone who likes the P word (proFESSianal) is to be DREADED!!! (anywhere, but especially in quartets, since they're impossible to dispose of without tearing the group apart.)

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I think that the piano trio route works best if the violinist and pianist (find out if they can) work together on, say the Mozart or Beethoven Violin Sonatas, then "audition" cellists for the trio plunge. (Or, cellist and pianist ally first then audition violinsts.)

One must bear in mind that the pianist in a trio has a greater load and must deal with the utter cruelty of always having to custom choreograph the fingers.

Pianists fall into four categories:

1) Wizard Sight Readers, who get WORSE each time after the first brilliant read through (because they are becomming familiar enough with it to need to actually practice).

2) The Quick Learners, who need to woodshed notes and fingerings a week or two, then are completely reliable for rehearsals with the group.

3) Slow Learners, who need six months to practice the work, by which time they are totally inflexible in their views.

4) The Plain Terrible Ones, who sometimes are great in rehearsal, then get lost in the performance.

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