What is it really like being in a string quartet?

Hello my friend, this is my first blog post ever, and I have to admit I am quite nervous about the task ahead. Playing the cello in a quartet is one thing, but writing about that, or in fact about music in general, is quite another!

Let me start by introducing myself. I'm Anna, the cellist in Acacia Quartet. I like to think of myself as the shy one, but let's not label each other (at least not yet!). If you're reading this blog, you've probably heard of Acacia, been to our concerts, or heard us on the radio. 

So what is being in a string quartet really like? All four of us get the “But what is your day job” and the “How do you make money” questions. I'll try and answer the former today. And if you’re wondering about the money question, sign up for the blog by subscribing at the bottom of this page and I’ll tell you how the money side of things works soon. 

Being part of a quartet is like being part of a four-way marriage. We are almost family – like spouses that support each other when the crunch comes, but are just as capable of rolling our eyes at each others' idiosyncrasies. And everything gets more complicated when you realise Lisa (one of our lovely violinists) and Stefan (our violist) are married! 

We spend almost half of every week together, mainly sitting in our little semi-circle with instruments humming and our ears wide open. That's what it feels like to me. Like I switch my ears on when I sit down and become hyper aware of every sound that comes from my bow and blends with the others.

“Making music all day! How wonderful!” you may think. Well, yes, that is true. But for me it is also practice. It is preparing a path for the music to flow down when the time comes. It is hard and exhausting work. Every day we rehearse we reach a point where one of us stops and declares “I need to eat something”.

We rehearse phrases (for the uninitiated: the up and down of musical sentences), intonation (this is huge), blend of sound, bow stroke, dynamics, balance... the list never really stops.

We have grown together in the past six years and our sound tends to blend now without having to even be conscious of it. We really notice our intuitive sound and blend when we play with a guest. All of a sudden we realise we need to explain our little quirks to an outsider! Or we have trouble catching their upbeat, or reading their eyebrows. Playing with a guest is such a different experience, it’s a whole other story for another post. 

This month we are rehearsing for our upcoming tour with violist Emile Cantor (www.orpheus-quartet.com). We are preparing quintets minus his part! So a foursome with an invisible voice humming along in our midst. It will be very interesting to meld our parts once he arrives from Germany. We are used to working with a guest who we see as a solo artist in our midst, but not with a fellow chamber musician from another quartet. We playfully call ourselves Acacians, as if we stem from the planet Acacia. How will our sound blend with an “Orphean” from the planet Orpheus?

Posted on February 20, 2016 and filed under string quartet.