This week, the Calidore String Quartet, on campus rehearsing for their Colburn Chamber Music Society concert this Sunday, spoke to a class of Conservatory students on how they’ve garnered career success since graduating from Colburn in 2014. While performing phenomenally is the base for success, much more goes into “making it big,” from learning how to practice to logistics for functioning as a quartet.
The four treat their quartet obligations as their number one priority, but try to fit in as much non-quartet related playing paying as possible. It takes much more planning, because their concerts are now booked at least one to two years in advance, but performing solo, in recitals, festivals, or even competitions lets them come back to the quartet with a fresh perspective on their individual playing.
“Having a website affects people’s perceptions of what you do,” the quartet affirms. Branding yourself as a professional online makes people take you more seriously. “Embed videos on your page, and use Facebook live as a streaming tool. We did a Facebook live interview with The Violin Channel that had about 40,000 viewers at the time, and then more viewers were able to watch the archives after the fact.”
The quality of your performance is key, and you need to be on watch for quality control. Unless your playing stacks up, even having the best branding and website is useless. YouTube is a particularly difficult platform to get videos removed from. “The only option you have is to flag a video as inappropriate, so we tried with one video and then they asked, ‘What’s inappropriate?’ ‘The intonation, obviously!’”
“This is the most time you’ll ever have in your life to practice; when you’re in school. We had a mentor in Madrid who really helped change our rehearsal style. He taught us a lot about the logistics of playing in a string quartet. Now we’re all about efficiency, rules, and protocols. If someone’s struggling with a section, we’ll try it three times and if they can’t get it then, we move on and work on it individually. We plan out what we’re going to practice in each session, and have a rough sketch for the whole year. We stick to a strict start and finish time. It’s a lot of small protocols like that. We’ve learned how to practice individually so that we’re all on the same page for group rehearsal and can focus on big ideas like musicality, rather than notes. A common metronome and tuner make a huge difference when preparing intonation and rhythm individually.”
“There’s this whole other side besides the music stuff. You take orchestra as a class, but that doesn’t teach you about how you talk to your peers, like when you have to tell them that they’re out of tune without hurting their feelings.” The quartet holds regular debriefing sessions where they put their instruments away and meet in neutral locations to calmly discuss rehearsal issues.
“We had a session with a coach who asked us to name one thing that each of us usually brings up in rehearsal. People do tend to focus on certain topics, but that’s why we work well together. We cover all the bases, and each have three teachers that teach us about intonation, rhythm, or whatever. You need the balance. We are whole—four members of a whole that complete each other.”