by Marji Gere, member of the Boston Public Quartet
The month of February 2012 will be remembered as the musiConnects Breakfast Nook Music Tour.
Our first stop was the Airport Comfort Inn, a pleasant motel that housed us in Portland, Maine the weekend of our Boston Public Quartet performance on the LARK Chamber Music Society series, as special guests of the Portland String Quartet. The night before the concert, Heather, the lovely clarinet-playing concierge, welcomed us to rehearse in the spacious breakfast nook. This space had everything: a resonant acoustic, perfect chairs, a juice machine – it even had a special storage space for violas!
Curious motel guests had a view of us through a small window, but we had enough privacy to make all the sounds we needed to make in final preparations for our big Maine debut, including etudes in the twentieth position.
Following this productive rehearsal, we ventured out into the night to enjoy the sights and tastes of Portland. We were all impressed by the architecture, plazas, and lighting of the downtown area; however, all urban planning delights were overshadowed by the microbrews, pickles, and Lithuanian sausages at the Thirsty Pig, a wonderful little pub.
The Portland performance experience was a new high for us as a quartet. The Woodfords Congregational Church was a beautiful space, and we were primed from our Friday night concert at Emmanuel Church in Boston (and warmed up from a bit more quality breakfast nook work in the morning). Julia, Ron, and Paul – three of the four members of the Portland String Quartet – watched over us beautifully from the moment we walked through the church door until the end of the evening. Julia and Paul provided helpful feedback regarding balance and projection, and Ron kept our spirits light with jokes, pranks, and puns.
Before the concert, we presented a lecture on our administrative, teaching, and performance teamwork as a quartet, and Dan Sedgwick, the composer of our second piece, introduced his work with musical demonstrations provided by the BPQ.
In the concert, we performed our best yet; we felt a new depth and immediacy of interaction with the music and each other. The audience response was incredibly enthusiastic – we got a standing ovation, and many people lingered long after the concert to talk to us.
It was a blessing to have the Portland Quartet – a group that has worked together for 43 years – give so much of their time and care to us, four idealistic people new to the quartet life. During our day with them, we learned that we had more than quartetship in common – throughout their careers, they have dedicated a great deal of their time to innovative models of music education and exploring the string quartet as an applicable model in other areas, such as business. Beyond that, I found a particular affinity with Julia, who counts herself not just as a classical musician, but a percussionist – she is in two steel drum bands (I play drums in a little jazz combo and Beatles cover band!). It is special to find such kindred spirits so nearby – the BPQ is excited to know the Portland Quartet and learn more from their experiences as a team of teaching artists.
Downtown Boston, Massachusetts
The second breakfast nook was at the Courtyard Marriott on Tremont in downtown Boston. A bit more formal than the Portland nook, this space served as the green room for the featured performers at the Lenny Zakim Fund awards ceremony: the Boston Public Quartet and eight young Chittick Elementary musiConnects students. As second year recipients of a Zakim grant, musiConnects received 50% more funding, plus the honor of performing for an audience of people who lead and support grassroots organizations in the greater Boston area.
Though we were excited about this, the sudden task of rounding up students and their families for a Monday night after February vacation seemed daunting in an already busy time. But, as is the pattern with musiConnects these days, families prioritized this musical opportunity, students were on top of their parts of the African American spiritual Deep River, and BPQ members happily took on the roles of travel agents and chauffeurs for excited students whose parents couldn’t leave work for the event.
The Zakim awards ceremony is an event that revitalizes faith in human kindness, courage, and agency. The master of ceremonies was Rabbi Mark Sokoll, a passionate and humorous speaker who, through Bruce Springsteen lyrics and anecdotes about Lenny Zakim (the late activist whose legacy inspires so much great work), reaffirmed the essential value of work done on behalf of the vulnerable and underserved, and the unmatchable joy that can be derived by devoting energy and resources to this work.
The three featured speakers were a Haitian-American teenager who spends her after-school time writing novels through Books of Hope, a creative writing program at the Mystic Learning Center in Somerville, the director of The Boston Project Ministries, a community center based in Dorchester, and a recent refugee from the Congo whose family has been helped by Refugee Immigration Ministry, an organization that “builds community for uprooted people to serve the common good”. Each speaker described the positive, sustaining roles of non-profit organizations in their lives and communities.
During the course of the evening, we of musiConnects were happy to be woven into this fabric of life-changing work, and pleased to respond at the end of the evening with an offering of our special brand of community-centered music. After the ceremony, in the breakfast nook, one father told me he was overwhelmed by the remarkable work being done to make life better in Boston. Several students told me they were especially interested in the stories, especially the Congolese refugee’s harrowing escape from his war-torn country.
The standing ovation at the end of our performance, the hotel’s chandeliers, brass handrails, marble floors, red velvet couches, sparkly mirrors, buffet, and the chance to dress up in our favorite jeans, sweatshirts, three-piece suits, Easter dresses – whatever we wanted – also made a big impression on all of us. Fancy hotels do not figure into our day-to-day lives as teaching artists and young, striving families in Mattapan, and though we had fun, the question arises: what does such opulence have to do with our efforts to address basic human rights? I’m sure there would be consensus on this question among those of us who participated in this event. Our taste for extravagance is wholeheartedly aimed at the amount and quality of time, energy, and joy we devote to relationships, work, activism, and art. With a little space (a breakfast nook, a public school hallway), modest financial support, and each other we will create something worthy of the grandest celebration.