This year, we, the BPQ, embarked on an exciting partnership with the great performing arts organization, the Celebrity Series of Boston. As Celebrity Series Artists-in-Community (AIC), we brought the experience of live performance to audiences who are unable to or uncertain about visiting traditional performance venues. In conjunction with performances at the Harriet Tubman House in the South End, St. John/St. James Church in Roxbury, and the Mattapan Library, we gave performance-based educational presentations in four Boston Public Schools: Timilty Middle, Hurley Elementary, and our own beloved Sumner and Chittick Elementary.
We’re excited for a second season as Celebrity Series AIC ensemble; in fact, we’re already busy making plans! But before any more time passes, we need to update our musiConnects friends on what’s happened so far. There’s already danger of this blog post turning into a novel!
Artists in the Community: Educational Presentations in the Boston Public Schools
Thanks to the Celebrity Series school workshops at the Hurley, Chittick, and Sumner schools, the Boston Public Quartet explored and developed relationships with new friends in two ways – as people and listeners. As the neighborhood quartet of Boston, this was a fantastic chance to connect with and foster active listening in our young neighbors in the South End, Mattapan, and Roslindale.
The question in front of us –
How can we, as a string quartet with music of Beethoven, Gideon Klein, and Schubert ready to go, convey powerful listening techniques to audiences?
In preparation, we locked ourselves in Jason’s apartment for three hours (always a surefire method of deliberation). Conversation wound through a hearty brainstorm – ideas leapt from sketch comedy, to lectures on Beethoven’s turbulent personal life, to a video of salsa dancing – until we uncovered the skeleton of a workshop. It was framed around four “aural lenses,” or filters through which one could enjoy a live performance. These we called The Detective, The Dancer, The Poet, and The Storyteller. With some luck, we believed these lenses could heighten their listening experience and make newcomers to classical music feel like seasoned concertgoers.
Each portion of workshop invited students to try on a new lens. First, Marji introduced “The Detective.” This listener uses “just the facts,” sensory information collected with the eyes and ears to understand the music. With her trusty Sherlock Holmes cap, she helped students follow the dominant line of the violinist and supportive commentary of the cellist and violist in Schubert’s String Trio in B flat, I. Allegro Moderato. You would be astounded at the number of observations and questions these students had!
When they had enough of watching us have all the fun, swaying and making faces to the music, Jason reminded everyone that sometimes the best way to listen to music is be “The Dancer” and let your own body respond. He and Betsy floated out of their chairs and danced to the groove of Lev Zhurbin’s “Bagel on the Malecon,” without ever dropping a beat. There were not many brave middle-school souls standing to join but the students sure enjoyed watching those two show off their moves!
Next up, as“The Poet,” I invited the class to feel the vast emotional contrasts in the slow, Theme and Variations movement of Gideon Klein’s String Trio (1944). It begins with a folk melody thumping like a heartbeat. Students joined us in singing this tune and shared some amazing personal memories that came up as they listened, from trips with friends to get ice cream to funereal services of family members.
Nearing the end of the workshop, “The Storyteller” appeared. Betsy, the leader of this portion kept “forgetting” to come in with her next line because she was so absorbed in a book! Of course, that is just what we wanted them to think. Saying proudly, “Storytelling is my favorite way of listening,” she welcomed the students to use their imagination to invent a story of their own as we played the final movement of Beethoven Op. 95.
Overall, the workshop landed well with our new audiences. The workshop was built to say, “You, as a listener, are an equal partner in a live performance.” It is a simple equation: by lending us their ears, the quartet could bring the music to life and by framing listening as four characters, the students could let their creative ideas take shape, as well. All they needed was an open mind, a raised hand, and a strong voice (the added pencil and paper did not hurt).
Thank you to all who made these workshops possible! Through them, we met an extraordinary new collection of students and teachers and discovered listening tools that have changed our rehearsals and performances ever since.
– Michael, BPQ cellist
Our New Friends at the Celebrity Series
Our quartet has truly found kindred spirits at the Celebrity Series of Boston – three in particular:
1) Gary Dunning, the warm and thoughtful executive director: new to Celebrity Series last year, Gary brought to the executive directorship of the organization a vision to prioritize depth, quality, and relevance of arts experiences for a wider, more diverse audience. He was drawn to the Boston Public Quartet’s work because of its emphasis on creating lasting relationships with the children and families of Boston. We were excited that he noticed and valued that. And we’re learning a lot from him; in particular, we appreciate how he consistently models ways of thinking of the “big picture” and acknowledge complexity all at once.
2) Robin Baker, the new Manager of Community Performances and Partnerships: we have had a chance to get to know (and appreciate) Robin very well because she is the one who organized the details of this new Artist in Community program, including setting up and publicizing all related events (which she did effortlessly and with imaginative detail), and attending the events as our fifth, best quartet-mate. Her ideas and feedback at each event were indispensable; she served as a surefire set of outside eyes, ears, and antennae as we felt our way through our presentations and concerts in a dizzying variety of non-traditional settings, for all kinds of listeners. We could go on and on, but in a nutshell: Robin’s a kind and forthcoming, wise and artistic person, and we’re a much more flexible, agile quartet because of her input.
3) Robert Torres, the CS Staff Photographer and Graphic Designer: Our quartet had a ton of fun working with Robert on our photo-shoot, and the posters he designed for us are really superb. He is also a friendly, comforting soul to encounter at school visits and community concerts. Our quartet has so much more fun doing our thing when we know he’s there, and above all, he is amazingly good at capturing moments while we’re going crazy playing and teaching.
In our most recent meeting with Robin, we discussed ideas for the 2013-2014 season, which happens to be the Celebrity Series’ 75th anniversary year. The CS staff has some exciting ideas about how our quartet (and our students) will participate in the celebration, including collaborative performances with other Artists in the Community groups. We think you should be the first to know that CS is scheming an incredibly ambitious, whimsical, public “happening” for fall 2013; we’re sure it will make an impact on Boston for years to come…stay tuned!
-Betsy and Marji, BPQ violinists