Tag Archives: quartet

Music for Parties: Live & Otherwise

I like throwing parties. But I also suffer from a condition I call “Gatsby Syndrome.” Symptoms include behaviors such as

  • delighting in the act of throwing parties;
  • hoping that one’s favorite people will attend such parties;
  • lacking a desire to socialize or receive attention at such parties;
  • finding distractions during parties such as tending to host/hostess duties: replenishing drinks, busying oneself in the kitchen, taking coats, etc.; and/or
  • lingering in the background observing the party rather than actually partying.

 

I was seventeen when it occurred to me that throwing a party was more than just getting a bunch of people in the same room. I put together my own birthday party (which, on a side note, turned out to be hilariously fun with every guest bringing a round cake to stack into a 20-tiered monstrosity that naturally resulted in a cake fight when it toppled over). But I remember there being two memorably awkward moments that combined into one larger awkward moment:

  • Awkward Moment 1: I had arranged a whole bunch of chairs into one large circle instead of in groups of chairs for smaller groups to mingle. As a result, everyone quietly nibbled on their party sandwiches not knowing with whom to make eye contact, waiting for some brave soul to speak to the entire circle and break the silence.
  • Awkward Moment 2: During that moment of silence itself, there was no sound—specifically, NO MUSIC to distract from the silence. It occurred to me later that in the event that all guests at a party shut their mouths simultaneously, having something to bridge the gap of that silence can save a party from sudden death.

Like have you ever been at a gathering where the conversation dies down, there is a silence, and someone says, “Well, I’d better get going. . . .” And then before you know it everyone else says, “Me too” and there’s a big scuffle as everyone retrieves coats and shoes, hugs the host, and vacates.

A few years after the great 17th Birthday Party, I was prepping for another party and popped my “Getz Plays Jobim: The Girl From Ipanema” CD into the boom box (does that date me?). As the hours passed, I noticed that people both stayed longer and seemed more comfortable. Even though the music was unnoticeable in its background-noise kind of way, it brought warmth into the room. And when I, as the hostess, noticed a break in the conversation at some point, no one else seemed to.

It’s a pretty simple formula that restaurants and retail stores have down: play music—the right kind of music—and people will stay longer and buy more. I’ve learned that people actually spend more when faster-paced pop music is played in a clothing store, and people will stay longer and consume more in a coffee shop with atmospheric, relaxing music.

Gatsby, when planning his parties, knew that music was key. “By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. . . . The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby).

(P.S. What happened to full orchestras being present at parties? Like in The Sound of Music, or even during “Under the Sea” in The Little Mermaid? Invite an orchestra to play at a party and I’m there.)

Live music at parties is always an incredible touch, whether it’s a formal quartet at a wedding reception or a bluegrass trio at a barbeque. And while none of us can afford to throw a true Gatsby party, music can always be a part of the affair—no matter what the party budget may be. Try these options on for size:

  • A live quartet
  • One guy on a guitar
  • A Pandora station playing from your Blue-ray
  • An iTunes or Spotify playlist
  • A real record player or phonograph for a retro/period-themed party
  • A violinist playing unaccompanied Bach
  • A harp player
  • A rock band
  • Classical music CDs
  • KARAOKE!

So as you’re planning your upcoming Christmas party, be sure to invite the tunes! It’s time to kill the silence, vanquish boredom, and have a good time!

ALSO, don’t forget to join us for the holidays at Kennedy Violins! You will most definitely hear classical music in the showroom, music which may prompt you to pour yourself that cup of complementary coffee or tea and gaze contemplatively at the hundreds of violins surrounding you like friends at your own private party. You’ll love it. Hope to see you soon!

Ensembles Large and Small: Try Them All!

At Kennedy Violins, we all participate locally in performance groups and some of us are soloists.  I can only speak for myself though.  I am a huge fan of ensembles.  The elementary school that I went to offered a strings class to 5th and 6th graders.  I was excited to play the violin and then the cello.  My favorite part of the entire class, though, was getting to work towards a common goal with my classmates.  I love being around people.  I’m an extrovert.

As I progressed in my musical studies, a lot of the repertoire that I was learning included Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites.  This was not as much fun for me.  Yes, I know that I learned valuable techniques and skills, however, it was lonely.  No one to play off of or interact with because I was by myself.  Hours in a practice room, by myself.  Sitting on a stage during recitals…BY MYSELF!   Still, I made it through the suites with my sanity in tact (my college roommates might debate this).  The one thing I think that aided my study of Bach, was my involvement in musical ensembles large and small.

Like myself, being involved in a musical ensemble is “built-in” for many beginners.  Many still start in a classroom setting through a school music program or teacher’s studio.  It’s a great way to start.  Not only does it fill any need for human connection and camaraderie, but it builds listening skills and intonation, as well as rhythm and playing together.  For some, they are able to continue in a group setting in a middle or high school orchestra.  Yet, how can a student be involved in an ensemble if there are no school programs?

Here are some options:

Duets and Trios (2 and 3 players)-There is a lot of music out there written for two or three, so practically any skill level, beginner to advanced, can participate.  Playing a duet is a simple as asking a friend or family member to play together.  Your young musician can even ask their teachers if they can play with another student in their studio.  Often times, teachers are pleased to play with students too. *Free Participation*

Quartet (4 players)-The traditional string quartet consists of 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello.  Like Duets and Trios, there is a lot of music available but, this exact combination of musicians can be trickier to find.  It can take some time to get everyone together.  You may have to start playing as a duet or trio and add people as you meet them. *Free Participation*

Church/Synagogue Groups-These groups usually perform once a week and are usually open to any musician.  Playing in this setting can yield combinations of instruments that you won’t find anywhere else and the live performances keep your “chops up.”  If you aren’t “religious,” don’t worry, many groups don’t require that, they just want you to play.  *Free Participation*

Community Orchestra-Community Orchestras are much larger that any of the other groups I’ve mentioned.  They are often a full orchestra of strings, wind, brass, and percussion.  They are great because they can provide the chance for a young musician to play with other musicians that are much more experienced.  Plus, they have a will get play more challenging music in the modern orchestra repertoire.  While most members will be adults, many community groups are open to proficient students although an audition may be required.  Also, a lot of community groups hold “Young Artists” competitions for talented young musicians to perform a solo with a full orchestra. *Free Participation*

Youth Orchestras-Dot Rust posted a blog about this in February.  It’s worth the read.  She describes how they began in the U.S. and how your student can be involved.  The only thing that is different from the previous groups is that there is tuition involved.  Many groups offer tuition breaks or scholarships for any needy student. *Cost to Participate*

Jazz Band/Combo-We all know Bass players are in jazz bands, but violins, violas, and cellos?  Say it with me: Yes we can!  See Stephane Grapelli, Lucio Amanti, and Judith Insell for some great examples.  Your student may want to learn jazz scales and basic improvisation techniques before jumping in, but it’s so worth it.  Even if they don’t become the Dizzy Gillespie on the viola, playing jazz opens up a whole new world of tonality that will be helpful if they ever dive into some Bernstein or Ives. *Maybe Cost*

Bluegrass Band-Your young musician may want to trade their violin in for a fiddle. Side Note: violin=fiddle.  Bluegrass bands are welcoming to all ages and levels and there are competitions in every region that can offer cash prizes to winners.  Bluegrass bands often play by ear and by rote instead of reading of sheet music, so this is a great chance for your student to practice memorization. *Buy lots of Rosin*

Indie Rock Band:  If you haven’t noticed, strings are the new “it” instrument for rock bands.  See Yellowcard and any of Coldplay’s latest stuff.  To successfully communicate with guitar players, your student will have to learn to read chord charts.  This isn’t too hard if they already know how to read music.  Participating in a setting like this could also be an opportunity to write and create music of their own.  The cost is determined by how determined the band is.  If the band ever records or performs live, it would be a good idea for your student to invest in an electronic pick-up and maybe an effects pedal.  *Cost: Whatever it takes, baby!*

Marching Band-Alright, I’ll admit.  I don’t know of any marching string orchestras.  I’m just putting up here hoping someone out there might actually do it.  The technology exists now to make it happen (carbon fiber instruments + wireless pick-ups hooked up to a stadium sound system!)…but it would be expensive.  Okay, for this one, your student would have the be the relative of an eccentric millionaire that is about to die. *Cost: Priceless*

Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to having your young musician participate in an ensemble.  There are numerous possibilities and numerous benefits.  Plus, many options are free of charge.  Helpful hint: if you need to provide sheet music for the group your student is playing in, check out the International Music Library Score Project.  They provide copies of free sheet music for ensembles of many sizes.