On Today’s Episode…
In this edition of the Creative Strings Podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing Quartet Davis, a talented string quartet consisting of Emily Edelstein on viola, Molly Tucker and Camille Vogley Howes on violin, and Karl Henry on cello. Their debut album, “Three Lefts Make a Right,” showcases their unique blend of genres and collaborative approach to music-making. During the interview, we delved into their creative process, their experiences with different musical styles, and their thoughts on gender dynamics in the music industry. Throughout the episode you can hear extended clips from their album.
Exploring Musical Diversity:
We delve into Quartet Davis’s diverse musical influences and how they approach learning and rehearsing different genres. The quartet members discuss their love for learning tunes by ear and experimenting with arrangements. They emphasize the importance of communication, experimentation, and finding their own unique voice as a group.
The Power of Collaboration:
We discuss Quartet Davis’s balanced and collaborative approach, where every member contributes equally to the group’s sound. The quartet reflects on their democratic process and how their diverse musical backgrounds have shaped their rehearsal dynamics. They discuss the challenges and strengths of being a collaborative ensemble and the importance of creating an inclusive space where everyone feels valued.
Gender Dynamics in Music:
The conversation then shifts towards the gendering of the music world. Quartet Davis acknowledges the underrepresentation of marginalized genders in various music genres, including jazz. They share their experiences navigating different musical spaces and discuss the hierarchical structures and gendered language prevalent in the industry. They also touch on the significance of valuing education as much as performance and break down gender stereotypes in music.
The Importance of Improvisation:
The interview explores the quartet’s experiences with improvisation, both tonal and free. Quartet Davis members discuss their individual practice routines and how they incorporate improvisation into their personal development. They share their journey of discovering the freedom and creativity that comes with improvising together as a quartet, highlighting the evolution of their process and the importance of setting parameters to enhance improvisations.
In the final segment, Quartet Davis presents a few more songs from their album, discussing the background and arrangement of each piece. The conversation concludes with reflections on the gendering of music and the impact of collaborative, inclusive spaces on the music industry as a whole.
Quartet Davis’s debut album, “Three Lefts Make a Right,” serves as a testament to their musical versatility, collaborative spirit, and commitment to breaking down barriers in the world of classical and contemporary music. Their unique blend of genres and their dedication to fostering an inclusive environment make them a vibrant and essential voice in the string quartet landscape.
Christian Howes: I’m here with Quartet Davis, Emily Edelstein, viola, Molly Tucker, violin, Camille Vogley Howes, violin, and Karl Henry on cello. Welcome wonderful people. I’m so happy to have you here on the Creative Strings Podcast. And before we get more into talking about you and talking about what’s on your mind, let’s just pick a piece of music from this beautiful new debut album. “Three Lefts Make a Right” Could any one of you, let us know which song we’re going to listen to and just set it up a little bit for us?
Quartet Davis Member 1: This is a French tune written by Dominique Forge, a French musician who plays the hurdy-gurdy. And we learned it a few years ago when we had coaching with Becky Tracy and Keith Murphy, and they taught us this tune.
They’re Vermont-based folk musicians. So we fell in love with this tune and had a really fun time arranging it and making it our own.
Christian Howes: How do you call it again?
Quartet Davis Member 1: La Sansonette
Christian Howes: Great. So this was a French tune. How did you learn the tune? Cause I know that on your new album, three lefts make a right. There’s a mixture of different genres, but also I presume that there were different ways that you dealt with those genres, like in terms of how you rehearse, how you learn them.
Can you tell us anything about that?
Quartet Davis Member 1: Yeah. Well, we learned this. Tune by ear, and it’s the way that we learn fiddle tunes. So just in chunks, as we all sort of got it into our ears and picked it up, then repeated it and worked on it. That’s a really wonderful way that we love learning tunes. We’re really into learning things by ear and then taking it forward and arranging things together.
And in most cases, we didn’t have anything on the page. A lot of it was talking things over, trying things out. if we needed to, writing out forms and drawing out pictures for our forms.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah, I really fondly remember learning it by ear from Becky and I think something that was really valuable from her that I realized when we were playing it with her was just like how loose you can be in your bow and the quality that adds to the music, especially in this style, which for me at that time was pretty rigid with the melody and how I was playing with the bow. And I remember too, she also was really emphasizing like having simplicity and kind of building up from one idea, which was really valuable to us who I think in us being very eager and wanting to try all these different ideas, we had gotten very used to like kind of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticked. And what happened with Sentinette is basically exactly that. We just try to. bunch of ideas out, but we did start with the melody as the essence of the song and worked from there, which was a really good way of having everything connected.
Christian Howes: I think one of the things that sets this album apart is your fluency across different genres and methodologies.
Can anybody set up the second song that you’d like for us to listen to?
Quartet Davis Member 2: The second song is Jealous Guy, which was written by John Lennon, but I personally brought in Jealous Guy with the Donny Hathaway adaptation in mind. We like workshopped it from like our very first concert, and I think we all really wanted to be mindful of like what we are, which is a string quartet.
Christian Howes: You know, one of the things that feels Universal about both the Donny Hathaway album, but also, you know fiddle music when I think of Vesson or Danish string quartet or the first song that you guys played, is groove! And you know, and that’s one thing that I think a lot of times in classical music we miss from string quartet Anyway, let’s listen to this other very grooving tune “Jealous Guy”
It’s so fun to be around a real string quartet. I remember when I was young that being in a string quartet from the time I was like maybe 16 was like one of the highlights of my life.
Like chamber music, right? This is the thing. And I think it’s no different if you’re in a rock band, that’s really tight or a jazz band, and you just, you connect with people around the music. I wonder if briefly you guys could tell me about how you developed that bond and, or just the ways that you work together.
What’s different about quartet Davis. I mean, I know that there really is this democratic process that you guys go into it almost to like. extremes, but I feel like somehow there must be something different about it because you’re dealing with all these other styles of music. So I’m just curious, and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m just curious if you’d speak to any of that.
Quartet Davis Member 3: I’ll just first start off with like how he kind of forms. We’re on a trip with our school that’s led by Dean Chris Jenkins. I mean, I was with the quartet with Molly and Emily and you’re part of the classical string quartet and Quartet Davis Member 2 was in the jazz group and we were in Jordan. We were playing concerts and doing workshops at schools and like a community center and almost every night, like. Playing a lot of music and jamming and just doing whatever and slowly it just evolves and like, oh we could do something with this Emily or anyone else if you want to jump in just speak to our rehearsal style
Quartet Davis Member 4: Yeah, when you were asking that question what came to my mind, which I actually haven’t thought about before But we always say like in our bio and stuff like oh, we all come from different musical backgrounds, but then we came together But I think that sort of connects to rehearsal because, like, I’ve been in a bunch of other bands, and I know Molly has played with a lot of contrabands, Cammie has played with a lot of jazz ensembles, Karl, you played as a drummer and a bassist and a cellist with, like, all these different ensembles, and I think the mindsets Like the mindset of every ensemble is very different.
So like if you’ve only ever played in an orchestra or in a classical string quartet, you just have a specific, um, rehearsal mindset and rehearsal values. And I think it’s cool that we’ve been in all types of ensembles and yeah, as you said, I think we’ve struggled with being too democratic and this is something that we hear a lot from mentors and like when we’re talking about business or music, people say you guys need to delegate more. But I think it’s a strength too, because we care so much about making sure everyone feels represented and feels proud to be presenting what we present. So I think our over democraticness is a blessing and curse.
Christian Howes: But, and that brings to mind something for me that if you think about like a football team or a basketball team, like who’s going to score the ball, get it to that person. Right. And it could be the same thing. Oftentimes in ensembles, it’s, you know, about supporting the star soloists if it’s a improvising scenario. Right. And we see a lot of those. And one of the things that to me is remarkable about this album, and I’m just obviously putting my own judgments on it, but is how balanced it truly is for all four of the members. I think it’s like a stunning thing and it’s something I want to bring up later after we listen to some more music because it just came up to me that it’s a different way of valuing this collaboration above giving the ball to the star.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah. I think that part of like the democratic versus not. Democratic, you know, delegating that like kind of dilemma, which we’ve thought a lot about as a group in the past, but also recently something that I think makes it work is the fact that we all really love and respect each other and we are like a tiny little family and have been through so much together and have learned how to communicate and be vulnerable and set boundaries and like basically all these different things that you just need for any kind of life relationship.
So it’s through that we’re able to like go about things in a longer way, in the, in, in a way that’s. Maybe a little bit slower moving and maybe it takes a little extra work, but ultimately is a lot more special because we all like how to say in each step and we’re all listening to each other and learning more as we go along. So I think that’s kind of why it’s special, even though it is a little bit cumbersome and confusing at times, especially with us being indecisive or, you know, whatever it is.
Christian Howes: What brings to mind the idea of putting the music first versus. putting the relationship first. Like that’s an interesting dilemma, isn’t it?
And I think like a lot of groups, arguably, you know, eventually they, they break up just like marriages, just like any relationships. And a lot of times counselors will say, you have to put the relationship. First, if you know, and it’s like both sides of everybody in the relationship has to sort of give care to the relationship.
And, but what if that’s a choice between the relationship and the music, you know, or how is there a way to sort of transcend that? And that, that to me is just like a. Wow, but anyway, what’s what’s the next tune? We’ll come back to that.
Quartet Davis Member 4: So the next tune, um, if I Memory serves, uh a student by Väsen, so Väsen, is a Swedish Trio and there’s a Nyckelharpa, which is sort of like a keyed fiddle and then a five string viola and 12 string guitar and this is another one where From the beginning before Quartet Davis even existed, Molly and I had been jamming on this tune in Jordan And I remember Cammie and Karl kind of joining in and it’s sort of a really twisty tune.
Like it doesn’t, um, come super quick. It’s, you know, a jam buster as they say, but we just love playing it. This was sort of the first time we experimented with free improv in the middle. So you might hear a little bit of that. And that’s another thing we could talk about is the process of. How we sort of came to be able to do that and are still working on that.
Christian Howes: Oh, please do. Yeah. Please tell me, how do you, how do you work on free improvisation? What would be, you know, how would you tell another string quartet? If they said we want to do free improvisation, what do we need to do? What would you tell them?
Quartet Davis Member 4: Well, the thing about this one in particular is for years we had been playing it as basically just like a garbage dump. We were just like, all right, everyone, play, pay whatever you want. It’s free. Like you’re free. Let’s just go for it. And it was so messy. It was like, we go back and watch videos of ourselves from the past and like, it’s a little cringy because we just had no restraint and I think we had to go through that to get to the place where we got, but when we approach this in the recording process, we did put some parameters on it.
And I think. You know, that’s something I really learned from you, Chris, is like parameters are the key to creativity. For this, we said, all right, we’re going to be just me and Cammie. And we’re going to do that until it feels right. And then Molly’s going to join, and she can do whatever she wants. And then Karl’s going to join.
And as long as we keep that order, we can do whatever we want. And even just having that little bit of structure made the free so much better.
Christian Howes: How did you… All feel when you were first doing free improvisation, because I imagine that some of you might have had more or less experience with doing free improvisation individually, let alone in an ensemble.
Was there messiness around that? Was there, you know, vulnerability? Was there? I don’t know anything. Do you remember even because you’ve probably been doing this for a few years now?
Quartet Davis Member 3: Yeah. Free improv is always like, it’s just such an enigma for me. Like, I feel like some of my favorite times that we’ve ever had free improvisation, especially as an ensemble, I like blank out.
Christian Howes: That’s really interesting to me. So you’re saying if you listen back to what you did, you can’t necessarily associate like the thought that you had in your head when you played that idea of why you did it. That’s interesting. So I imagine that all of you are engaged in different types of practice as individuals from your classical practice, from your fiddle practice, from jazz practice, or whatever you want to call it.
Um, you know, for example, based on my basic understanding, like Molly maybe has the, you know, a long history with fiddle music, you know, folk music. So I would imagine that That it’s natural for you when you practice to like learn a tune or play a tune and improvise on the tune in certain ways and look for certain things when you’re practicing and maybe um Karl and Emily have more of a, you know, a classical routine.
I’m just hypothesizing that it’s like, okay, let me go to my, you know, Galamian scale here and let me go to this, uh, etude from Kreutzer or whatever it might be in the case of all four of you, it feels like you’ve really got a mix, although it might be heavier on one side, how many of you practice improvisation in your normal practice as individuals and especially free improvisation or is it only tonal or rhythmic improvisation or micro improvisations on fiddle tunes?
Quartet Davis Member 3: Can anybody speak to that? When it comes to like practicing improvisation Yeah, after going to Euro camp, like, what was it, like three years ago? I think that that really like started my kind of journey of taking improvisation and applying it in the practice room. Sometimes there’s like a specific goal I had in mind, like, you know, something I’m doing in my practice routine, like I want to get better at like this certain scale or this certain progression.
And sometimes it’s like literally just doing free improv, but instead of the goal being a certain musical thing to improv over. It’s like apply X amount of constraints that I’ve like never tried before. And I try to just see if it’s going to sound good, really.
Quartet Davis Member 1: Yeah. I feel like I have a twofold thought on this, but I think I really appreciated, um, I think my, my practice kind of takes on different forms, depending on where my brain is focusing, if I have a lot classical work on the forefront of my mind, then that will be kind of where my brain is. But I think I’ve found a lot of freedom in trying to bring a lot into my practice, even if my ultimate goal that day is to just work really hard on a concerto. If I start out my process, with some kind of improvised work or a really slow fiddle tune or something that puts me in a different frame of mind.
Uh, I think that really helps me stay grounded. I noticed I kind of struggled at one point in my practice routine. Like, am I just like messing around if I’m playing fiddle tunes instead of playing the stuff I should be practicing? Like, am I just procrastinating? Is this a bad idea? But I found, of course, there’s always a balance in there somewhere.
But I think I’ve found that I gain a lot when I put my brain in a different place and I allow myself to be free and not zoned in very closely on a particular kind of technique all the time. It allows my brain to be in a creative space which Helps me in any dimension that I’m in. It allows me to find a lot more freedom in my technical playing. And it’s just, it feels good too. And it, and it makes me happy, which honestly is like pretty hard to achieve in a practice session. And I think that also kind of relates to how I feel about. rehearsal and, and practicing within the group too, is I think that of course we all can come from different places and have different levels of experience. And I think for me as kind of joining this group, having had a little bit of experience with improv, but really not a lot, um, it was a really open space to try. things out and throw everything at the table and be like, Oh, that sounded bad, but okay, I tried it and having really fun games and like making crazy stories or trying to like, make free improv off of a book character or a color or just like throwing crazy prompts and then allowing ourselves to do whatever we want to do, I think makes it feel less scary and a lot more like. We have freedom and we have trust and we’ll catch each other if we feel like we’re flailing.
Christian Howes: So this next tune by Veen, uh, what’s the name of the tune again?
Quartet Davis Member 4: I may mispronounce this Hembrannarmarsch. The funny story about this very quickly is that Karl and I actually met Veen last year at a folk festival and we went up to them and we were like, we love your music so much. We actually recorded, um, one of your tracks for our new album. And they’re like, oh, which song? And Karl and I mispronounced it so badly. We had to type out for them to know which one we were talking about, but they’re very nice guys. Okay, so let’s listen to this.
Christian Howes: So, uh, Without Spring is the tune that Cammie composed. And what comes to mind for me is that This is like a great example of quote unquote classical chamber music, you know, at its best, you know, the string quartet is really evoking all these beautiful textures, uh, whether it might, you know, like Ravel, Debussy, kind of these kinds of textures, rubato’s, you know, but also some grooves within this kind of quasi classical context. And so I think that it’s a, it’s a great addition to the record because it shows that you’re a quote unquote, serious classical string quartet. Um, that’s all I wanted to say about it, but I’d love to hear your thoughts about the piece, Cammie.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah, I wrote this my sophomore year and then finished it my junior year, I’m pretty sure, at Oberlin. And I initially wrote the song after, like, it was like a breakup, essentially, which was a valuable moment for me, so I tried to, like, capture that feeling in a song. It’s the only song on the album that is written out fully and that we learned from reading off of sheet music.
But we also actually, after we went to Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music as the fellowship group, the fellowship quartet, we learned a full Haydn quartet as well as Piazzolla piece. And we also read through Caroline Shaw piece that we all really love. And so that was our first time. besides learning Wiithout Spring that we really dug deep into playing Western European classical music as a string quartet.
Christian Howes: It’s great. So the one piece that the quartet learned by reading a through composed composition was actually composed by a member of the string quartet, which these are all just, I think, you know, wonderful developments for the string quartet world. So we’re going to listen to Without Spring by Camille Vogley Howes.
So Quartet Davis. I’ve known all of you for a few years because I got, you know, the lucky chance to go up and visit Oberlin, do some coaching and stuff and seeing you all at some camps, you know, some creative strings workshops, things like that. So proud to know you and so proud and just happy for you that you’re, you’re having this debut CD that you’ve put so much time and effort into. And I really feel it’s paid off. One of the things that came up for me. As I think I referenced earlier was just about how it felt. different, somehow collaborative, really balanced to me is one of the things that stands out that every member of the group feels to me like really equal, powerful contributions, something that I’ve been trying to educate myself. more about in the last couple of years, which is about the gendering of our world and the gendering of music. You know, we’re all aware, I think more than we used to be that there can be gender imbalance. But I think that there’s more awareness out that there’s a under representation in the industry. Especially in some places like jazz for definitely. I mean, there’s been a lot of calling for more gender representation in jazz. And then I have heard more conversations in the last year or two, even from some of you just like, you know, saying, Hey, I want to, I want to find more. Um, non male composers, non male musicians that I can listen to to get ideas from because so many of the, the quote unquote greats that we listen to are male.
And so it just makes me wonder, like, first of all, like, what does it mean when we say that our world Is gendered. What does it mean to say, you know, we gender our world?
Quartet Davis Member 4: I think in any part of the world, a lot of instruments are gendered in that only specific people are allowed or intended to play them or historically have played them. And that applies to a lot of kinds of art, not just music, but Everyone views the world and the music world from their own experience of gender, and I think there’s no singular experience of being any gender in music, even in a male dominated world. Even, I mean, I can’t speak to it, what it’s like to be a man in a male dominated world of music. But I, I would say that breaking down the gender stereotypes and roles and imbalances is something that will benefit everyone. Not just people who are of marginalized genders. I think that’s something that will just make every single musical sphere a better place.
Christian Howes: I’m reaching here, but is it possible to imagine that the ways that we engage with music, with musicianship, that that in fact…
Quartet Davis Member 4: It is, you know, run through sort of a gendered lens. It’s not only the representation of certain people or persons or groups, but it’s, it’s the processes in the language itself, from what I understand. And so. You know, again, this very facile example I gave was this kind of idea that like, you know, it’s great jazz music. If somebody is playing really loud and really fast and banging really hard. Right. And to me, that just feels like maybe that’s a masculine concept. I don’t know. I I’m just, I’m just curious if anybody could, would want to speak to that.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah. I’d love to speak to that. I think that sometimes it’s hard to grasp the concept that we gender things that aren’t people, but it is very true and very real, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it all the time. And when it comes to music, at least what I’ve observed is that it comes down to creating a hierarchy around ways of thinking, ways of speaking, ways of playing, ways of teaching and learning. Like everything has to have hierarchy around it.
Assigning gender to things that aren’t people is part of why we can. understand gender as a construct, something that we’re constantly like engaging with, meaning that we’re constantly assigning things. Yeah. And I think that one example of how we might gender things in music is the fact that we don’t necessarily value education in the same way that we value performing at a really high level.
And we don’t see them as demanding an equal level of skill and care and practice. And I think Part of that is because historically education has been gendered, and a lot of women end up going into education as opposed to other traditionally male dominated fields. So that’s just one example I might give, but also definitely what you said about gendering sound itself, you know.
Quartet Davis Member 1: A small note on that as well, as I think it’s interesting for us having sort of our feet in many worlds is that I think we get to and sort of have to experience the way that gender dynamics play out in different spaces, which is
really difficult to sort of come to terms with and to like interact in all of these spaces.
And, and I think there’s, there are definitely common threads throughout all of them you see in the classical world, in the jazz world, in the folk world, and all sorts of worlds that You see a lot of similar dynamics, but they take on different forms just by the product of the music being different and the culture and tradition being different.
And I think it’s interesting for all of us to kind of navigate those spaces and figure out like, okay, this kind of jam is often, like, you’ll often find a lot of dudes rocking out and not making a lot of space, you know, and you see it in a lot of different spaces. And it means different things at different times.
But I think we’ve all like had a lot of conversations and a lot of experiences sort of thinking about that and, and thinking about how to actually make inclusive space in our own playing. Like, what does it mean for us? Because we care a lot about education. We care a lot about playing with other people and how do we create a space that feels inclusive for other people who feel like they can practice all kinds of musicality, all kinds of.
Approaches can be all kinds of genders and engage and feel respected and welcome.
Christian Howes: It’s an amazing conversation to me. And I feel like, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of education happening for people in my generation and people older than me and just getting to, you know, it’s like, you need to get to square one before you can get to square two, even.
Understanding the idea that the world is gendered around us is pretty far leap for a lot of people to get to and I think it’s really neat that now that I am almost 50 years old that, that I can look to young people like yourselves and see that I can learn so much. From people your age, let’s listen to the next piece. What is it?
Quartet Davis Member 1: The next tune is called Rajrajraj. Uh, it’s a tune that we learned from Frigg, which is a Finnish band. And I listened to this tune so many times. It was like one of those times where it was like on the list of like the three tracks I was listening to, however many years ago. Um, and it was fun to bring this to everyone and, and have fun with it.
It’s very much our like. Jam, happy fiddle time. Just a lot of energy, a lot of fun.
Christian Howes: Yeah, everybody’s dancing on the zoom call, imagining that we’re listening to the song together, the songwriting and arrangement process. I mean, just to say the songwriting and arrangement process doesn’t usually go in the same sentence with. In your string quartet, you know, how you practice improvisation as a group, making space for each instrument, string quartets often talk about making space for each other, you know, their roles, how they support, how they lead, but not in these creative.
ways and not in these such diverse genres, in my opinion, what is the difference between playing written music and playing music you’ve worked out by ear or versus playing fully improvised? Can anybody speak to that?
Quartet Davis Member 1: One thing I love about our arranging process is that, um, you’ve spoken to this, but we all kind of have a personal stake in the creation of it.
And so there’s a lot of trial and error and of coming up with ideas. It’s just a different way of becoming invested in each of the pieces we play. I think it ends up for me, I just am in a different brain space than I am when I’m reading music and thinking about interpretation and making choices and trying to figure out how my ideas fit with the vision for the piece, but it’s kind of fun.
I mean, we do that in similar ways, especially with music that we’re playing that is traditional or written by someone else, and we have to think about sort of what the style is for whatever we’re playing. But I think what’s really cool about our process is that there’s a lot of opportunity for change and development and spontaneity.
And so our arrangements change over time. It’s kind of fun to go back and listen to pieces we played years ago and be like, Oh, I totally forgot we used to start like that. And it’s also fun now that we have a lot of arrangements. That we know really well that we can challenge ourselves to be more spontaneous in performance and try and change things up or just rely a lot on communication, just silent communication when we’re on stage playing or just playing with each other.
It’s a very dynamic process, which I feels really unique.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah, I feel also like we’ve gotten to a point, like we’ve grown a lot as a group and as individuals over the past four years, and one thing I noticed was that at a certain point, we started being able to just play anything we wanted and kind of develop the song as we were playing and not necessarily have written out sections, and I think we always were able to do that to a certain extent, but we did kind of like reach its milestone where we were able to be like a totally functional string band in a way where, you know, you see other kinds of ensembles, whether it’s in folk or jazz, you know, be able to call tunes and play them on the gig and not like have to rehearse them or prepare them.
And I think we got to a level of comfort and knowing each other so well that we could literally just be like, okay, well, let’s do this. I dig of you. Like we love that too. And let’s just like jump into it. It’s gotten so like comfortable and we know each other so well and we know each other’s tendencies that we can kind of anticipate and like support and bring out different things in each other that always takes it in new places.
Love that. Love that.
Awesome. Well, we brought up the question of the business and we’d like to touch on that, you know, here, because in the creative strings podcast, because I feel like for all of us, you know, it’s our art, it’s teaching.
Learning and business supports that. And ultimately it has to be integrated. You know, you’ve got this beautiful band, four beautiful people coming together with all this beautiful music you’ve prepared, you want to share it with the world, you want to sustain your ability to, to be able to do that. And so, you know, what has been your experience of the business, you know, in terms of booking your tours in terms of, you know, Karl touched upon it a little bit in terms of the messaging and how you can actually reach out to different venues and really speak to what you’re trying to offer and why they might want to consider working with you. What do you guys all think? Think about the business because, you know, I’ve got strong opinions about business. And, uh, I think it’s one of those dilemmas that sort of an equalizer for a lot of people, you know, cause we all, we all want to live in a world that just values what we do. And we just want to be able to just do it well and have the world value that and be able to survive. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t always work that way. Like we have to create. Perception, you know, we have to offer what we’re bringing to the world and try to enroll people in, um, in working with us and in valuing that and compensating us for our services. So how do you all feel about that?
Quartet Davis Member 4: It’s been a huge learning process for us going in. There’s just like a lot, a lot to know and a lot to work out. And I think one of our. biggest assets is that we are big cheerleaders for each other. And so when we’re trying to take a leap and send out a bunch of booking emails or contact someone that we really look up to and are afraid to do so because like, ah, it’s scary to put yourself out there.
I’ve appreciated how much we just tell each other to go for it. all the time and proofread each other’s emails and set goals for each other and inspire each other to get work done. I think that’s been really great for us, as we figure the whole process out. It definitely isn’t an easy one, but I think we have a lot of amazing mentors that have given us really great support.
You definitely are in there for sure. I think we, we learn a lot from people who have gone through this business experience or who are making music that we care about. So I think that’s been a huge starting process for us. It’s just like, who do we think is cool? Who do we really love and can we look up to that model and find inspiration from it when we’re trying to make our own way and forge our own path?
Christian Howes: That’s great. I wonder if I could ask a specific question. This is an idea that floats out there, and I’m curious what you think about this idea. You know, the idea is that it’s up to us to create the perception of value. for what we do. It’s up to us to to to offer what we do to people and to inspire people to see the value in what we do. And that it’s not just going to fall from trees. You know, you can’t just necessarily, okay, we made the album now everybody’s going to love us. And I mean, I mean, I certainly love the album, but, but does that mean someone’s going to book the group, which you guys have done a lot of great concerts and you’d be a great band for any concert presenter. Does it mean that someone’s going to hire you as they did at Apple Hill to be the quartet in residence teaching, even though you know that you can do a great job at it? Do you? Do you feel that it’s your responsibility to go out and create those opportunities, create the awareness, set the value for what you do and or do you feel that is a dilemma in and of itself? Just that idea.
Quartet Davis Member 4: It’s a really good question. I think in an ideal world, there’d be less, um, need for so much promotion, but there are a lot of groups doing a lot of really cool things and a lot of educators doing a lot of really cool things, and you do have to work to make yourself known. As you said, nothing’s gonna, like, no opportunities are really gonna fall from the sky, and I don’t, I don’t really think it’s a problem.
I think it’s a big challenge for us. Um, Molly hinted on this. in promoting ourselves. I think I don’t want to speak for everyone, but we have trouble believing in ourselves. And I definitely, I would not feel comfortable promoting if it was just myself, but I, I say, Oh, I love these three people so much. And I love what they’ve created with me in this music.
So I have to promote it for all of us. We’re still learning about all this promotion stuff, especially right now we’re in this push to submit this album for review and for radio stations and as Molly said, we’re constantly checking on each other and encouraging each other. But yeah, I guess. We’re all still learning the balance of how do we describe ourselves to other people so that we can get booked?
How do we describe ourselves to schools so we can get booked? And one of the things that I think makes us great is that we’re hard to define, but it also makes it hard for us to reach out and say, give us a chance because we can do this thing. You just might not have ever seen it before.
Quartet Davis Member 2: I also think that part of the dilemma for us, and I think maybe just in general people in our age group who are just like younger and haven’t spent that much time out in the industry gigging professionally necessarily, or at least not as much because we were in school.
I think part of the dilemma is that, you know, we do music in part for people and to build relationships and to have community with each other and to play music, you know, for people and with people. And When relationships start to feel transactional, I think it can be really hard to see the purpose in doing music in the first place.
And especially for me, I think I noticed the shift in like, whether it’s on Instagram or whatever else, the fact that all musicians have to push so hard to be recognized and just to like, make ends meet means that like a lot of relationships themselves end up feeling. Like money or opportunities are at stake and I think that that can really make things confusing and complicated.
I think that’s also why there is this hesitancy with promoting because we don’t want to feel like we are taking advantage of people or like we’re you know damaging relationships because we want people to hear our music and so it’s really complicated in that way I think not just for us but for a lot of people.
Quartet Davis Member 3: Sometimes it can even feel easier reaching out to someone that you don’t know at all or someone that you like, you know, from someone is a contact and it’s just like pretty straightforward. But when it’s someone that you are friends with, or like, it’s like a family friend or something and you’re like trying to like, you know, they have this platform or you know, they have this venue.
And it’s just like, Oh, like, Hey, like, I love you. Our families love each other. Like, but also kind of like, This like specific thing about this gig, like all these questions and like, we got to like nail down like how much we’re getting paid and like what we’re doing on like the tip and it’s just like, yeah, you know, like trying to balance the transactional nature with just like, also, you know, being friends.
Christian Howes: Yeah, yeah, I agree with that. And I think that, you know, I mean, I remember when I was younger in my 20s, and just starting my career, I was 24, I think was a pretty big deal. close to the same age you, some of you are. And that, um, I felt really, um, you know, worried about that. I was asking people for help asking, Hey, would you please save my Spotify?
Hey, would you be willing to give me a, a, a quote about our album? You know, you know, Hey, would you consider giving me a gig, all these kinds of things. And, um, I remember I would ask my dad for advice about it and my mom too. But, um, my dad, I remember him saying, if you’re not sure what to, what to ask people or what to offer to someone, but you are looking for help.
That there are three questions that you can bear in mind, and one is the obvious thing, which is to ask for consideration in hiring you for the thing or doing the thing like, you know, just if you know that you want a quote, it’s just say, would you consider please giving us a quote? Or if you know that you want a gig and like you said, Karl, I mean, if you call somebody and their job is to be a buyer for a venue, that feels kind of obvious.
Cause it’s like, that’s their job is to buy bands and, you know, for their venues. So you call them and it’s kind of like applying for a job. It feels a little safer. And so you can obviously ask for that thing. But another thing my dad said is to ask for a referral. And that’s kind of like, do you know anybody that might be interested in hiring us or would be willing to give us a quote or would want to save our record on their Spotify playlist or would want to apply for our free T shirt or like, you know, download our free sheet music or whatever it is, you know?
And then the third thing was to ask for advice, which could look like, Hey, our band is releasing this record. And we’re trying to get gigs and we’re trying to get exposure. And I was wondering if you could give me some advice and, you know, calling a family friend and asking for any one of those three things.
Yeah. It could feel really threatening. I mean, I get that. And I feel like one of the things I, when I was studying kind of sales psychology, which is what it is. And I know that that sounds really, you know, off putting to people, but it was this idea that, that there’s, there’s value that’s exchanged both ways.
Like, when you ask someone for help, they get value out of being asked for help because they feel needed, they feel powerful, they feel important and influential. And then also, when they do help you. If part of why they’re doing the thing they’re doing is to help you, which it doesn’t have to be because someone could literally download your album because your album’s amazing and you’re giving it away free on Spotify.
So you’re actually offering
something. You’re not asking for a handout, right? But let’s just say that you are asking. Let’s just say part of it’s coming from this asking thing, right? Well, if they help you, they’re getting something out of this, which reminds me when I was 20 years old, 20, 22 years old. And I took a women’s studies classes as part of my philosophy degree. And one of the things that, um, these books that I was reading, people like Mary Daly and some great. Feminist philosophers back from, you know, the early nineties, they were saying that, you know, on one hand, the, the masculine worldview is sort of this hierarchy of rights where men view themselves traditionally speaking and generalizing here, obviously, but where men historically view themselves on one up or one down on a ladder of rights, of entitlements, of privileges, of power. And whereas women don’t necessarily have the same view of the world, they might see themselves more in an entangled web of responsibility, which is very different, which is why we get this kind of Classic Mars and Venus thing. So the thing that one of the, uh, illustrations was why men are afraid to ask for directions because men don’t like to ask for help because they’re putting themselves one down. Isn’t that interesting? You know, and it’s like, if, if we just think about this business thing through this kind of gendered lens, which I’m not totally an expert on at all, obviously, but if we think about it, I think any way you spin it, it’s like, you know, we’re all naturally a little bit afraid to offer the thing that we have, even if it’s valuable, even if it’s free, we’re all a little bit.
Naturally afraid to ask for help. Sometimes I’ve also heard people say that that is another side of ego, which I also think is really interesting. But I’m sure that all of you with your cutting edge approach to scholarship and research and the books of today could shoot a hole through all of this stuff.
And I appreciate you just being able to have the conversation. What do you think about any of that, though?
Quartet Davis Member 4: Well, I think it’s interesting saying, like, the fear of asking for help because it’s, like, ego crushing. Because I think, for me, it’s a fear of asking for help because I don’t feel I deserve the help or I think I will be rejected. So it’s kind of the opposite. It’s like, oh my god, I’m so sorry. I’m taking up your time by reading this email.
I’m really bad, and you shouldn’t listen, but also I really need your help. Like, it sounds ridiculous, but the other three are laughing because I know they agree.
Quartet Davis Member 3: Please, like, listen to our thing, like, uh, like, maybe passively considering, like, hiring us. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But, like, maybe, yeah, no, I feel that way.
Quartet Davis Member 2: I feel exactly the same. And it’s really frustrating. And we all struggle with this, all four of us. And that’s part of why it really helps to have this system where we can all encourage each other to do things. And I think it’s interesting to think of, like, being self deprecating and being, like, really full of yourself as kind of.
Opposites on the spectrum of. ego where they both are ego like it’s all ego and it’s not like us being really self deprecating is like a lack of ego necessarily but I think we’ve all been like socialized to have this kind of instinct when it comes to putting ourself out there and interacting with others and being very hypercritical of ourselves and our work and so that in its self is a challenge, but we have each other to encourage each other all the time.
So we’re getting better at it.
Christian Howes: At the risk of being pigeonholed myself into a caricature of modern day business speak, um, and personal development talk, you know, just the idea that comes up for me and I’ll try to, you know, wrap on this subject, but the idea that comes up for me is. This proliferation of complaints in the world about the lack of valuing of the arts, you know, just everybody’s complaining about why don’t the people in insert your town here?
Why don’t the people in this town care about the arts? Why don’t the people in this town care about music education? Why don’t the people in my town value? Why is nobody Porting my CD release. Why is nobody showing up to live music and valuing the live music? There’s a lot of this complaining that we can find anywhere that we look for it.
And so I think one idea is that we’re responsible for advocating for the value of what we do. Like who’s going to advocate for music if we don’t advocate for our own music. You know? But anyway, uh, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll get off my soapbox. I think it’s great what you guys are doing. We’ve got two more tunes to listen to and I want to listen to all of them.
So what’s the next one?
Quartet Davis Member 2: This next one is a jazz standard popular jazz standard called Time After Time.
Quartet Davis Member 4: The music is by Jule Styne and the lyrics are by Sammy Cahn and It has been performed by uh, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker and many other great jazz vocalists
Christian Howes: See, thanks for letting me know that because I always thought it was Cindy Lauper, you know, because I grew up in the eighties, so, you know, I mean, I’m just getting educated right and left here.
Okay. So this is another one of those beautiful pizzicato things. And I’m going to talk about it because I think that the vamp is really beautiful with the pizzicato. I also think that there is a beautiful Pizzicato cello solo that I think Karl sounds amazing on. And I also, whenever I envision this and I hear Quartet Davis Member 2 doing the strumming all, uh, swing guitar strumming, I just have this in my mind, this idea of Quartet Davis Member 2 with this look of intensity, as if to say, don’t slow down, it’s a ballad, but it’s still got a swing.
All right. So let’s listen to this. Time after time,
Well, you guys are the best, really. You are the best. Again, I’m just so, I feel so lucky to know all of you and to know this album, Three Lefts Make a Right.
We’ve got one more song to listen to. I don’t know if there’s anything else any of you would like to talk about. You know, we’ve covered a lot of territory today, but we do want to make sure that people know that they can go to any streaming platform and get. Three lefts make a right. The new album by Quartet Davis. They can get it free, but they can also buy the album as far as I understand. Free sheet music. Where do they go? quartetdavis.com What’s the deal?
Quartet Davis Member 1: You can buy an album. On bandcamp, quartetdavis.bandcamp.com And you can also go to our website. We have an album page with links as well as limited edition t shirts Get them while you can cami drew the beautiful imagery. So You want that?
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah, and just one more plug is uh, we have a mailing list and It’s a great time to join because even though we are Very far apart. We’re in four different states and we actually haven’t been together in a full year which Breaks my heart because these guys are my best friends. Um, but we have been trying to keep up with creating things We’ve been kind of writing a song over zoom and we’re planning to do some zoom educational workshops on How to improvise and how to work with your ensemble Over Zoom even though it is very hard.
Quartet Davis Member 1: We’ve been kind of trying to work around those things and we also have Uh, an EP of recorded free improvs that at some point in the coming year will be happening that we recorded in the same session as our album. So join our mailing list, quartetdavis.com and yeah.
Christian Howes: And they might get some good free stuff like maybe some sheet music if they join that. I think that a lot of people are going to really go bonkers about sheet music. You know, that was my, that was my recommendation is like transcribe some of your stuff that’s that’s legal and make it available for free. And you’re going to get people on that email list. And, but, you know, if you’re out there and you are at a school, if you’re a teacher, you know, this is the opportunity because, you know, Quartet Davis is young. They’re hungry. So snap them up while you can’t book them, get on the phone, bring them to your school to teach, bring them to your venue to play. Check out their music, check out their, uh, sheet music, share it with your students, and yeah, all that stuff. I want to make sure that I tread this line lightly. So, Oberlin College, right? I mean, Oberlin College is known, has a few distinctions, uh, and you might be able to tell me more about it. For example, was it one of the first colleges that admitted, um, women, for example? Is that true? I feel like it also had an important place in, um, in terms of its inclusion of non white students as well at an early time. Is that true?
Quartet Davis Member 3: Also true. I think with any of these stories of like, an institution or some place being the first to like, Suddenly, like, allowing people, other people into this space that was exclusionary, like, at the time, it was a little bit more complicated, like, turns out, like, a lot of administration at that time wasn’t like, yeah, like, let’s do it, like, we’re all, like, super progressive, but, you know, like, that’s a story for another time and place.
Christian Howes: But it sort of highlights this idea that Oberlin prides itself on being, um, for lack of a better way of saying it, I guess, socially progressive or inclusive. Respectful of people. Can I say that? Like, you know, you know, I don’t know whatever people want to call it. But I mean, that’s one of the that’s one of the things I think about when I think about Oberlin College.
But also when we think about a conservatory, there’s the college at Oberlin, but there’s the conservatory. My question is the conservatory conservative or is it not conservative? And what do you think about the idea of, you know, these sort of, um, progressive social Values and whether they are or are not being embodied in academia in music conservatories.
And we don’t necessarily have to point fingers at Oberlin that, you know, that’s not what this is about, but just I’m really kind of asking about how does that translate in the music in the world of musical academia in your all’s opinion?
Quartet Davis Member 4: I think there’s no such thing as a perfect institution. Um, and no institution is able to fully uphold its values.
Um, but that being said, I think Oberlin is very ahead of the curve compared to other conservatories and I didn’t quite have that, uh, perspective until, I mean, I’ve been out for two years, a little over two years now. I graduated in 2018 and, um, in talking to a lot of people who went to other schools They didn’t have a lot of the opportunity, exposure, or even just values and thoughts that we got to be exposed to at Oberlin.
Yeah, there are parts of the administration that are very, very open to different ideas, but I think the main thing about Oberlin that is great is the student body. The student body wants to make it a better place. So like during my time there, We saw pronouns be added to the orchestra roster. We saw dress code be changed to be any gender can wear any of the clothing options.
Um, and those are just two tiny, tiny little things, getting gender neutral bathrooms in the conservatory, really just like the very first steps of creating a more equitable system. But yeah, the student body Oberlin really inspires me. Um, yeah, as Karl said, you know, you can say we’re the first school to admit women, or we’re the first school to admit black people.
But in the world we live in, we live in a racist world and a sexist world and a transphobic world. And those things don’t stop. There’s no bubble to stop those things. Um, but I think it’s really inspiring what Obies have done and continue to do to try to make that better.
Christian Howes: That’s great. Yeah. And again, not to, you know, for not for me to point fingers at Oberlin one way or another.
I mean, I think I, you know, I really. Respect the goals of social justice as I understand them as being represented and through the history of Oberlin College and I feel like it’s an interesting Example to look at just because they do have a conservatory, which is separate from a college, right? So but I’m not trying to you know, pick about anything about Oberlin’s conservatory, but I am just curious as a general whole I mean, there’s a lot of talk about decolonizing classical music, you know musical industry The performing arts industry, the music education industry, uh, the higher learning industries, and also musical higher learning.
Is that a part of your consciousness when you’re making music? Or is it sort of like, as you said, like, well, you’re in a bubble, you’re just making music. Do you all feel that you have an agenda around those things, or that those things are important? Are there things you’d like to see change in relationship to that? And how do you see Someone like me or people in my generation, what do you think that we can do in terms of our responsibility to, to change the colonization, to change the other forms of marginalization that are institutionalized and are rampant throughout our culture?
Quartet Davis Member 2: I think that’s a really big question. And I think just to start, cause I like, don’t think I can tackle that whole question with one response. But for us being like a entirely white group, I think like a lot of us are in a position where for us and any like other white musicians out there, like it is our place to learn and like, listen. Be aware of how our privilege and our social position manifests in any space we’re in, and I think that when I hear the word decolonize or decolonization, something that I actually read online the other day that stuck with me was that, like, the only way for a white person to decolonize a space is to leave it.
And so I think that is Something that I keep in mind, or that comes to mind with your question in particular, is like, I don’t think any of us can have the answer to that question, um, but I know that as a group we do, like, as a group and individually, we do all really care about social issues, and again, going back to Oberlin, gave us a space to have a lot of these conversations and, like, start learning about it.
And noticing, just like how race and class and gender play out in any given concert space or rehearsal space, classroom, like, it’s literally present everywhere and so it’s something that you just have to be in concert practice of noticing and understanding. And so I think also, When it comes to critiquing Oberlin, a critique of Oberlin really is just a critique of institutionalized music in general.
I think the problems you see at Oberlin, you’ll see at any conservatory. And I think that part of that is because any like higher education quote unquote like institution has a lot of barriers in place, keeping out like poor people and people of color who don’t have a certain amount of money to be able to get in.
And because there are so many barriers to access, it means that these institutions. end up only functioning to be for one specific kind of person, whether it’s white or someone with money or, you know, whatever else. So that’s, I think really what we are critiquing when we are calling attention to the problems with Oberlin and it’s something that’s not specific to Oberlin, it’s a reflection of like everywhere else in the music industry.
Christian Howes: Systemic, I guess, right. Thank you. And thanks again to all of you for, you know, being the future, you know, and just, just acknowledging that there’s so much that. I realize there’s so much that I can learn from young people like yourselves who are thinking forward. And uh, I appreciate that. I appreciate the opportunity to learn from you.
Let’s listen to the last tune. This is the one you wrote, right, Molly? You’re gonna, you’re gonna put us out with this one. Tell us about it.
Quartet Davis Member 2: Yeah, definitely. Uh, this is a tune I wrote called Tremolly. I wrote it a couple years ago when I was studying abroad in Paris, and Tremoli is named after a place, a town in France, and I spent a really beautiful, calm weekend there, and I was also just sort of imbued with a lot of Creative energy during that time, which is really rejuvenating.
And it was nice to just sort of feel the creative juices flowing and embody the calm, peaceful, curious energy of that place. And I have so much fun playing it with these guys. They bring so much beauty to it and make it really come alive. So I’m really glad for that.
Christian Howes: Okay, let’s listen to Tremoli by Molly Tucker. Thank you so much, Quartet Davis. That’s Emily Edelstein, Karl Henry. Camille Vogley Howes and Molly Tucker. Thank you all so much.
About Our Guest...
Comprised of Camille Vogley-Howes and Molly Tucker on violin, Emily Edelstein on viola, and Karl Henry on cello, Quartet Davis is a dynamic and versatile string quartet known for their proficiency in multiple non-classical styles. The members currently reside in Boston and Brooklyn.
The members of Quartet Davis first crossed paths while studying at Oberlin Conservatory during a US-Embassy sponsored trip to Amman, Jordan in January 2017.
In January 2018, Quartet Davis embarked on their first tour supported by the Flint Initiative Grant. They have worked with esteemed artists such as Chris Thile, Alex Hargreaves, Cedric Easton, Christian Howes, Jamey Haddad, Camila Meza, and Fabian Almazan.
Quartet Davis has conducted workshops and taught at various schools and programs in Amman, Jordan and throughout U.S.
With a commitment to pushing the boundaries of chamber music, Quartet Davis infuses their performances with improvisation, compelling arrangements, and vocal harmonies.