Interview conducted by Rebecca Scholldorf
When was the quartet founded?
Nora: We started in 2011 while we were still all at DePaul, and we actually had a different member at that point; Cally was not with us. We formed so we could enter to compete at Fischoff, went, had a great time, came back, and decided to keep playing quartet music, partially because Erin started arranging stuff for us. That quartet member left, Cally joined, and we started doing some casual gigging, teaching, and outreach as well. I think if you would have asked us five years ago if we still would be a quartet we wouldn’t have guessed we would still be together.
Joe: I’m a member of a multi-instrument chamber ensemble as well and I thought that would take off quicker, and yet my clarinet quartet is giving me more traction than my other group is. That just might be because the clarinet quartet is different; it’s not just a mixed chamber ensemble. I think part of the reason we’ve stayed together, too, is because we all pursue careers in orchestral music outside of this as well.
We were playing a lot together (I love playing in quartets together), but there wasn’t a lot written for clarinet quartet that we really liked playing. It was a lot of times “campy” stuff and nothing really serious, so Erin arranged some of the orchestral pieces that we really like, like the Mendelssohn Scherzo and the Nutcracker Suite and “Molly on the Shore” which is an arrangement from band to us. It’s still relevant to what we do and musical and very interesting that expresses our personalities as well.
Nora: It’s fun for us to be able to play with three other really strong musicians and to work through musical ideas and techniques in what feels like, to us, a casual environment.
Where do you run your rehearsals?
At Nora and Erin’s apartment, with kitty supervision...lots of cats!
When do those rehearsals happen?
It depends on what we have coming up.
Erin: We have very different schedules so it’s hard to find the time and we have to be creative and very flexible.
Nora: We schedule stuff around our own teaching and freelancing because we are all pretty active freelancers in Chicago and we’re all in the audition circuit so, around auditions as well. This summer has been really busy for us. We usually take a small break over the summer.
What is the next goal?
Joe: We are going to Avaloch Farm Music Institute, which is a festival for chamber groups in New Hampshire; it’s a residency. We will be there for about a week. We have our composer friend Jonathan Hannau coming. He wrote a piece for us and is writing a piece for us. We’re going to be rehearsing that and working on that together and it’ll be fun. We will just be rehearsing and putting on concerts and hopefully doing some clinics and things as well, doing some outreach.
Nora: It’s also kind of prep for us. It’s giving us a chance to really prepare for our CD that’s coming out in October/November. When we get back from Avaloch we’ll sit down and do some more recording work.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start a clarinet quartet? Did you choose each other on a friend basis?
Nora: Yes, partially that. Also, Julie DeRoche was like, “you guys should form a quartet.”
Erin: There weren’t that many grad students at DePaul at that time.
The three of us were in a quartet with another grad student and he won a job in Japan and went back to Japan and that’s when we replaced him with another grad student, Jonathan. Nora and I were the only grad students at DePaul the year that we were there. So, we didn’t have a lot of options.
Joe: It worked out pretty well. We all are growing with each other and our personalities are very compatible which I think is perhaps the most important thing. You can work with ability and all be working individually to improve that, but really the personality and musical compatibility is what it comes down to. You are going to be spending a lot of time with the same people over and over again.
Nora: The other thing is that our levels were all pretty comparable when we first started. It’s a rare and special thing to be able to make music with people that are as talented as they are friendly and fun and a joy to be around.
Erin: We can also be honest with each other, that’s the key thing. It’s pretty common in rehearsal to say, “Um, why aren’t you playing that better?” No one gets offended. We are positive about it but we joke around a lot and are very sarcastic.
Cally: There’s a level of trust.
I think we are all genuinely happy when something good happens to another person. We were all happy when Erin won the orchestral excerpt competition (at ICA 2017). They weren’t jealous when she won. We were like, “Yay!”
Learning about this DePaul clarinet metropolis/powerhouse, it’s insane!
Nora: Yesterday, we had a multi-generational clarinet picture with our teacher, Julie Deroche, and a bunch of people who graduated years ago, like the 90s to the present that are in school now. It was really cool, it’s a big community.
You feel like you already know people at a certain level just because they went to DePaul. We met someone yesterday that graduated from DePaul 10 years before we were there. Now we’re all going to go hang out.
Basically, the baseline is go study with Julie Deroche, Steve Williamson, Larry Combs, and Wagner Campos.
Joe: Be happy where you are. Find a place that will enrich you personally and that will trickle into your clarinet playing.
Erin: Be supportive of the other people in your studio if you are a student. Competition doesn’t get you anywhere. You can have competition without being overly competitive. Just because someone else is winning something doesn’t mean you would have won it if they weren’t there. It just means you aren’t what they were looking for or you need to work harder on something.
What’s next on the horizon?
Cally: We would like to do a tour, starting out in the Midwest and then stretching out to other parts of the U.S. We would like to go to Belgium. We also just want more people to know we exist. Like us on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.
Nora: We do some pretty cool stuff and I think that what’s special about us is that we approach our quartet like it’s a string quartet. We don’t look at it like we’re playing clarinet. It’s more like, “what can’t we do?”
Joe: You have to treat it like an ensemble otherwise it will not be a legitimate ensemble.
Our bio says we are “unbounded by instrumentation.”
Erin: We aim to be musicians first and clarinetists second and a quartet third. We are all super nerdy clarinetists but we also just want to make great music together. So, if we feel like the music is not out there that we want to play, I’ll just write it. If there’s something you want to do, just do it.
Joe: I’m really into all of the outreach that we do because it’s great to see younger clarinet players get excited about what can happen in a group like this. Knowing how something as simple and fun as a clarinet quartet can be in high school can transition into better musicianship whether or not you continue into college.