The Lake Effect Clarinet Quartet: Debut Album and Tips to Maintaining a Long-Lasting Chamber Group

Date Posted: November 13, 2019

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How long have you been playing together?

NORA: We met in grad school at DePaul University and formed at the suggestion of Julie DeRoche. Lake Effect has existed since 2011 and we’ve been in our current formation since 2012. We’ve been bffs ever since.

Why did you want to record this CD?

ERIN: It has been a goal of ours for a long time -- we really love all of the music we decided to put on the album. In fact, we’re still not tired of playing or listening to it! Recording an album really forces you to commit to what you’re doing - it exposes you in a really exciting but sometimes terrifying way. We also wanted a way to let people hear what we’re doing and share our music with a wider audience.

CALLY: Erin (EHM Publishing) arranges the majority of our repertoire, so we wanted to put an album out there knowing that everything on it would be unique.

JOE: We have so much fun playing Erin's arrangements--I will absolutely NEVER get tired of playing any of the tunes on this album. Over the past couple years our group has become so much more cohesive. This album was the perfect way to demonstrate both our characteristic sound to a wider audience and further push ourselves artistically.

"...we wanted to put an album out there knowing that everything on it would be unique" - Cally Laughlin

How did you decide on the repertoire to play?

LECQ: Well, the album we released is actually different than the one we first envisioned. Our original album concept was more of a potpourri of music we liked and had been working on for a while. After a few failed attempts to get the album off the ground, we reassessed what we actually wanted to present to the world and realized that music by Nielsen, Grainger, and Strauss was not only music we loved, but also music that naturally suited the clarinet’s voice. These pieces felt like the right way to introduce Lake Effect to the world of recorded music.

ERIN: Nielsen and Grainger have written well for our instrument in other ways, so I knew they would have good material to translate into the clarinet voice. Though string quartets don’t always make the best arrangements for woodwind instruments (breathing can be a struggle…), this particular quartet by Nielsen (No. 4, Op. 44) was both very interesting musically, and also had the necessary space to allow for rest and being able to divide up parts equally. The appeal of playing music by Grainger is his ability to expand on a simple theme, repeat it over and over, and yet still keep finding new ways of saying it. This can be a bit of a challenge, since the variety sometimes happens by using alternate instrumentation, but ultimately works very well for 4 alike instruments, as you can do so many different things with articulation, tempo, range, timbre, etc. The clarinet is especially well-suited for this, as it is incredibly versatile in sound variety, dynamic range, note range, and ways we can articulate. The pieces by Strauss are just fun. They also add a nice contrast in style to Nielsen and Grainger.

What was the recording process like? What are some challenges you faced?

LECQ: We had a couple bumps in the road in terms of recording location and people. We’re really happy we found and worked with Aaron Gottl at Atlas Arts Media. His space was great and he was so accommodating and helpful! We were also very fortunate to have Dan Linsenmann serve as our “tonemeister”. He sat in on every recording session as an extra set of ears to catch any intonation, tempo, musicality or other general mistakes we might miss. It’s incredibly necessary to have a third party who is both critical and objective to keep you honest when you’re recording.

ERIN: Recording an album with a group of people is much different than live performance, or even just recording yourself. The idea of having unlimited takes ends up limiting you in a way, because it becomes easy to get trapped in the pursuit of perfection. You have to be really careful to balance the desire to showcase the best version of yourself with making sure you’re still capturing the essence of the music, and that your performance feels exciting and fresh. This problem is amplified by four when you’re recording with a quartet. Each person has to feel like what they put out in each take is good enough - it can’t just be about your individual performance. It was also a bit of a shock how much time and effort has to go into producing the album after everything has been recorded. We all had a big part of the post-production process and I personally spent between 20-30 hours listening through all of the takes and choosing where edits needed to happen. Don’t forget when you’re recording that almost every mistake can be fixed in post! Though you do have to make sure you get a good take at some point.

NORA: For me personally, the biggest challenge was pain management. I broke my ankle in a freak accident at the end of January 2019 and had to have major ankle surgery in early February 2019. We actually had to cancel and reschedule our St. Louis tour because of my accident! It had taken so much to get everything lined up - blocking out time in personal calendars and booking the studio - I really didn’t want to be the reason why we had to cancel and push the album project back yet again. With the help of my doctor, physical therapist, and a lot of tylenol (haha) I sucked it up and did my best to push through the acute pain. Erin, Cally and Joe also helped me A LOT - we took breaks when I needed to rest, they got me to and from the studio, etc. I don’t know that I could have made it through it with anyone else. <3

CALLY: One thing I was worried about before we had started recording was being able to maintain consistency in group sound throughout the weeks of the recording process. Because all of us work full time, take auditions, play in various other ensembles (all of which require a different kind of playing), we couldn’t just spend a weekend or a week recording only the album and then be done with it. To maintain some consistency, we planned ahead which pieces we would record for each session, and continued to meet in between sessions to rehearse. And from a personal standpoint, it was also worried that it would be a challenge to make sure I was in “peak performance” shape for every session - I didn’t want to be the one member of the group who asked for retake after retake!

JOE: The recording process was a humbling and mentally exhausting process. My biggest challenge was staying in the moment musically while we were recording. It's entirely too easy to overthink--especially when it's our debut album. It's not like we can go back and edit the album once it's out. Our album is now a part of my "permanent record" haha. An unforeseen challenge was the mental toll so many hours of intensely analytical playing can take out of you. In retrospect I'm actually quite thankful that our combined busy schedules forced us to space sessions out the way we did. It gave me a bit of built in refresh time before diving back into the next session.

"...balance the desire to showcase the best version of yourself with making sure you’re still capturing the essence of the music..." - Erin Miesner

How did you organize your rehearsal sessions with everyone’s busy schedule?

NORA: Oof. This is a challenge for every chamber group! We’ve tried many different things over the last several years: WhenIsGood, emails, and texting. We finally just started sharing our personal Google Calendars to one master Lake Effect Google Calendar. It enables us to quickly find precious overlapping free time and helps us see if one person can shift things to make a rehearsal time or possible performance work.

CALLY: As I had mentioned before, we had to stretch out our recording sessions over a few weeks, planning ahead what we would do in each session. It was the only way to squeeze everything in (and also not burn out).

JOE: Planning out what we would be recording when was of paramount importance. With our individually chaotic day to day schedules having a clear recording plan helped to streamline my own practicing and reed selection.

"Over the past couple years our group has become so much more cohesive." - Joe Sanchez

What are some tips you could give to musicians in chamber groups?

NORA: Be honest, but be kind. Jealousy or competition isn’t healthy. There’s plenty of room for all of us to make music. The members of LECQ have known each other for a long time, are really excellent friends, and are able to be very blunt with each other in rehearsal (and in life). Individually, we often are asked what’s it like to be in a group with three other people who play the same instrument. We all are on the audition circuit, are Chicago freelancers, teachers and are in the same pool for work. We could easily be very competitive and have a strained relationship for any of the above reasons. However, we are all very different players and personalities and know that we won’t necessarily get hired for the same sort of work! If one of us wins a job or gets called for a gig, we celebrate that person’s achievement. It’s a much healthier way to coexist, provides us with our own little clarinet support group, and I think helps us navigate our paths in the larger musical world. One of my favorite things is our constant on-going conversation on teaching and pedagogy. Cally, Joe, and I all teach large studios in the Chicago area. We share ideas and come to each other with questions about different ways to teach fundamentals and techniques. Sometimes it’s just a quick text, other times it’s a long in-person discussion. A good teacher can never have enough teaching tools! I’ll also add that the quartet has been helpful in many aspects of my method book writing, too. I bounced exercise ideas off of the group as a whole, Cally drew the pictures in my book (Scales and Harmonic Studies for the Intermediate Clarinetist), and Erin’s company, EHM Publishing, prints and sells it.

ERIN: Everything Nora said. Also, make time to talk about all of the aspects of being a chamber music group that have nothing to do with playing music. We do our best to schedule time either at the beginning or end of rehearsal, via email, or in completely separate meetings to talk about
business-y things. We make a point of hanging out outside of rehearsals so that we can constantly talk about opportunities we should be pursuing and goals for the group (we also genuinely like spending time with each other). We have made a conscious effort over the years of making sure what we do with Lake Effect still makes sense with our individual lives and that we are all pulling our weight with the group. We don’t have one person that’s the leader so we have to check in to make sure we’re all still in this together. I think we’re a good example of musicians that have found ways to make meaningful music with each other and still pursue their own individual interests and careers. We’re trying to create something that’s sustainable for the rest of our lives.

CALLY: Yes, to Erin and Nora’s comments! Being able to play well together is only the beginning!

"Be honest, but be kind. Jealousy or competition isn’t healthy. There’s plenty of room for all of us to make music." - Nora Shaffer

Where can people listen to/buy this CD?

You can buy CDs on our website here. If you’d prefer a digital download, the album is for sale on Bandcamp, CDBaby, and Amazon. It’s live on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, and YouTube.

Lecq Cd

Lake Effect Clarinet Quartet

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