Monday, October 12, 2015

Disconnect to Reconnect

Disconnect to Reconnect

by Deborah Buck

DisconnectToReconnect1As we are all well under way with the beginning of our season, I am determined not to forget how amazing I felt after having spent time away from my technologically dependent life. This past summer, most of my time was spent outside in nature. My conversations and business dealings with colleagues and friends were almost always experienced eye to eye rather than by texting or emailing. I enjoyed daily runs, hikes, and walks on the dirt roads of Vermont, where I heard only the sounds of frogs, birds, gurgling creeks, rain, and yes - bugs! Meals were enjoyed together with others, were home-cooked, and always began with "a moment of silence." My mind and body were free. I FELT GOOD! I noticed that my dreaming was much more vivid. My spirit was refreshed because I had the space and time to reconnect with nature. My life energy came back fully, and because of this, my artistic creativity became immediately accessible. Feeling this way made me practice my violin differently. My musical ideas for phrasing, color, and nuance seemed much easier to explore. Even the process of studying a score seemed clearer and more effective. This environment was food for my artistic spirit.

So, how am I maintaining this centeredness as a musician amidst my normal high-stress and media addicted life away from dirt roads, bare feet, and gorgeous air?

In the spirit of trying to find my own way creating a more focused, more natural musical environment, I have done the following:

• I use a new cell phone case that covers the screen so I cannot see it
• I create a "safe zone" practice environment without distractions
• I keep a note-pad on my stand to collect important thoughts (rather than acting on them in the moment)
• I wear a regular watch and use a real metronome to avoid the cell phone
• I limit my hours online and try to write a daily, hour-by-hour schedule which includes practice, administration time, outside time/exercise, eating well, and meditation/reading.

The above list is what I strive for. I wish that every day could be like this! Here is a more detailed version of how this new approach to practicing plays out:


My Safe-Zone Practice is in my son's room where there are no electronics. I begin with a very slow and meditative drone and scale combination in order to set my intonation compass straight. I bend my knees while I do this, and make it fluid through the body, with or without my eyes closed. I find this actually lowers my blood pressure. On most days I follow this with some sort of Robert Lipsett influenced scale routine or Dounis finger twisters. Sometimes, I do my own glissando-vibrato exercise up and down the fingerboard while using an active bow to pull through the sound. In this exercise, I really try to shift with my bow in order to engage both hands/arms. Sometimes I turn regular old Kreutzer Etudes upside down by starting them Up-bow. My goal in doing all of this is to simply trick my muscle memory, and exercise what is typically the weaker stroke. It is truly amazing to sit in the discomfort of such a task and let one's body find it. Personally, I have spent years trying to get the body out of the way of my music making, so that all my energy is channeled in the most efficient way. Most importantly, I continue to strive to listen and react to the way the violin feels in my hands in order to avoid anxiety and the "must-do-same-routine every day or FAIL" mode. After all of this warming up, I am usually ready to get some work done.

The other bullet points listed above are quickly explained here:

My Administration Time is divided into four sticky notes that sit at the bottom of my computer screen and are labeled as: Home, Lark, Kinhaven, SUNY Purchase/Teaching. I try to accomplish something off of every list but do prioritize based on deadlines. Any email or text that I can answer in under two minutes, I try and do so, immediately.

My Outside Time is just that - I go OUTSIDE no matter what! I get fresh air and move my body through it.

Good food goes hand in hand with good health. I believe you are what you eat - so I try and eat clean whole foods that make me feel good.

Meditation: many times the situation in which I must perform is less than ideal - long travel before a concert, a long teaching day the day before a performance, a lack of practice due to a child in need - you get the point. Meditation has helped me in these situations. I use deep conscience breathing done through Chi-Kung. Nothing quiets my mind and therefore my heart rate more than this does.

All of these daily strategies are simply ways in which I try to bring my creativity to the forefront of who I am as a human being and performing artist. It is far too easy to let my computer or phone eat away at my precious time and energy.

I hope this daily “self-portrait” is useful to you in creating a more natural musical environment where you can reconnect to the essence of what being an artist truly is - ANYWHERE!

Deborah Buck - violinist for The Lark Quartet

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Quartet of Mums

A Quartet of Mums

by Basia Danilow

In Transit

"Should I grab a bag or a baby or something?"

With Mother's Day fast approaching, I've been thinking quite a bit about the specific parenting challenges we face as musicians. This was really on my mind as I observed Carrie on our most recent tour to CA. She was winding her way through the airport, cello strapped to her back, baby strapped to her front, pushing a stroller and lugging a bag besides. I couldn't help thinking, "WOW...this is rather a unique sight!" Of course, my first thought was really, "I'd better help and grab a bag or a baby or something fast!"

With seven baby Larks between us, ranging in age from the oldest at twelve to the youngest at 4 months, the ladies of Lark are very familiar with balancing a busy performing schedule with family life. There are late nights followed by early mornings, individual practice time, long rehearsals and then racing home for homework and after school activities, getting dinner on the table perhaps followed by yet another late night and a long teaching day. When we travel, we must make sure everything runs smoothly in our absence.

LA Host Home

During our recent trip to LA, our lovely host Anne keeps an eye on Audrey.

Most fortunately, we all have wonderful and supportive husbands. (Don't forget, Father's Day is next month!) We are also all in a similar place in our lives so we share an innate understanding of the needs of our children and families. Balancing the intensity of quartet life and our lives as musicians in general with these needs, can sometimes feel overwhelming. It is truly a blessing to have colleagues who "get it". If one of us arrives at rehearsal bleary eyed after lack of sleep due to a sick child, teary eyed because of some difficult situation with a child or overjoyed at a child's success... we "get it". While rehearsing and focusing on our work, the undercurrent of understanding is there, and so much appreciated.

The Lark Families in 2013

A rare occasion when all the Lark Families were together in 2013.

I've often joked that once you have kids, you find out how talented you really are. One of my colleagues responded to this the other day by pointing out that actually, that is when all those endless hours of practice really come into play! I think it is probably the combination that serves us well. We still work very hard with many hours of preparation, practice and rehearsal, but our perspective as parents makes us less likely to sweat the small stuff. If we add to this the remarkable way in which our children open our hearts, our music making can only be enhanced.

This Mother's Day, I'd like to salute musician Moms everywhere and in particular, my wonderful colleagues and fabulous Moms, Debbie, Kathryn and Carrie.

Happy Mother's Day girls!

Basia Danilow - Violinist for the The Lark Quartet

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Falling Under the Spell

Falling Under the Spell Kathryn Lockwood

by Kathryn Lockwood

As I put my 5 year old daughter to bed, with Perlman playing Kreisler softly on her stereo, I'm transported back to my childhood. I recall the time when I listened to music in bed and I'm reminded of that fantastic feeling of falling in love with music.

What a privilege it is to be able to listen to music filled with lyricism, virtuosity and pure beauty. Who wouldn't want to be part of that life? Music makes us feel things and transports us to a realm of completeness. It elicits a huge range of responses and in doing so, keeps itself alive. As a young child falling in love with this kind of music, you can't ever imagine a life without it.

Even when listening to Perlman playing Kreisler today, I still aspire to be able to play great music and to enjoy it for the rest of my life. This makes me wonder if those nights falling asleep to the old cassette player was my turning point and what led me to a career in music. Perhaps it is a series of nudges that turn us gently but with certainty.

I decided to ask the Lark girls some personal questions about their turning points and how they fell under the spell of music...

1. When were you first aware and exposed to the string family?
Deborah Buck

Deborah Buck

Deborah Buck

"My father was a violinist so I grew up hearing him play many different pieces on the violin, especially Bach's Solo Sonata in G Minor. I used to roll my eyes because he played it so much!"

Basia Danilow

"Hard to say. My family is from Poland and I grew up listening to all kinds of music in addition to classical. I remember loving Polish & Russian folk music and especially, gypsy tunes. Some pretty awesome fiddle playing! In elementary school, my friend played the violin and her mother happened to be a violin teacher who became my first private teacher."

Kathryn Lockwood

"My older sisters played the violin so probably aware of the string family since one becomes "aware" of anything. Music was always going on in our house between their practice and my parents teaching oboe and clarinet in the music room (which was right next to the living room)."

Caroline Stinson

"It's farther back than I really remember distinctly, but I was 2 when my sister began playing violin. Given that I wanted to do anything and everything she did, my parents finally built me a cardboard violin and when she moved up a size, I got her hand-me-down. I know that even from a very young age, our family went to hear the Edmonton Symphony, and the ballet when it was on. My sister and I would move through the crowded lobby in winter having a contest to see who could touch the most fur coats. Really soft ones or white fur counted for more!"

2. When and how did you start?
Basia Danilow

Basia Danilow

Deborah Buck

"I started what is considered on the late side at eight with a student of my father's. I quickly moved on to Michael and Irina Tseitlin and was truly steeped in the Russian school method of violin training. I stayed with them from nine-seventeen years of age."

Basia Danilow

"I began piano at 3 and violin quite a bit later, at 10. I preferred the sound of the violin as it is so close to the human voice and also the size. It was great to be able to play an instrument that felt like an extension of one's own body."

Kathryn Lockwood

"I didn't start the violin until I was 9. Mum really wanted this particular teacher (Elizabeth Morgan) who had a long waiting list. Ms Morgan felt it was ok to wait since I had been exposed to the violin for so long. My older sister (older by 8 years) practiced with me every day when I did start lessons as she wanted to practice teaching on me. "

Caroline Stinson

"I finally began cello at 3.5 or 4 through the Talent Education Society, a Suzuki organisation, in Edmonton with Diana Nuttal. In addition to teaching the Suzuki books, Diana made many of her own music reading and compilation books; I still have those and use them with younger students. I studied with Diana until I was 8, the same year I attended the International Suzuki conference in Japan, where I met Mr. Suzuki."

3. Was there an experience, a turning point that, in hindsight, led you to a career in classical music?
Caroline Stinson

Caroline Stinson

Deborah Buck

"I always wanted to be a great concert violinist and never even questioned that this was my life's main mission. I loved it then as I do now. Funny thing is, I never thought that I would ever be in a string quartet and never thought I would be so passionate about my teaching career and directorship of a major summer music school program."

Basia Danilow

"My sister and I both seemed to be arts inclined. We took all sorts of lessons, ballet, piano, violin, art etc. I became fairly proficient at all of these but loved violin best. My high school was full of talent and quite a few violinists and violists went on to professional careers. I remember thinking, "If they can do it, I can do it!" Plus the very practical observation that strings occupy the largest number of chairs in an orchestra so... better chances for a job!"

Kathryn Lockwood

"That's hard to say as these things happen gradually. I always just expected to be a musician as the rest of my family was, but there was a period of time when I rebelled. That was actually a really important step as it made me realize that I would miss music. I then became serious about my viola."

Caroline Stinson

"My teacher in high school's playing was my greatest inspiration - Tanya Prochazka. And her stories of moving to Paris as a teenager captivated me.

For me, breaking out of the age-based hierarchy of my youth orchestra, auditioning and winning the principal spot at the Interlochen Arts Camp was the moment I realised I could really do this - and well! I never thrived in (or practiced enough for) the Canadian competition scene (too busy doing theatre and musical theatre) so my first tangibly strong support came when I moved to the States."

Lark About Town

So now that we have some personal answers from the Lark girls, it leads me to wonder: What will be the turning point of some of our future musicians? Will something that I do, whether it's a formal or an outreach concert, or even a CD be some young string players turning point? I sure hope so.

Lark performs outreach concerts as part of Lark About Town whenever we can and I run an annual String Day at UMass/Amherst where I teach. My hope is that these outreach events actually reach out, influencing a future musician or an avid future audience member. Perhaps Lark About Town or String Day will be "the" turning point for someone?

I want to share my love of music. I want others to experience the indescribable sensations that music evokes, to experience the musical essence that helps one fall under the spell of great music. Even if just one or two of the 80+ String Day participants, aged between 8-18, fall under the spell and go home inspired to practice, I will be happy.

Kathryn Lockwood - Violist for the The Lark Quartet

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Speaking of Work

Speaking of Work by Caroline Stinson

We are all asked about our work. What are you up to? Where have you been playing? How is Lark? (okay that one happens to four select players!) Fortunately, when we love what we do, we are more than happy to talk about our work. But sometimes I find that talking about my work requires me to make a mental transition, trying to remember the last concert I played, when I’m focused on looking to the next. It’s not that it’s not important or that I forget! It’s that life moves us forward, and talking about what we’ve been doing often requires looking backwards.

Embracing the New Year we look back, reflect, and then plan our forward motion. This year, Lark plans ahead while looking back at almost 30 years of the quartet’s history. Many wonderful musicians, recordings and commissions keep this history alive. And so this year, as we plan for 2015-16, the Lark Quartet is looking both backwards and forwards. The beauty of a special project like this is that it can consume us for months, sometimes years, and we’ll always have something to talk about! Lark is commissioning a number of composers for our 30th anniversary season, which means lots of listening – a real joy and something I’m always happy to more of. There will be much more to tell in the coming months.

For me, this project is providing a transition out of being engrossed in the every day, the minute, the hour, in the life of caring for a newborn. Audrey is now 7 weeks old (tomorrow) and quickly will become not a newborn! I have loved not planning ahead, not looking back, but truly living in the moment. I have both loved it, and also missed being connected to my other kind of “create”-ivity. I tiptoed back into teaching when she was a week old (with her along), took some time off and then dove in when she was 4 weeks old. Now, hearing all this great music, playing in lessons and discussing music, expression, ideals, chamber music, sound, ensemble, I am ready to dive back into my own experience of that - and not just teach it. I’m looking forward! And speaking of “work” again, too…

Caroline Stinson - Cellist of the The Lark Quartet

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lark In Review 2014

2014 - A Year In Review

2014 has been a wonderful year for the Lark Quartet and in our last blog of the year, we wanted to reflect on the year that was before we dive into an exciting 2015.

Composing America

It started with the much anticipated release of Composing America, an album that was very important to us and to those with whom we collaborated on the project. It gave us a great opportunity to showcase the cultural melting pot of American music. It was also extremely rewarding to collaborate with percussionist Yousif Sheronick, baritone Stephen Salters and pianist Jeremy Denk, artists that we hold in the highest esteem.

As is often the case, the release was both exciting and terrifying. However, as some wonderful reviews came in, we were able to relax and enjoy the wonderful reception our hard work received. Jeremy Denk Laurence Vittes of Gramophone Magazine described the album as: “Impressive… Breathtaking and Brilliant…” concluding the review by saying: “The recording’s three-dimensional reality, captured at SUNY Purchase’s Performing Arts Center, sounds so magnificent that the whole musical experience actually matches the florid imagination of Andrew Waggoner’s booklet-note."

The album was featured on the New and Noteworthy section of the iTunes Store in the United States and was featured on the UK's BBC Radio 3. It is continuing to gain attention and we are delighted how much our audiences and fans have enjoyed it.

Lark About Town

Following the release of Composing America, in April and May we turned our attention to our ongoing outreach initiative Lark About Town. LAT is an innovative concert series connecting the dots between private salon evenings and free concerts for families and communities.

Partnering with Lark Quartet board member Vincent Mai and guest artist violist Toby Appel, we performed a program which included Brahms’ G Major Viola Quintet. With the funds raised from the salon, and in partnership with Urban Stages, we performed a free concert at the Brooklyn Heights Public Library. It was a great time and with some help from our wonderful audience, we performed a mini-version of Haydn's "Toy Symphony".
Learn more on Lark About Town

Southbury, Lexington and Clinton

Following a busy summer we started the fall with a wonderful mini-tour and a program of Copland, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Kernis. It was a terrific trip playing memorable concerts and meeting lots of new people. A particular highlight was the chance to chat post concert with some of the cadets at the Virginia Millitary Institute in Lexington, VA (see picture).

On the road with Yousif Sheronick

Our final performances of the year were a tour with percussionist Yousif Sheronick. We have such a great time performing with Yousif and his remarkable musicianship is made no more evident than on the Composing America release where he performed John Adams' 5 Pages from John’s Book of Alleged Dances with us. We certainly had a lot of fun and made some tremendously fulfilling music. We also ate at a few good spots while on the road... See our November blog which takes you behind the scenes of that tour.

New Board Members Welcomed

Our final act of the year was not a musical one, but an administrative one. We are delighted to welcome Jack Rosenthal and Simon Lipskar to our board. Their knowledge and expertise is a wonderful addition to our leadership and we look forward to working with them, and all of our board as we continue to grow our musical and outreach activities.

We hope that you have a lovely end to 2014. It has been a year to remember for us and we thank you for your ongoing support. We have plenty of exciting things planned for next year so keep an eye on the Lark Quartet website and we will see you in 2015!

Happy New Year!!

We hope you have a...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Lark's Latest Tour

Behind the Scenes of Lark's Latest Tour

Kathryn Lockwood:

"Off we go - yay!!" says my daughter Surriah. The tour begins with a flight to Nashville, TN.

Caroline Stinson:

As we prepare for our first concert at Ward Hall in Nashville, TN, Surriah gives me some stickers! Such a delight to have her with us.

Basia Danilow:

Inside Christ Church Cranbrook. This church is absolutely magnificent! It was so peaceful and inspiring and I was glad to have some time to just walk around, reflect and admire the incredible architecture and craftsmanship. I didn't know Debbie was snapping photos!

It was exciting to look out into that beautiful space later and see our wonderful audience.

Basia Danilow:

We only had one day without a concert but still had a flight that evening. What to do, what to do.....? Head to Slows of course! Delicious! Just the thing to warm up on a cold rainy day and a snack of leftover Slows chicken on the flight later was undoubtedly better than pretzels!

Love this place, and their sauces!

Caroline Stinson:

Basia and I checking out the natural sponges at the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, FL on the day of the last concert.

Kathryn Lockwook:

Yousif looking pretty relaxed hanging out with four pretty girls! We once again enjoyed our ongoing collaboration with him.

Deborah Buck:

Here I am back stage warming up for the Tarpon Springs, FL concert. Kathryn knows I hate my picture taken, but caught me anyway! My smirk says it all. I am trying, however, to accept the fact that pictures are good things, especially for family and friends who are often far away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding Comfort in the Quartet

by Debbie Buck 
"performances have provided a creative 
distraction from a rather worrying time in my life."

It has been an especially pleasurable beginning to the Lark Quartet’s fall season of rehearsals and concerts. This time around, what strikes me as a very different experience, is that this past six weeks of rehearsals and performances have provided me with a creative distraction from a rather worrying time in my life. (I have had close family challenged by health issues.) Whether it has been our slow and careful tuning for intonation, or ideas shared about color, character, and blend, the string quartet rehearsal process continues to allure me. It may be a tad funny to admit that there is nothing I find more challenging than string quartet work. In such a constructive and gratifying way, the ensemble challenges have whisked my mind off to a very creative and focused place for many hours of the day.

The Lark Quartet with fan Clint Macgowan 
at the Heritage Concert.
At our first concert of the season at the Heritage Village Concert Society series in Connecticut, we performed for the first time Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20/2. I cannot recollect another performance where I felt in such a true way, the sensation of being both an engaged participant as well as audience member. I believe that my realization of what the quartet experience was actually doing for me, made me much more aware of being in the now. This is something I hope I will remember for years to come. Being present in the moment despite our life issues is a valuable goal!

Maybe the bottom line here is that I feel lucky and grateful for my experience in this quartet. I know over the years it will continue to serve as a beautiful way to spend my life, especially with such fabulous women: Kathryn, Carrie, and Basia.

Deborah Buck - Violinist of the Lark String Quartet