My love for string quartets drew me to the cello, or rather, it motivated me to practice. It isn’t just the repertoire—I was hooked by the music the first time I ever heard the early Guarneri recording of the Cavatina and Grosse Fuge. I love the idealist concept of a quartet, and the feeling of playing an individual voice that joins together with three other voices to form a single interdependent expression. I also love the cellist’s role in a quartet, as it requires a multitude of skills. At once the quartet cellist is the anchor, sometimes quietly without notice, sometimes with declarative strength, sometimes a supportive counterpart, yet at other times is the prominent, docile melody. I have taken great pride in seeking the seemingly unattainable perfection of a dream quartet.
I am incredibly fortunate to have had three rewarding, multi-year quartet experiences as a cellist. The first was throughout my middle school years in Columbus, Ohio at the Jefferson Academy of Music (our first violinist, Dr. Noa Kageyama is now a performance psychologist and has a fantastic site www.bulletproofmusician.com).
The second was our “Montagnana Quartet—an assigned quartet at the Curtis Institute which turned out to be unbelievably incredible and with some of my oldest and dearest friends (Soovin Kim, chamber musician, soloist and teacher extraordinaire; Nathan Cole, the new Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Burchard Tang, violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra). Lastly, in my early twenties I had the privilege of joining the American String Quartet in its 31st year.
I used to talk a lot with my teacher, a founding member of the Guarneri Quartet, David Soyer about what made a quartet function. He said the ideal quartet is like a strong, balanced three-legged stool:
- You respect, trust, and are inspired by the playing of your colleagues.
- You really, really like them as people.
- You share the same core mission and business acumen.
The more stool legs you have, and the greater the strength of each of those legs, the more chance you will have for group success—in whatever way you define success.
I was giving an interview recently and was asked why I moved from a career as a cellist to the technology and business space. I was talking about our team which includes three amazing engineers with whom I work intimately, when it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. I work a LOT more now than I ever did when I was making my living as a cellist, but I feel more fulfilled by the work I am doing. Why? I found my dream professional quartet in the most unexpected industry—with three engineers (our dev team as properly referred to)—Evan, Ross and Zach.
I have incredible respect for Evan, Ross and Zach’s work, their time, their talents, and their opinion. I trust them implicitly. They operate with the highest integrity both personally and professionally. I like them. They inspire me to work to the best of my ability each and every day. We have a shared core compass to keep us true to our mission, vision and principles, yet we are flexible. I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to communicate to our public audience the incredible products they create, and to sustain us as an organization. They also allow me to be myself (lord knows not a walk-in-the-park) and realize my own strengths. Perhaps stemming from my training as a cellist, but I enjoy the plethora of skills necessary for my current profession—as a supporter, equal team-member and prominent voice.
Like any quartet, we certainly have “heated discussions” and are all opinionated. It has taken time to learn how to effectively communicate, how each of us works and processes information, and how to support each of us so that we may flourish independently and as a group. But I have only recently come to fully appreciate and put into perspective, how rare our team is. Our partner and mentor Bill Stensrud fortunately recognized the potential we had individually and as a quartet, paired us and has let us find this out for ourselves.
Why I am I writing about this? Because the seemingly unobtainable goal of finding a dream quartet may present itself in one’s life in an unexpected way. You may not even know the opportunity is before you, or that you have found your quartet. What each of us does have is the opportunity to influence the strength and stability of the three-legged stool in our professional (and personal) lives and create environments that enable you and your colleagues to flourish.