If you’ve been checking the Chicago Q Ensemble facebook page in the last week, you may have noticed some odd pictures. Ellen, standing on a giant box, violin under her chin, with crazy pink lights behind her. Aimee, playing while kneeling on the floor with her music stand pushed down as far as it will go. You’ve probably been thinking to yourself, “Those Q ladies have really gone off the deep end. Can’t they just have a normal rehearsal?” Well yes, we’ve been doing that too—matching bowstrokes, working with the metronome, yadda yadda yadda. But what we’re really excited about, the thing that has us sending emails back and forth with the subject line “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh”, the thing that has us free-writing about prayer, and the thing that has actually been shaping many of our musical decisions is our explorations into true interdisciplinary collaboration.
Before I get into what exactly that means and what exactly we’ve been up to in those cryptic pictures, allow me to deviate for a moment to describe a completely unrelated experience I had last week. For the second time this year, I had the pleasure of performing the complete D minor Bach Suite along with the dancers of Core Project Chicago. Some of the dance movements were choreographed, some were improvised (and by the way, I mean dance movements in both senses of the term: 1) the actual movements the dancers made, and 2) the 5 movements within the suite that refer to specific dances from Bach’s era). What was really exciting about collaborating with the Core Project artists was that their dancing actually influenced, inspired, and enhanced the way I played Bach. Suddenly, music that I’ve been playing decades took on new meaning. I found that I was playing phrases in ways I had never considered before and taking slightly different tempos that seemed to go better with the dancing. At times I even felt like I was somehow improvising, even though I was reading the same notes on the page that I’ve always read. And I couldn’t help but think that the dancers were having a similar experience—that maybe, probably, their movements were influenced by whatever nuances I was inserting into the Bach. Between what was coming out of my cello and the gestures of the dancers, we had established a feedback loop of imagination and inspiration. Together, we were feeding off of each other’s ideas and artistry in a beautiful new way. It doesn’t really get any better than that, right?
A few days after my Bach collaboration, I found myself back in a black box theater with Chicago Q and our staging collaborator, Deirdre. Still under the spell of inspiration from working with dancers, I realized that what Q has been doing as we’ve explored staging the music of Andrew Norman is exactly the same thing that I had done with Bach. Replace one art form for another—theater for dance—and between Deirdre and the three of us, we have created the same type of imagination-inspiration feedback loop. While the three of us approach the piece from a musical perspective, Deirdre approaches it from a theatrical perspective, and when those two very different forces come together, we end up with something much bigger, much richer than either of us could have imagined alone.
You know what? I’m not going to explain those pictures after all. I think I’ll just keep letting you wonder. And in order to fully grasp what we’ve been up to, you’ll just have to come to our November 24th show at Constellation. In the meantime, though, I can’t wait for our next session with Deirdre, when everything I think I know about our art form gets thrown upside down as we explore it through a crazy, collaborative, imaginative new lens.