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Classical 101

Carpe Diem String Quartet Returns To ‘Normalcy’

Carpe Diem String Quartet practices their instruments
Jennifer Hambrick
Carpe Diem String Quartet

Many people have been able to get to work during the past 15 months with just a few steps to the home office. But for the members of the Carpe Diem String Quartet the pandemic has meant anything but an easy commute.

The quartet was founded in Columbus, where it performs a concert series each season, but its members live far afield – in Colorado, Texas, Oregon and Washington. Throughout the pandemic the musicians have convened in Columbus to perform livestreamed concerts, some more recently with limited in-person audiences.

Violinist Charles Wetherbee was uncomfortable flying before COVID-19 vaccines became available. So to get to Columbus from his home in Colorado, he drove.

“It’s brutal,” Wetherbee said of the drive. “It’s like 21 hours.”

The quartet’s other members also hit the roads to come to Columbus earlier in the pandemic. They faced lengthy driving times and tried to steer clear of crowds and germs at gas stations and public rest areas.

But as more people received the vaccines, Wetherbee and his colleagues again felt safe enough to fly to Columbus to perform two livestreamed concerts with in-person audiences.

In this video, the quartet rehearses Brahms’ String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1 at Worthington United Methodist Church. The musicians also talk about the “quartet pod” they created to keep working safely throughout the pandemic.

Even as they begin to schedule more in-person events, Wetherbee says online concerts are likely to remain among the quartet’s offerings. And he wants to take them to the next level.

“I think the digital concert has potential to offer things that are different from live (performance),” Wetherbee said. “The analogy I sometimes think of is that if you put a camera in the back of a theater and just take a film of a live theatrical production, somebody could still enjoy it that way. But a movie that takes advantage of the multiple angles and editing from shot to shot and the close-ups on a person’s face – you get an experience that’s just different from theater. And I think that digital concert production should likewise go in a direction where it takes advantage of what a camera can do that a live experience never could.”

Still, Wetherbee adds, nothing can take the place of a live performance. And violinist Marisa Ishikawa says she’s hopeful that the quartet’s recent Columbus concerts mean things are starting to get back to normal.

“The fact that we can play for people, I can see their face, they can see our face – that’s a glimpse of normalcy that we haven’t had in so long,” said Ishikawa. “And it’s hopeful that things are turning around, things are getting back to the way that they are, and we’re not going to be in this situation for much longer. So I definitely feel a lot of hope.”

Transcript of video:

Marisa Ishikawa: It was intimidating, for sure. At the beginning, when the world shut down and, again, there was no protocol for what to do. No method, no, Okay, I can put on a mask, I can double mask, I can stay six feet away from people and go out and protect myself – yeah, I was incredibly scared. And I was one of those people who hid away in my house, but that’s not sustainable.

Korine Fujiwara: One of the things that makes us unique as a group is that we don’t all live in the same geographical location. So when we are preparing for a concert, we usually travel to go to our rehearsals, and we spend a week or two just playing in quartet immersion. Before we would even talk about when our concert would be we had to backtrack and count, like, okay, how much time do we need to quarantine together? How much time do we need to quarantine self before that? When do we schedule tests? When do we schedule tests together? And how do we get back home and what kind of protocol do we maintain So we created our own COVID protocol so we could establish our own quartet pod, in order that we could rehearse and feel safe and comfortable. But that added about a month to either side – you know, together, instead of just being a week or a week and a few days. It really expanded that whole time period that we had to dedicate to this project. Normally in pre-pandemic times, when we’re all together in town, we’ll stay with board members, sometimes with the same families for years and year. And during the pandemic, of course, we didn’t do that at all. We did Airbnbs and stayed in one all together in one case, and in two very near in another case and ate every meal together and cooked together and had things brought to our doorstep. We’ve kind of gotten to know each other. We feel like a family unit, cooking together and living together, because we had that bubble. And I’m happy to say that I think we all still like each other.

Charles Wetherbee: We also, of course, had almost no experience, at least on our own, with how to record for video to livestream or to produce any kind of digital concerts. So we were experimenting with learning how to handle the software, trying to learn how to combine the audio with your video and make it sound good. But doing digital versions of almost all our concerts I think is going to be the norm.

Marisa Ishikawa: I think we’re all a little more excited, a little more excited to be playing for people than playing for a recording device. The fact that we can play for people, I can see their face, they can see our face. That’s a glimpse of normalcy that we haven’t had in so long. And it’s hopeful that things are turning around, things are getting back to the way that they are, and we’re not going to be in this situation for much longer. So I definitely feel a lot of hope.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.