Culture //

Strings of Consciousness: A Conversation with QUART-ED

Meet the string quartet making Vivaldi accessible.

Image from Quart-Ed Facebook page.

Meet QUART-ED, an electrifying string quartet featuring violinists Sarah and Caitlin, violist Connor and cellist Karen. Trained at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, they use interactive performances to entertain and enlighten their audiences whether they are primary school children to seasoned concert-goers. QUART-ED believes in making music accessible and enjoyable for all, embracing a diverse repertoire of music that ranges from Vivaldi’s Summer to Moana’s How Far I’ll Go.  

In this interview, QUART-ED share some of their eclectic experiences as emerging performers, professional educators and lifelong students themselves. 

How did you all meet and what made you decide to form QUART-ED?

Karen: It started at the Con when we were having instrumental lessons and classroom training. At some point, we just wondered “why don’t we do those things at the same time?” and that’s how we got together coming out of our first primary school placement. We also wanted to broaden views on string performance. We are trained in a pluralist style, which is a framework that looks at blending and embracing a variety of approaches and experiences. We thought it would be worth applying to our instruments’ repertoires and expanding the ideas on the music they can play.

Sarah: Another part that plays in our story is that we are education students. Playing a Beethoven string quartet was not going to be our forte. With pluralism, we know how important it is to branch out, not box ourselves in and see what other music there is out there to play.

What opportunities have you been involved in over the last year or so and what were your highlights?

Karen: One of our biggest hurdles was performing as part of VIVID’s Konzertprojekt series. We were asked to perform eighty minutes of repertoire which was not something we were used to doing but it was perhaps what made it the most memorable experience to me. The program consisted of Australian musical works because we wanted to showcase local, contemporary talent and workshopped closely with the composers we chose.   

Sarah: It was a huge experience juggling university with this concert program and the responsibilities that came with it behind the scenes with tech. At the end of the day, it was intense but incredibly rewarding.

Connor: We also did a gig for the Con at the end of last year at the International Towers which was fun. I found it interesting because it wasn’t directed to our usual audience. They were caught a little by surprise because of how interactive our performance was, especially compared to the other musicians they had seen around.

Karen: It was really fun just watching adults play with the activities we usually give ten-year-olds and unlocking that since they presumably don’t utilise much in a regular working day.

How does the kind of music QUART-ED perform align with your philosophy as educators?

Connor: Our overarching philosophy is very much driven by the belief that we should make performing interesting, engaging and activity-based as you would do in the classroom.

Caitlin: We really like to push ourselves as musicians and educators. When Karen introduced us to the idea of singing and playing simultaneously, and integrating Connor’s beatboxing skills, it made sense to put these into practice with this with our program. Our performances definitely mirrors pluralism, with all of us exploring different ways of music-making, incorporating a variety of styles, and with me also composing a piece Something About the Ocean where we get the audience joining us in the performance too. 

How has what QUART-ED has done been influenced by your studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music?

Sarah: I do think how we learnt in the degree which is all about experimental learning and hands-on involvement within the classroom influenced a great part of how we do things with QUART-ED. 

Caitlin: We definitely have the Music Ed staff to thank for introducing us to the idea of pluralism officially. I think my development of a musician holistically influenced my support for pluralism and constructivism that were introduced to me in the degree.

Connor: I could almost argue that we would’ve still done this if we had gone to any other institution. I think I’d like to credit myself and the others for just wanting to do something different and fun to learn more; that being said, the Con was and still is extremely open to validating, rewarding and giving us a space to do it.

What are QUART-ED’s plans for 2020? 

Karen: I’m finishing my last year in Music Ed and QUART-ED will be involved in my Honours study. I’m researching what we as an ensemble can offer to teachers and how music education’s impact can continue past our visits to the schools. We are also hoping to perform more frequent public concerts.Sarah: Another regional schools tour is hopefully happening. We’ve had good feedback and it’s something that really benefits the schools that we visit so fingers crossed for another eventful year.