This Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3 p.m., a student-run group that describes itself as the chamber orchestra equivalent of an a cappella group will have its debut performance in the Olin lobby. The F Holes, a seven-member string group named after the f-shaped hole in string instruments that helps them produce sound, started playing this semester and has already achieved a high level of musical nuance.
Although some instrumentalists had been discussing the possibility of a student-run chamber orchestra since last year, Matthew Stein ’16 was primarily responsible for organizing the interested students and realizing the goal. Many of the members of The F Holes met playing in the Wesleyan University Orchestra or University-run quartets, but they wanted an opportunity to play in a self-organized environment.
“A lot of the people who were really passionate about chamber experience and have a lot of that in their background had been playing in various quartet formations together, but we never all played,” explained Kayla Reiman ’14.
The group, which consists of Stein, Reiman, Julius Bjornson ’14, Siri Carr ’15, Vivian Deng ’15, Harim Jung ’16, and Hea-Ream Lee ’15, practices for about two hours per week. There are currently four violinists who take turns playing first and second violin, one violist, one cellist, and a string bassist. Wesleyan University Orchestra Conductor Nadya Potemkina also occasionally plays viola with the group.
Members of The F Holes noted that many student string players stopped playing with the University orchestra after freshman year but were happy to create this outlet to continue playing at a high level. Reiman added that the group’s small size allows for the members to pursue a level of musical refinement that can be hard to achieve in a larger group.
“I think we’ve finally gotten to that point where the notes fit together and we can pursue that musical nuance that I’ve never done in just a completely student-led group at Wesleyan,” Reiman said. “I’ve always done that at classical music summer camps, and it tends to [require] conservatory-based training, but now we’re doing that with Wesleyan students in a completely student-run group, and it’s just starting out. We’re just getting to that level where we can pursue nuance, but it’s really exciting that we’re getting that to start happening.”
Rehearsals are entirely student-run, and the group does not have a conductor. Several members of the group also said that they preferred playing in smaller groups to playing in larger orchestras due to the increased level of engagement and social cohesion that a smaller group can provide.
“I spent eight years in middle school and high school playing in a quartet with the same other three people, and I really like that small environment where musicians actually have to pay attention to each other and sort of interact with each other on a personal and musical level in order to produce a good product, whereas in an orchestra it’s a lot less personal in terms of the actual product,” Bjornson said. “I don’t like just sort of reading my music and watching the conductor and hoping everything turns out. It’s not very engaging.”
Stein also noted that the members of The F Holes, like members of an a cappella group, are driven to produce great music because of their own love for music and the opportunities that being in a student-run group can provide.
“We view the group roughly as the strings equivalent of an a cappella group, so in that same sense we make our own rehearsal schedule,” he said. “The group functions from us being self-motivated, and because of that, we’re doing this because we want to reach that higher level, not because we’re in a class and have to do a specific rehearsal each week.”
Being student-run requires a high level of motivation from the group’s members.
“It definitely gives us drive in how we rehearse,” Stein said. “We’re pretty much a big chamber group that, like an a cappella group, has a lot of higher-level music communication.”
The group also bears a resemblance to a cappella groups in its desire to bring accessible, crowd-pleasing music to campus. Carr noted that some students tend not to want to go to orchestra concerts, and she hopes that The F Holes can change this.
“Honestly, we’re trying to kind of freshen up what classical music is, I think, and how an orchestra is perceived,” Carr said. “Nobody wants to go to a classical music concert—not nobody; I do—but you know, people are like, ‘Do you want to go see the Spirits sing?’ ‘Oh yeah, sure,’ you know? But people tend to not want to be like, ‘Let’s go to the orchestra concert.’”
The group has made strides toward making orchestra music accessible by occasionally practicing in public places where students might pass by and stop to listen.
“Sometimes we’ve played outside before and just stuff like that to bring classical music more into campus, because it’s something that a lot of us really care about,” Reiman said. “[I]t’s not that big a part of the Wesleyan music scene, but we’re hoping to get there.”
This philosophy prompted the group to hold its first concert in the lobby of Olin Library. There, it hopes to attract an audience that might not otherwise seek out a classical music concert. The members had originally hoped to perform in the Zelnick Pavilion, where people, including a Public Safety officer, have stopped to listen to the group as it practiced; unfortunately, the space was not available.
For its concert on Saturday, the group has chosen a diverse set of songs that it thinks students will enjoy: “Serenade in E Major, Op. 22” by Antonín Dvořák, a classical piece that some of the members have played before in other groups; a version of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from “Mulan” that Reiman’s friend from high school arranged; and “Mountain Spring,” a piece originally played by the orchestra Barrage, which was known for incorporating choreography into its performances.
“We’re hoping to have a high-visibility performance, just to get the word out, because we’ve been a secret until now,” Carr said.
Looking forward, the group plans to continue playing a dynamic mix of music by deceased and living composers that will appeal to a wide audience. More broadly, the members of The F Holes hope to establish the group as an outlet for high-level play for passionate, talented string instrumentalists.
“What my real hope is [is] that there will continue being this community of classical musicians who draw on each other for all sorts of musical encouragement and come together and continue putting together projects with music that we really love playing,” Reiman said.