Posts for:  February 2012

Playing well with others — a morning with the Ying Quartet

The secret to their success...


These past few weeks I’ve had the pure pleasure of collaborating with other musicians, young and older, in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Phillip Glass. As exhilarating as solo work can be, accompanying and playing with other musicians is for me the absolute best. Of course, whenever two or more minds are working out the same piece of music, there are bound to be disagreements, and how you handle them is something I’d like to talk about in this post.

One group that’s successfully finessed the fine art of rehearsing with care and diplomacy is the renowned Ying Quartet, which came to Bryn Mawr College last month for a sold-out Friday night concert, followed by a masterclass Saturday morning. Plenty of technical issues were covered in the masterclass. Violinist Ayano Ninomiya suggested that students practice “hands alone,” (something one hears more often with piano practice.) For violinists, that means working on difficult technical passages with:1. Either the right hand or bow arm practicing on open strings or 2. Just the left hand on the fingerboard without the bow. Both methods reveal holes in the technique.

Another technical pearl came from violinist Janet Ying, who demanded consistency of tone throughout an arpeggio and absolute steadiness in tempo.

In terms of rehearsal technique, all the members of the quartet, including violist Phillip Ying and cellist David Ying, had some important advice.

“The way you say something during a rehearsal makes all the difference. For instance, let’s say you think somebody in the group is playing too slowly and bogging down the tempo. Instead of saying, ‘you’re dragging,’ say ‘maybe we could flow more at measure so-and-so.’”

Another important idea: “Stay flexible. Don’t become ‘wedded’ to a single way of how to play something. Suppress your ego for the good of the group.

Be open to trying different things. Play it one person’s preferred way at one concert, and do it the other person’s way at the next.”

This advice helped me during my own rehearsals when I caught myself feeling testy over a colleague’s demands for a certain tempo, sound or phrasing idea that differed from my own. I’ll admit, the soloist in me has the tendency to bristle when being told what to do. But this time, remembering the Yings, I relaxed and went with the flow.

After all, as David Ying said, “that’s the beauty of live performance. It’s never the same way twice.”

Like life itself.