Groupmuse: “Because art is better with your friends”

Groupmuse is blowing up.

It certainly seemed that way yesterday evening, when more than 30 people were crammed into my friend Jennie’s living room on the Upper West Side. A few were friends and neighbors, but most were strangers, who heard about the concert house party online. Some came in couples or larger groups, but one young woman about my age had come by herself. She told me she heard about Groupmuse in the recent Wall Street Journal article, and checked online for one in her neighborhood. She saw the listing for Jennie’s Groupmuse, so she showed up to the apartment of a stranger, not knowing what to expect. Turns out she had a great time – she was one of the very last to leave, at nearly midnight.

downloadHannah Cho, Greg Cardi, violins; Caeli Smith, viola; Jennie Brent, cello

Groupmuse is an online platform that organizes events that are half party, half classical music concert. On their website, they match musicians with people who want to host. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to host – even if you have a tiny apartment. “We’ve had Groupmuses in apartments with water damage and sticky floors. We cram 10 people into a bedroom and have a soloist play,” Sam Bodkin, founder, told the audience during his introduction.

Luckily for my quartet, we had an un-sticky, beautiful room to play in. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so the younger crowd (25 and under) sat at our feet, while the rest of the audiences sat in chairs and spilled into the kitchen and hallway.

The event was informal, and the excitement – of meeting new people, and of the experimental concert setting – was palpable. My quartet performed Haydn’s “Emperor” quartet, and several tangos by Michael McLean. The audience listened intently during each movement, and hooted and hollered in between. We felt like rock stars. The room was filled with conviviality, and I felt giddy with happiness. This is what chamber music was made for.

After the performance, the crowd mingled and drank. We played McLean’s “Csardas” for an encore, and by the time we were finished, at 11:30 pm, the remaining audience members were performing a full-out kick line in the living room. The quartet was laughing so hard we nearly dropped our instruments – not a problem I’ve ever experienced in performance before.

I left the apartment feeling warm and full of love. Great chamber music played in an intimate setting, with a sincere, enthusiastic audience is a delight for performers and attendees alike. Groupmuse is one of the best examples I’ve encountered of what music is meant to do – bring people together.

Photo credit: Asa Maynard

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Happy Anniversary!!!

Today, I celebrate an important anniversary – one year with my beloved. My devoted partner, fellow conspirator, and truly my best friend.

I’m talking, of course, about my viola.

iizuka-viola-shot

I met my viola last year, a few days after Thanksgiving, at the home of Hiroshi Iizuka, its maker. I picked it up and played a scale.

Nice to meet you, the viola purred.

I was instantly drawn to its clear tone, quick response, and warm, sweet lower register. And perfect dimensions—15 and 1/2 inches, exactly my size! I knew it was the one. I couldn’t stop looking at it or playing it for days. (And the viola is gorgeous, to boot, with elaborate tattoos on its upper bouts and back.) The attraction hasn’t faded. We’ve had a great year making beautiful music together. My instrument is the envy of every violist in town.

“Is that… an Iizuka?” they ask, as their eyes widen, and voices crack.

“Yes,” I reply.

“You’re a lucky woman,” they sigh, as my viola and I gaze into each other’s eyes, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Happy anniversary, dear viola! Here’s to many more.