In February, 2017, the Danish String Quartet held an informal sight-reading party at the Parnassus café and art gallery. Invitations had gone out to both UW students and to members of the wider community; any musicians with an interest in joining the DSQ to play string quartets were welcome to come.
About 40 people showed up, cramming into the unassuming little café located in the basement of the Art School building where tables had been pushed aside to accommodate a large circle of chairs and music stands. This was to be an unusual sight-reading party: instead of breaking up into groups of four, multiple violinists, violists and cellists took turns rotating in and out of the circle, doubling parts as they and the Danish played through a selection of classical quartets together.
One of the participants that day was an 18-year-old freshman named Renee Zhang. A biology and music double major, Renee had joined the UW’s Chamber Music Club, but hadn’t really gotten too involved yet. She’d been to the Danish String Quartet’s public concert at Meany Center, and had really enjoyed how the ensemble combined and synthesized genres. When she heard about the sight-reading party at Parnassus, she decided to go.
Renee has always enjoyed sight-reading activities—it’s exciting both for the music and for the opportunity to meet new people and test her musical abilities in a low-pressure, supportive environment.
But she’d never attended one like the party at Parnassus! “The Chamber Music Club holds these events once a quarter,” she said. “But what usually happens is people split off into smaller groups that go off together to play.” What the Danish did, instead, was “invite a bunch of people to play a bunch of music” all at once.
Before the Parnassus event, Renee had always thought of the Chamber Music Club as a way for people to play music. After Parnassus, “Danish String Quartet really solidified for me the communal aspect of music above all—I love music because I love playing with other people.”
Partly as a result of this experience, Renee got much more involved in the Chamber Music Club, eventually becoming one of its officers. When she heard the Danish was coming back this season, she immediately reached out to Meany, to see if we could arrange another sight reading party.
Sadly, the Quartet was only in town for one day this time, but Renee still saw an opportunity to promote the sense of community she’d felt at that first party three years ago. “Maybe we couldn’t all play together this time,” she says. “But we could attend the concert together!” Further conversations with Meany staff resulted in a special student reception lounge during the concert’s intermission where nearly 50 students congregated over soft drinks and snacks.
Renee is interested in deepening the relationship between the Chamber Music Club and Meany Center; $10 student tickets make attending concerts an affordable opportunity for creating a greater sense of community within the larger Campus. “Not everyone in Chamber Music Club is a music major,” says Renee, whose own career plans focus on medicine. “And at a large research university like the UW, academics can be very stressful.”
Music is what helps Renee center herself, and it’s what she hopes can help others like her.
“More students could benefit from music,” she says as she picks up her violin and heads off to her next class.