Making beautiful music together
EAGLE – One can indeed be a lonely number – even in music. True, most musical instruments do sound beautiful, even played alone. But multiple instruments together make … well, a symphony. Or, a quartet.Four talented valley string musicians – MaryAnn Michaelis, Joslyn Funez, and Whitney and Cindy Allard – can each play exquisitely on their own. But to satisfy their need to bring their musical talent to full fruition, they needed additional instruments. One violin alone can only provide so much music.However, they couldn’t find any string orchestras or chamber groups to play with locally.So, the foursome decided to create its own: the Vail Valley String Quartet. The musical grouping allows these four musicians meld their exceptional talents. It also enables them to share those talents with the public. Now, we, too, can hear the beautiful music they make together.Beautiful beginningsSince they began playing together last fall, they have graced the stage, a gala and added their musical magic to a local wedding.It’s not surprising they are enjoying such strong interest early on. “In the summertime, we get all these wonderful Bravo! (Vail Valley Music Festival) musicians who come from all over and play in concerts and at the markets,” notes Cindy Allard. “But in the winter, there’s not a lot of people who can come and do it – not for the price we can.”Just listen to the music of any romantic scene in just about any movie. The violin swells as the heroine runs toward her long-lost love; or a cello plays mournfully as star-crossed couple tearfully say adieu. No wonder these stringed instruments are the rage at weddings, engagements and anniversaries across the country.In Eagle County, this kind of music is hard to find on a year-round, professional basis. “The valley is so sophisticated, but there isn’t much in the way of local music,” notes Michaelis, who lives in Eagle.
The Vail Valley String Quartet had barely begun practicing together last September, when the requests started coming in. The Junior Art Guild asked them to perform last November for the Carnival di Venezia at the Vilar Center. They were also featured artists at the Colorado Mountain College grand opening in Buena Vista recently. And, when a wedding party was searching in vain for a quartet to play at a ceremony in Beaver Creek this month, the newly-formed Vail Valley String Quartet was able to step in and lend its lovely sound to the joyous event.”We’ve had some really good support from people we’ve called,” admits Michaelis. Now, they are offering their talents to other occasions in the valley as well.Bravo! supplies the group with sheet music and marketing advice; and sends referrals to the quartet.”We’re really thrilled we have the talent here in the valley, now,” says Liz Campbell.Talented fourEach of these talented musicians has been playing from an early age; but their years of experience vary dramatically. Funez and Whitney Allard are still in high school, while Michaelis and Cindy Allard are both adults with children of their own.Cindy Allard started playing the violin in fourth grade and continued through college. She put her beloved instrument away after college as she pursued a career, married and had three children. It wasn’t until daughter Whitney expressed an interest in the instrument that she began playing again. When Whitney participated in the Suzuki Camp of Music at Snowmass, Allard joined in and took classes again. She is now in her third year of teaching violin lessons to elementary students at Gypsum Elementary – a program funded by the Youth Foundation and through grants from Bravo! and the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club. The program now has nearly 50 children in it, and a waiting list.Daughter Whitney began playing as the fulfillment of a New Year’s resolution – when she was just 5 years old. “I went through 11 different teachers over the years,” she says. Now, the senior at Battle Mountain High School is taking lessons from Shauna Wilsky and excelling. She played with Berry Creek Middle School’s small orchestra when she was younger, but found Battle Mountain High School had no orchestra for strings. Her only outlet has been occasionally playing with the “Symphony in the Valley” group based out of Glenwood – until now. With the Vail Valley String Quartet, her first violin is the soprano accompaniment to her mother’s second violin.Campbell and Bravo! are particularly excited about the inclusion of students in the new string quartet. Whitney Allard has participated in the Bravo! Junior Guild Program for years and served as a volunteer as well. “You can spend all the money you want on lessons, but until you have the opportunity to play with other musicians, you don’t know how to develop the sound,” observes Campbell. Michaelis began playing the cello when she was 11 years old. The talent took her to Weber State University in Utah on a scholarship. While there, she played for the New American Symphony Orchestra out of Ogden, Utah (featured at the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City).She has been in the valley for eight years, but has been frustrated by the lack of venues for her music in the valley. Last year, she, too, started playing now and again with the Glenwood symphony to give her music an outlet. She began teaching cello and violin last year as well to keep her own musical talents tuned.
Funez is a recent transplant from California, where she first volunteered to play the viola in sixth grade when her music teacher said the school orchestra needed someone to play the instrument. “I grew to like it,” acknowledges Funez.Cindy Allard explains that musicians who play the viola are scarce.”I don’t know anyone around here who plays it,” agrees Funez, who hopes her skill with the instrument will be her ticket to a college scholarship in the near future. In fact, Campbell notes that one of the reasons there are no string quartets in the valley is the lack of a viola. “You need two violins, a viola and a cello,” she explains. Cellos and violas are particularly hard to find, and even violin players are hard to come by here. She was particularly excited when she heard Funez and her viola had moved to Eagle County. “Joslyn’s very talented,” she says.Although the viola actually preceded the smaller violin in development, Baroque composers quickly turned to the violin as their preferred instrument for their scores, writing melodies for the violin’s treble cleft. The viola, with its alto cleft, was left as a musical afterthought. But, declares Funez, happily pointing to her own petite, 15-and-a-half-inch version, that is beginning to change as people rediscover the mellow beauty of the viola’s haunting voice.Funez began competing while still in California, and played with an orchestra in Orange County. “It was pretty cool. It was scary, though, playing with all these older people,” she says. Her own music teacher was a member of the orchestra. Last summer, after the 15-year-old moved here, she was invited to join the Bravo! Junior Guild summer program. Making music togetherIt was inevitable these four musicians would eventually find each other. Michaelis’ daughter’s piano teacher, Tina Kline, first mentioned that Michaelis should get together with Cindy Allard.Meanwhile, the other half of the quartet, Funez and Whitney Allard, were both feeling their own frustrations. The two had met through the cross-country program at Battle Mountain, and together tried, to no avail, to raise interest in forming a youth string quartet in the valley.Cindy Allard suggested starting a group that would support the kids.Pulling together their first performance so quickly after they first started practicing together was a challenge, however.It takes a long time for a quartet to meld as a group.
“Quartets are really intricate relationships,” explains Allard.The quality of the music sounds as if they have been together a long time. Although all four musicians are quick to point out they are not world-class musicians, listening to them play the opening notes of Mozart’s “Serenade: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” can bring chills to the listener’s spine. When their separate string instruments began singing their own distinctive parts in the second movement, the sound is exquisitely beautiful.Strings for the valleyThe group’s main genre is classical music, favoring selections from Mozart, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Schumann.”We try to play music people recognize,” observes Michaelis. But, the group is quick to add, they are open to playing other requests as well. “We’re pretty versatile,” says Cindy Allard. They are currently recording a marketing CD to give clients an idea of their repertoire.Formation of the quartet it is not their only dream. They hope to start a touring group in the future. They would love to open a chamber group as well to involve other people in the community who may also be lacking an outlet for their musical talents. The group hopes to build “a real string program” in the valley to benefit musicians, young and old. “I’m so excited to see what has been years and years of effort here in the valley come together,” says Campbell. “This is huge.”To find out more about the Vail Valley String Quartet, or to arrange a booking, call MaryAnn Michaelis at 970-328-1911.Vail, Colorado