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Friday, May 7, 2021

Striking the right chord

Upon entering the Performing Arts Center lobby, you might hear the deep hum of a cello being tuned, the sharp plucking of a violin playing a familiar melody or even the occasional bout of laughter. Chances are, you’ve stumbled across the WWU Scholarship String Quartet during one of their rehearsals.

Western’s Scholarship String Quartet is comprised of four of the most elite orchestral students in the music program, according to Western’s College of Fine and Performing Arts. The group plays quartets ranging from old Bohemian chorales to classical quartets.

“…I think this year we’ve been really good about setting goals for ourselves individually, then deciding how we want our group to function.”

Kathryn Moore, senior violinist

Senior violist Antti Niemistö has been a part of the quartet for the last four years, making him a veteran member of the group, he said.

“Basically, everyone [in Western’s orchestra] has to audition every year, and the faculty members select students for the [scholarship] group based on orchestral excerpts,” Niemistö said.

Senior violinist Kathryn Moore said the dynamic of the group is key to their success. In order for the four musicians to work successfully as a team, there are a number of factors that come into play.

“The hard part is figuring out the balance between hanging out as friends and hanging out as colleagues,” Moore said. “But I think this year we’ve been really good about setting goals for ourselves individually, then deciding how we want our group to function.”

All of the quartet members agree good communication is a must, as it allows them to address conflicts proactively.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

“Sometimes we just have to sit down and have a heart-to-heart chat with each other,” junior cellist Cori Holquinn said. “This is so we can work together professionally. We’re all pretty good friends outside of music. But when we get into practice, it’s hard to determine who is going to lead.”

Though the group naturally has disagreements about how their pieces should be played, mutual respect and open conversation allow them to set aside their differences, Niemistö said.

“We sit down and talk out our problems,” senior violinist Timothy Buck said. “We keep an open mind and act like adults.”

Despite their different backgrounds, the four quartet members must come together and play as one to create the unified sound that all ensembles strive for. As with any team, moving past disagreements and individual differences can prove difficult.

“The dynamic is always different with each group,” Niemistö said. “Every year, there is a threshold you have to pass. Last year, it was really hard to pass. But this year, we’ve been able to be a lot more productive, setting aside our differences at times.”

Each of the four group members brings a different set of talents to the table.

“I’ve been playing violin for 11 years, so since I was 12 years old,” Buck said. “My first elementary school teacher came into class with a bunch of instruments. I had the chance to pick up a violin, and I went home that day wanting to play it.”

Buck considers his relationship with the violin as ‘love at first sight,’ but not every member of the group came to find their instrument this way.

“I actually started on violin around 18 years ago, and I hated it,” Holquinn said. “But luckily, my teacher was a cellist and he recommended that to me, and I’ve been playing cello ever since.” 

All four members of the group are performance majors through Western’s music department. Though it’s clear to her now, Moore wasn’t always so sure of her path.

“I didn’t know I was going to be a music major,” Moore said. “I was actually going to be a psychology major, but then I was like, ‘Nah’. I just knew music was what I was meant to do.”

For Niemistö, the choice to pursue music at Western was due to a specific faculty member.

“I came to Western mainly because of Eric Kean,” Niemistö said. “He teaches viola amazingly. He reinforced to me that Western would be a good place for an independent musician to thrive.”

The nature of this group is that the members change each year,
Niemistö said.

“I’m hoping to do graduate school abroad, in Canada or Europe. My teacher also thinks I have a shot at Juilliard,” Niemistö said. “My plan is to get a master’s in performance and a doctorate in conducting.”

Moore hopes to return to her home state of New York and attend graduate school at New York University, while Buck aspires to receive his master’s and someday play in pit orchestras for musicals. Though Holquinn has another year at Western, she plans to remain in Bellingham and open a studio with private students.

The quartet will be having a final performance at 8 p.m. June 4, in the PAC
concert hall.

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