How an Artist’s Workspace Can Define a Musical Experience

Ulysses Quartet

Founded in 2015, the Ulysses Quartet—Christina Bouey and Rhiannon Banerdt, violins, Colin Brookes, viola, and Grace Ho, cello—are the winners of the grand prize and the gold medal of the 2016 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition (senior string division). The quartet offers interactive programs and workshops for all ages that demystify traditional repertoire while introducing new and exciting works. Their programs invite participants to learn about the inner workings of the string quartet, and explore connections between the music and the modern world. Violinist Christina Bouey polled her quartet-mates about designing the group’s ideal studio space.

Musicians get used to the idea of practicing anywhere you can make noise without getting in trouble, in any space you can fit into. This includes hotel rooms, cramped practice rooms at school, stairwells, or even a bathroom when no other rooms are available. (I’ve done it.) Sometimes artists are so busy thinking about the music, we forget that enhancing our surroundings helps us focus and practice more efficiently. At the moment, we (the Ulysses Quartet) rehearse in the living room of my apartment, which, for a New York apartment, is spacious. We have some plants that add a welcoming touch, and overall the acoustics are pleasant. However, if we were able to design our own space, the ambiance would be quite different.

The ideal practice space for us would be in a peaceful, natural area, perhaps with a small creek (not a noisy one) or pond close by—though we would like to also be somewhere near the hustle and bustle of a city. We imagine a space large enough to have intimate chamber concerts—almost the size of a small recital hall—with high wooden ceilings and a grand piano. One wall might be decorated with copies by Claude Monet and Wassily Kandinsky, juxtaposed with another wall of nature photography by Ansel Adams and Frans Lanting.

Our setup would include an Adjustrite Musician’s chair by Vivo USA for Rhiannon, and three Wenger Cellist chairs for Colin, Grace, and me. While black solid stands are very sturdy and dependable, we feel they don’t allow us to send our sounds to each other and create that perfect string-quartet blend. Thus our stand of choice is the Konig and Meyer Robby Plus. This wire stand is durable, and able to expand so that four pages of music can be read at once.

Preserving the perfect temperature and humidity is always a problem for string players, and can make quite a difference in sound production and how often our strings go out of tune. This is why a central air and heating system (humidifier/dehumidifier) would be most important.

In addition, one feature beginning to materialize more frequently in schools is the Wenger VAE technology, which simulates the acoustics of nine virtual acoustic environments, ranging from a small recital hall to a cathedral. Given the varying venues that we play in, it would be incredibly beneficial to rehearse this way. Instead of having to resolve all issues at the venue, such as balance, projection, and articulation, we would be able to work out some of the kinks in our rehearsal space, which would save considerable time. The Wenger VAE also includes recording and playback capability, which only adds to the genius of this invention. Musicians should always be recording themselves and listening to themselves, as it’s an invaluable tool when practicing. To go along with the playback portion, we would also like high-quality speakers.

While having all of the latest gadgets is great, a space isn’t your own without some personal touches. So our ideal studio would have some plants that are adept at filtering the air, making it a healthy practice environment. Some of our favorite air-filtering plants include the pygmy date palm, the bamboo palm, the flamingo lily, and the Chinese evergreen.

Happiness is very important toward health as well. This is why last—but not least—we would want the Gaggia Classic espresso maker for all of our morning rehearsals, and a well-stocked fridge with seltzer water and snacks. Just to keep us cheerful (we are not morning people).

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