Classics in technicolor
(Page 2 of 3)
"She was a pioneer through doing her craft. And that's what we want to be," Ms. Henry says. "What a wonderful legend to look up to." Adopting Anderson's name means "everything you do must be to a top-notch level," Henry says.Skip to next paragraph
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In the early 1990s the group went to Anderson's home in Portland, Ore., shortly before her death to play for her and ask permission to use her name.
"We gave her our signed photograph," Henry says. "She placed it on her piano next to a photo of her and President Kennedy."
As musicians, the group's members – Henry (first violin), Diedra Lawrence (viola), Nicole Cherry (second violin), and Ms. McDaniel (cello) – are "also soloists of the first order," says Robert Leslie, a pianist and organist who has performed with the quartet many times for nearly a decade.
But when they play together, audiences feel something special, he says. "Their personalities project from the stage to the audience, and the audience is drawn to them and thus to the music."
The quartet tries to "champion as many African-American composers as possible," such as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who died in 2004, Ms. Cherry says. They're working on a project that would commission American composers to arrange Negro spirituals for string quartet.
But they are passionate about European-based classical music, too.
"I lean toward folk music very much ... like [Czech composer Antonín Leopold] Dvorák," Cherry says. "He really loved his own [folk] music and others'. I love music that has that element of the real people."
"Honestly, these [European] composers were writing for [ordinary] folks," Henry adds. "Mozart was writing operas for the people."
Americans often view classical music as something "lofty," she says, but "I feel very strongly I can share this. If I see a low-income kid, I'm going to put a violin in their hand. It's discipline, and it's opening kids to a new sound world that's beautiful and can focus you."
Baroque music of the 17th century was "the original jazz," reminds McDaniel, employing jazzlike improvisation and chord progressions.
Though each quartet member had a unique upbringing, the common thread was a love of music in their homes.
But she escaped into music. "My mother was a very well-educated woman who loved classical music," she says.