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Classics in technicolor

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Henry and Lawrence became close friends while students at the Manhattan School of Music, where McDaniel studied as well. To make ends meet they'd recruit a couple of other string players and head for Greenwich Village to play Bach and Mozart quartets "in front of the bank on Christopher Street," Henry says. "We'd go to the nearest pizzeria, divide the money up, and come back a couple of days later."

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Cherry recalls that every night after dinner her dad would play jazz and classical music on the family piano.

"I know that public school arts programs are dwindling but I'm grateful that my county in Maryland was very supportive of the arts. I had the greatest music teachers growing up," she says. Cherry eventually earned an advanced degree from The Juilliard School in New York.

The quartet honed its sound for three years at the Eastman School of Music under the renowned Grammy-winning Cleveland String Quartet.

Cherry, the newest member, left a tenured position with an orchestra in North Carolina to join the group. McDaniel's background includes playing with the New York Philharmonic during conductor Zubin Mehta's last year.

Yet for each, something was missing.

When you're playing with "one of the best orchestras in the world, there's a problem if you wake up and say, 'oh, I have to go to work now,' " McDaniel says.

"In an orchestra, you can sit in the midst of many and still feel alone," Cherry says. "Whereas [in this quartet] there's constant interaction and constant awareness of how your colleague is feeling or not feeling all the time. They become family.

"We often call the music the baby. And we're the parents," she says with a laugh.

While the quartet loves to perform, teaching is at the heart of its mission. "When you get a kid who is starving to learn more, it's just as satisfying as performing," Cherry says.

"They're some of the best teaching artists I've seen in the classroom," says Elizabeth Duffell, director of education at the UW World Series, a program at the University of Washington in Seattle. The quartet had residencies there in 2004 and 2009 and will be going back next spring to work with elementary and middle-school students.

A lot of musicians entertain the kids or inspire them, Ms. Duffell says, but "Marian Anderson takes it a step further. They really are teaching these kids discipline. They don't let them get away with anything. They're so rigorous and set such a great example."

The group's good humor and playful nature also win over students – as well as adult audiences.

"They're such a joy. They're so fun. Each one is very different," Duffell says. "I love them. I can't wait to spend time with them again."

"They are some of the most approachable and delightful people as you could imagine," adds pianist Leslie.

Their mission, cellist McDaniel says, is to make classical music available to everybody "because it is for everybody."

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