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ETHEL: A Contemporary String Quartet

By Paola Guzman

ETHEL, a modern string quartet, performed in the Hillwood Recital Hall on Feb. 2. Comprised of Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Kip Jones (violin) and Corin Lee (violin), ETHEL brought enchanting music and personality to the stage.

ETHEL’s performance was not that of a traditional string quartet. Under spotlights, the four members stood in a wide u-formation, moving about as the music moved them. Their dress was casual and so was their vibe. In between songs, they made sure to connect with the audience. Before performing their last song, Roulette by Anna Clyne, they had technical difficulties with the back track. However, they made sure to not lose connection with their audience.

Photo by Adela Ramos
Photo by Adela Ramos

“It’s ok,” Jones said. “What did everyone have for dinner?” While the technicians worked on the problem, the group played two songs that Jones said was their encore. “That was our encore, so don’t clap!” Jones joked.

ETHEL’s music experiments with art, vocals and covers. The majority of the program consisted of their take on popular songs. “I loved that they reinterpreted songs we’re familiar with,” Noemi Fletcher, education and public programs coordinator at Nassau County Museum of Art, said.

Noemi Fletcher and Laura Lynch, director of education at Nassau County Museum of Art, had seen ETHEL perform the day before at the museum. “We were moved by their work, we had to see them two days in a row,” Lynch said. Tammy Green, an audience member from Huntington said, “It sounds like a recording of sounds that could have not come out of real instruments.” She added, “when they add their voices it’s other-worldly.”

After the concert, the members of ETHEL mingled with their audience. Farris and Lee spoke with The Pioneer.

The Pioneer: “What advice do you have for an aspiring musician?”

Farris: “To do what you love and enjoy every time you play music. It should always be fun.”

Lee: “Even the work, the grind. Because in the end when you can do crazy stuff, after hours of consistent practice, it feels pretty good.”

TP: “What’s your favorite part about being in ETHEL?”

Farris: “My favorite part are the snacks. They give good snacks here. No, no, traditionally speaking it [music] is a place where individuals subjugate themselves to whoever is in charge. It’s like someone who makes decisions and the rest of us kind of do what’s on a page in front of us. And we have created an environment where that is not the case; we do what we want. I mean we still pay key to one of those opinions and someone will lead this and someone will lead that, but we have significantly more creative freedom than the vast majority of classical musicians. ”

TP: “How do you use art to inspire your music?”

Lee: “I guess it would start with improv a little bit. Just going off your basic reaction to it and letting that idea go.”

TP: “What’s your inspiration for making music?”

Farris: “Life is so good. Everything in life is the same and good. When you can go to work and do this. It’s like the whole ball of wax. Maintaining a healthy relationship with my wife feeds my enjoyment of music and vice versa. My inspiration is trying to keep that whole thing on track.”

Lee: “The ability to be able to communicate to the audience in a certain way. Selecting pieces or creating programs that have some type of message that can kind of transcend them. It’s not like ‘this is this’ it’s just like this is music and it affects people in a certain way. Or how we perform it also affects it too. To create an experience and connect on a totally different level, not just language.”

You can like ETHEL’s page on Facebook at ETHEL central.

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