The Cavani Quartet

Annie Fullard, Violin
Mari Sato, Violin
Kirsten Docter, Viola
Merry Peckham, Cello

It was a pleasure to interview the Cavani String Quartet for the SAA Board’s series “Meet Our Honorary Board Members.” We had an engaging hour filled with intellectual conversation, passion towards music and music education, as well as tons of laughter. This is a quartet that lives its craft in all aspects of life. The Sato Center for Suzuki Studies at CIM is proud to have their children enrolled in our program. Their enthusiasm for music and its impact on the world energizes all of us as we continue our daily routines of changing the world through music. I feel a renewed energy for my mission as I write this interview. I hope that you will feel the same.

On November 11, CIM dedicated its new recital hall, Mixon Hall. The students of the Sato Center were invited to perform as a group. Mari Sato’s son Owen and Annie Fullard’s son Sam performed at this event. I started off the interview with this question.

How does it feel to watch your child perform?

Mari: “It’s really fun. Anytime that Owen can play with other children I know he is going to have a great time. Playing with other children gives him a boost in his own playing.”

Annie: “It’s a joy to see Sam perform. Sam has reached a point where he enjoys playing for anyone who will listen, especially his grandma and grandpa. He also loves the group experience and he adores playing for his teacher, Kimberly Meier- Sims!!”

Merry: “Jordan is fourteen and has been playing for a few years, right before she is about to perform I get so excited, and the moment she starts performing I am filled with such intense emotions. It is such a joy to experience her music making!”

Kirsten: “I remember trying not to be so nervous at Sebastian’s first recital when he played Pop Goes the Weasel. I needed to realize that he does not need to prepare for a recital in the same way that we as a quartet do. I wasn’t sure if he would be willing to play in front of an audience, so I tried to be low key but still keep it important. Now he loves to perform.”

Annie: “The children have seen us perform quite a bit. Our children have grown up watching us prepare for concerts, getting dressed in formal clothes, warming up, and then leaving the house. Concerts are part of the rhythm of life. Sam knows that his Mom goes to play concerts with Mari, Kirsten and Merry! I remember when Sam was playing Minuet 2 on a recital. He said, ‘Mommy I am feeling scared.’ I told Sam that that was a completely normal feeling and we all feel this way before a performance because we all want to play beautifully. I also feel that concentrating on the character and spirit of the piece you are about to play is the best way to get rid of nerves!”

What projects are you involved with at the moment?

Annie: “There are many components to our career as a professional string quartet—all of them equally rewarding and challenging! Our current project is performing the complete quartets of Beethoven. In 2009-2010 we will be having our 25th anniversary and a Beethoven cycle is our way of celebrating!!

In addition to the Quartet’s concert performances, teaching is an integral and vital facet of our career. We are currently coaching our students in The Intensive Quartet Program at The Cleveland Institute of Music on the Opus 18 Quartets of Beethoven. Like most teachers, we also “learn” as we teach, and we feel lucky to have such terrific students!
We also continue to actively tour and do residencies. One in particular that we have really invested in and care deeply about is the program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where we have collaborated with community organizations to help create a string program at an elementary school which we hope will blossom into the entire school system. This shows us what the joy of music can do! There is a wonderful Suzuki teacher in place now and she is great with the kids. Some residencies are shorter than others, but quite a bit can still be achieved. For instance, the Quartet recently performed at a Veterans’ Hospital in Marshalltown, Iowa. It was a very moving experience for all of us. There were individuals there who were involved in WWII and some who were in the wars in Vietnam, Korea or in Iraq. We felt the music touched them and it was quite an extraordinary moment.”

What is the most satisfying aspect of your career?

Quartet: “Sharing the joy of music.”

Kirsten: “You never know when it is going to happen, that special connection with the audience. It doesn’t have to be the concert at Carnegie Hall, it could be at a VA hospital, or a concert for two and three year olds. We do master classes here at CIM that are open to the public. Some people show up because they have seen a concert at CIM and now want to see what happens behind the scenes.”

In your view how is music education affecting the music industry?

Kirsten: “I was listening to NPR this morning and heard an interview by Diane Rehm with Yo Yo Ma and they were discussing this very subject. We want people to listen to music for music’s sake but it helps that music has other benefits, for example boosting math scores, developing focus and having a passion about something. We as teachers and performers of the arts need to be more creative to find links between music and other disciplines.”

Mari: “We have found that when playing concerts in a university setting where there is a large population of young people in attendance that the preparatory division plays a huge part in building our classical music audience. The education of young people is essential for audience development. It is helpful that news and media coverage show a strong correlation between music and other disciplines. There are music programs across the country that contribute significantly to the growth of classical music. Suzuki is a huge component.”

Annie: “I feel extremely positive about music programs in this country. There are certainly some incredible teachers out there. I believe Suzuki programs have helped change the way people perceive learning while maintaining the discipline it takes to play at a high level. My hope is that young musicians will take the initiative to help lift classical music out of its museum status. Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop, Reggae, they all have ancestry in classical music, be it Western or Eastern European, Asian or African. The quality is more important than the label. Beethoven’s music is even more alive and necessary today than it was when it was written. I hope the music industry will always keep a focus on the music ‘artistry’!”

Mari: “In the last 10 years I have seen so many more tools become available to young people to use at home to improve their own playing: SmartMusic, audio devices, YouTube, etc. The world has really opened up with this new technology. In my youth, I had my private lesson and sometimes I would use my tape recorder as a reference, listen to a few dusty LPs and attend the very few live concerts that took place in my small town. Now I feel the world has really opened up with technology. It almost doesn’t really matter where you live. At CIM we are exploring the technology of Distance Learning where teachers can work with students in other parts of the country. The doors are wide open.”

Merry: “The people that have gone to conservatories and have studied classical music seriously, meaning music coming from western traditions are also embracing other musical influences. Whether it is pop music, or jazz, or Chinese folk songs, I find that our students are inspired by all sorts of genres of music as diverse as their backgrounds or personal interests in their professional life, and they apply these influences not only in performance, but also in teaching. We have students that are forming quartets and not just basing their careers after the traditional performing ensemble model, one that concertizes in formal recital settings and records, but are also performing in venues like coffee shops or nightclubs and engaging their communities in creative and exciting ways. Everywhere we teach we are finding that a third to a half of the students have a background in Suzuki. This has had a profound effect on chamber music across the country. When we first started teaching at the Colorado Institute, fifteen years ago, there were only a handful of other Suzuki Institutes offering meaningful chamber music experiences to their participants, I think that has changed. Chamber music is also a component of the SAA conferences.”

Annie: “In my opinion, computers and video technology are definitely our windows to the world BUT NOTHING BEATS A LIVE PERFORMANCE! That is what really connects people. We as a quartet perform in many venues other than the concert hall. One of our goals is to inspire young musicians to take risks and think outside the box. Great performances don’t just have to take place in a concert hall. Performing music for children, in a veterans’ hospital or a nursing home, in libraries etc. can have a profound impact on a person. Our culture is saturated with electronic media so classical musicians need to make live performances even more of a priority. These performances can lead to an experience that is profoundly moving. We never know who our music will touch.”

When you were asked to be a member of the SAA Honorary Board, what prompted you to say “Yes?”

Kirsten: “Suzuki was a huge part of my growing up from age four to twelve. My mom was very active in the Suzuki movement. I never fully realized what my mom was doing typing on the typewriter, working on her column. I realize now how much time and effort she put in to promote this method.”

Merry: “Even though it wasn’t part of my musical education growing up, I admire it so. I think the Suzuki method is an extraordinary system of teaching. I recommend it to everyone.”

Mari: “Many of our conservatory students have a Suzuki background. I also learned through the Suzuki method and believe in it strongly. My mother was my first teacher.”

Annie: “I learned about Suzuki as an adult and I have been so impressed. Meeting teachers at Suzuki Conferences and watching the psychological development of string playing, musically and technically, I think this method is really brilliant. When you see teachers take these ideas and make them their own, it is truly amazing. I also think the Suzuki Method embraces a good bit of the spirit of chamber music, of course!”

What would you like to tell the SAA?

Merry: “My wish is that more people could be involved in Suzuki. I would love to see it mandated in more places, like public school curriculums or offered by corporations for their employees’ families.”

Quartet: “We are honored to be on the board of the SAA and look forward to being even more involved with this organization. Thank you for this opportunity.”