We’ve left now, and want to say the biggest thank you and goodbye to the people, the sheep, to every kind smile and word that made our time what it was – a dream.
Writing on the train back to London today, this is Inis Oírr, violist of Asaka Quartet. As a quartet, our story is very short; we’ve only just passed our 9-months-together landmark. We often joke that quartet is like marriage, and our marriage started sort of as a week of blind dating (sight reading and bashing through Mozart and Brahms) in October that suddenly led to a successful audition for the school’s quartet scheme, followed by a spiral of exciting and lucky events, and suddenly we’re here. I am in awe of what Tunnell Trust stands for and what Jonathan and his team support. To allow us onto the course and to push us many levels further than we thought we could learn to play, I feel completely trusted and (I hope I can say this without it being incredibly ironic), humbled.
Thank you Jonathan, Charles, Dickie, Scott and Tim for your guidance this week, you’ve taught us a bit more how to be humans and musicians, not just one or the other. I know we’re very emotional and noisy and uncultivated as a quartet, so apologies for the extreme crying and laughing this week (Charles, I didn’t mean to wail at you in the middle of your sentence and Dickie, I’m sorry for the lack of score which meant that you were forced to listen sadly with 100% attention to us sawing away at Mendelssohn.)
One of the mornings, Jonathan T and Scott kindly gave their time to sight read Brahms Sextet with us. The rest of that day, mysteriously, Jonathan (my cellist) and I had almost no intonation NoNos (seriously, we usually look at each other like WOAH when our unisons are exactly together, and that day was a day of 100 WOAHs). At the end of the day, I said to Jonathan (our Jonathan), ‘You did some scales or something right?’, and he said ‘Nope, I learnt today from playing with Jonathan T, the trick is, just don’t listen to anyone else, and it sounds gooooood’. (He explained wisely to me later that this is about trust – the struggle of the cellist is to trust his or her group to be able to tune to them! I definitely need Jonathan’s wisdom sometimes). So, I was SO happy that we begged (for real this time) Jonathan T to do a 10am Brahms bash with us!
I’m thinking of one more thing on the train right now: how can we recreate this week, or continue its spirit within our playing when we’re back in polluted busy London? It seems, the answer is actually ‘nothing different’. As a group, we do a lot of things. The evenings where we say ‘Okay, 45 mins to eat noodles then back to rehearsal’, and then we spend about 2 hours eating and laughing at each other. The serious meetings we have all the time where I bring my laptop and the others bring their frowns and we say ‘Okay, now we REALLY have to change the way we do things, it’s not good enough’ – these meetings could potentially be somewhat pointless alone, but after a collection of hours and hours of speaking (seriously, we talk A LOT), it feels like we’re brand new. We go a million times one way (too much talking) then maybe a bit more the other way (too much panic playing), and before you know it, we’re a different shape, maybe (hopefully), more flexible.
So, my summary is that Thank you Jonathan and your Tunnell Trust, because the time we have had this week has been really really invaluable and whilst felt like a second, was also a little timeless. We stretched in 10 different ways and back, and even sound a bit better than we did on day 1 woo! The company was great, eating sandwiches from the same tray as the violinist who calls your own viola teacher his ‘good friend from back in the day’, and joined by two wonderful groups, Ferrante Quartet (we could learn to sleep properly every night like them) and Sylva Winds (how do they make breathing look so easy!) all week. We hope to be back in Coll someday, instruments or not, perhaps with a better sense of what ‘Inis Oírr, pack some warm clothes it will be cold’ means and maybe a more balanced alcohol tolerance average within the group…
All the very very best,
– Inis Oírr, Asaka Quartet
When I’m not handling that precious wooden machine (viola), I usually have my little Canon camera in my hands, so now for the best bits of every book, the pictures!
On Thursday we had a welcome afternoon off. After playing 6-8 hours per day all week, the physical and mental challenges of working with such vigour had taken a bit of a toll on the quartet…
We were driven to the top of a hill, which we descended with great expectations, but nobody really prepared us for the beauty of the scene that would meet us below. Hidden from view until the last few steps was a gorgeous, secluded beach. The water was stunningly clear and ranged in all shades of blue, from deep indigo to bright turquoise.
We were greeted by a friendly labrador and immediately all the stress of the week was kissed away by the fluffy friend. Ellie and Maris ran fast for the water, wanting to immerse themselves before they could feel the shock of the cold. It was so biting it was hard to breathe at first! But once we got used to it, the water was the perfect temperature for a brisk swim. We made our way to some rocks, climbed up and jumped off, back into the chill that was soothing our sore muscles. Ellie swam a couple of laps between the rocks while Maris coaxed Rosie into the sea and mocked Susie for not wanting to subject herself to the invigorating water. As we were leaving the sea, Rosie spied an extraordinary find: a whole sea urchin! A great souvenir from our time on Coll.
The quartet reunited on the sand where we built a sandcastle village and Rosie drew some sand portraits.
The beach trip was exactly what we needed to rejuvenate and inspire us. With newfound energy, we turned back to our pieces, excited to add more depth to our music. Our following rehearsals were creative and productive. This day was a good reminder that musicians are whole people, and we must care for ourselves as such. New experiences add to the bank of colors, emotions, and energies that we draw from to create profound expression in our art.
In our normal lives, we have moments where we realise that we have developed into one more level of human being. In our quartet life (we are only 9 months old), we also have moments like this. Today, we will tell you two stories.
THE BEACH TRIP
On Thursday, Iona, Eriol, Inis Oírr and Jonathan were forced to go to the beach with the other groups despite begging Jonathan T to rehearse all day. As soon as they arrived at the beach, the brave Sylva Winds ran into the cold water immediately; the quiet and sensible Asakas wandered the edge of the sea, silently wishing that they were playing scales in thirds and fifths together. But after 5 minutes, the sharp fresh wind that held the frisbee hostage, slapped poor Inis Oírr in the face and forced a wild motive into her mind. Inis Oírr, the usually very sensible violist, dashed into the water until she was fully submerged despite not being able to swim. She suddenly felt this sense of freedom that only came with good phrasing and intonation, and never wanted to leave the sea again.
2 hours and a lot of being-chased-by-Jonathan-in-the-sea later, Inis Oírr was finally caught and dragged out of the water by a fuming Jonathan. Jonathan grabbed his violist, screaming and refusing to cooperate, by the armpits, and began to drag her out of the sea.
Meanwhile, Eriol, with her keen eyes and quick instincts, from the other side of the beach, saw this image of her cellist struggling to save the poor drowning violist. She handed the expensive camera to Drake, exclaiming ‘DRAKE, HOLD THIS. Inis Oírr needs my help!’. Eriol ran as fast as she could towards her troubled colleagues..
As she approached her, she discovered that Iona was standing a few metres from this scene, watching disapprovingly with her arms crossed and eyebrows crossed. ‘Iona, what’s going on!’ Exclaimed Eriol – and then she noticed, this was the actual scene:
Jonathan: ‘Inis Oírr, it’s time to go home, YOU’VE BEEN IN THE SEA FOR 2 HOURS.’
Inis Oírr: ‘NONONONONONO FIVE MORE MINUTES.’
Eriol’s jaw dropped in disbelief and disappointment: her hero moment was taken away from her as she realised that Inis Oírr was not actually drowning, unfortunately. The two violinists watched sceptically as their ridiculous lower strings thrashed about in the sea screaming at each other.
THE BANANA STORY
So this story was before our second concert on Coll (of some Mendelssohn that you would never want to miss) We did some photo shooting by our talented Inis Oírr near the sea, after that everyone just got exhausted, sleepy and hungry. Iona and Jonathan went back to their beds to take a nap. Me and Inis Oírr, as usual, were talking rubbish. Oh actually we did a bit string crossing practice, you know Mendelssohn and middle parts, haha.
It happened at the time when I got starving. A banana appeared in my vision, it was the last one in the room! I ran towards it, then caught it, oh, it belonged to me forever now…I peeled this golden fruit, sent it (almost) into my mouth. However I was interrupted by Inis Oírr, she was nearly shouting at me: Hey, Iona can’t function without a banana (fun fact x1) before concerts!
I was shocked a bit, but I did remember that. Yes, I’m a strong second violin that is able to live my life without bananas. Therefore, I tried to make the banana look like what it used to be like and got some pizza instead. Wait, to be honest what I want to say is I will do anything to keep Iona running (and of course, for Jonathan and Inis Oírr) Bananas are such small deal, but nothing’s more important than making music!
The story is not finished yet: Iona woke up and told us she bought a bunch of bananas and we can all share them because she knew this would happen. I want to shout out to every colleagues (including sleeping Jonathan): It’s good to be with you.
So, we wanted to tell these two stories because every rehearsal, we are noticing more and more moments of trust and some minutes where we discover each other, but sometimes you can’t beat the milestones that beaches and bananas will teach you.
– Inis Oírr and Eriol, Asaka Quartet
Good evening from the Asakas!
As if sharing a room with two WIND players isn’t stressful enough, we decided to challenge the Winds last night to an intense match of pool; some luck, many tears and a lot of cat fighting later, the unexpected result was out…
Asakas were having a good start at the beginning of the game— Thanks to Jonathan’s unique sensibility and instinct of hitting the ball at the right point. Which made the thing even better was his (brief) luck, it brought the scene that we were only able to see in some legendary pool game videos: he planned to hit the white ball to the wall and expected it coming back to hit one of the yellow balls (we’re team yellow), but after the yellow ball going into the hole successfully, the white ball kept reflecting and hit another yellow ball, then it rushed into another hole as well so smoothly! I was amazed heavily that even forgot to keep an eye on my dear colleague Iona’s Scottish folk music show case. Unfortunately the situation took a turn for the worse after me and Inis Oírr’s participation — seemed we were better at driving our quartet (Haha it is said the inner voices are the bosses of quartet). Jonathan tried his best to turn the tide, however we had to admit as a team, Sylva Winds were more damn stronger (in pool game!).
Well, It was still such enjoyable time! Thank you, Sylva Winds!
Meanwhile, here’s Iona having the time of her life learning how to play the violin (she’s only just done her Grade 1 so well done Iona), and if anyone looks a bit red in the photos, please blame the shockingly affordable and flavourful alcohol that we Londoners can’t get enough of.
– Inis Oírr and Eriol, Asaka Quartet