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Prestigious Fry Street Quartet also runs USU’s string instrument program

October 10th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Candice Mattson

LOGAN –The music vibrates off the walls inside the Fine Arts building at Utah State University. Inside a white room on the second floor, the musicians sit assembled around black music stands. Each musician, equipped with a stringed instrument, plays his share of the song, an intensely complex array of notes that mingles perfectly with the next. Their fingers whirl and dance across the fingerboards, making the instrument appear as if it were an extension of their bodies. Deeply focused on their music, they look up every now and then to glance at each other as their bows skim and flutter across the strings. The sound is as rich and deep as an orchestra, but only four performers are producing this music.

These musicians are known as the Fry Street Quartet, the quartet in residence at Utah State University. Founded in 1997 in Chicago, the quartet has moved a few times and has had some personnel changes, but the current members are first violinist William Fedkenheuer, second violinist Rebecca McFaul, violist Russell Fallstad and cellist Anne Francis.

Francis explains that resident quartets differ from university to university, but at USU, the Fry Street Quartet combines different aspects of performing with mentoring that is very appealing to each member of the group.

“It helps the university greatly because we bring the name of Utah State with us wherever we go,” she said.

The quartet performs a concert series on campus along with other community concerts, such as performing for university guests and events. Not only is the quartet known around campus, but they are recognized statewide as well.

According to Utah State magazine, the quartet was recognized at the 2009 Best of State Awards gala earlier this year. The musicians received a Best of State Medal in the Arts and Entertainment category and was presented as the state’s “Best Instrumental Group.”

Last year, the quartet worked extensively on performing their first complete Beethoven Quartet Cycle that was presented at USU. Their latest commercial recording is an early and late quartet of Beethoven, according to their Web site. Next on their calendar is a performance at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and a performance at the Autumn Festival of Concerts in Park City.

Traveling and performing are not new for the quartet, however. Each member has experience performing and playing in various locations across the world.

First violinist William Fedkenheuer started playing violin at age four at the Conservatory of Music at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. William made his solo violin debut with the Calgary Philharmonic in 1994 and later went on to receive a bachelor of music from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and his graduate studies from Indiana University. According to the Web site, he has toured and performed in many concert halls throughout the United States and the world.

Originally from Wisconsin, second violinist Rebecca McFaul received a bachelor of music in violin performance from the Oberlin Conservatory, then continued her studies with earning a master of music in violin performance at Northwestern University. McFaul is a founding member of the quartet and once was a principal player in the Chicago Civic Orchestra.

Violist Russell Fallstad is also a founding member of the quartet. From his beginnings as a Suzuki student in the Minnesota public school system, he has since performed at Carnegie Hall, Jerusalem Music Center and the Aspen Music Festival, among other internationally renowned venues. Like McFaul, he was also a player in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He has demonstrated his interests in a wide array of music by performing as a bass guitarist and singer-songwriter for several bands.

Like Fedkenheuer, cellist Anne Francis also began playing her instrument at the age of four. She became one of the youngest players in the Kalamazoo Symphony by performing in the cello section while she was still in high school. She received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a Master of Music degree from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Her chamber music mentors include the Cleveland, Julliard, Emerson and Orion string quartets.

After Fry Street was founded in Chicago, they took a rural residency position in Hickory, North Carolina. The three-year residency was funded through the National Endowment for the Arts. Once that was over, they looked for resident quartet positions and USU was the only one available in the country. McFaul said they were thrilled to get it.

“This residency had a mix of things that were very appealing,” McFaul said. “It also allows a situation where we can be really effective and we can influence the direction of things ,which has its own rewards.”

“I think I can honestly say that we didn’t really expect to stay as long as we have,” McFaul added. “We’re starting our eighth year here and the job and the situation has grown beautifully with us.”

Although the quartet has traveled and performed worldwide, Francis and McFaul say their residency involves much more than performing.

They also mentor music students at the Caine School of the Arts at USU. Francis explains that the quartet actually runs the string instrument program. An additional string faculty member is violinist Yi Ching Fedkenheuer, the wife of first violinist William Fedkenheuer. In addition to Yi Ching Fedkenheuer, each member of the quartet has an individual studio of students who play the same instruments as they do. Francis says they try to keep the studio sizes small so more attention can be paid to the students. They also help out with the orchestra program.

“I think one of the ways in which a performance degree is different is that the students are ours for four years,” McFaul said. “It’s one-on-one time every week. You’re responsible for them becoming artists in their own right, both on the instrument and as musicians. That relationship is an intense one,” she said.

“We’re their advisors. But that goes far beyond just making sure they’re registered for the right courses. I had a student who once joked, ‘Anne, you’re not just a cello teacher, you’re a life coach,'” Francis said, laughing.

But impacting the audience is important to the quartet, too.

“I’ve never given a performance here where I didn’t feel like I impacted somebody,” Francis said. “It goes way beyond that too, it’s not just the performing, it’s also the students, seeing them go forth and forward, seeing what we’ve given them and being able to see the impact, the influence.”

And the students have felt their impression. Lauren Folkner, once a student of McFaul’s, says she is thankful for the education that she received from her mentorship with the second violinist.

“You could tell she was so devoted to us as students,” Folkner said. “She never did anything selfishly. When she taught, she taught very selflessly.” Folkner, now a secondary music teacher in Idaho Falls, Idaho, says she tries to model her teaching after McFaul’s, “in a very positive student-oriented manner.” Folkner says she keeps in touch with McFaul and still asks for her advice.

And more chances to inspire others are coming. The quartet keeps busy with many scheduled performances and their mentoring opportunities. Even though Francis and McFaul admit that they sometimes miss their sleep, the chance to inspire and influence people keeps them going.

“I couldn’t imagine asking for anything more, really, in a life’s work, to feel like you’ve made a difference,” Francis said.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Prestigious Fry Street Quartet also runs USU’s string instrument program”

  2. By Whole Life Coaching on Nov 5, 2009

    A wonderful story about this great quartet. It really showcases their intense desire to contribute to the lives of their students. They are exceptional life coaches, they just use music to get the message across.

  3. By Marcia Mattson on Nov 5, 2009

    Excellent article! It answered many questions I had about the Quartet. The Quartet is a real plus for USU.

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