Quintet ~ Mvt. I. Rumination | Opus 05 | Charles Brown, III
Quintet ~ Mvt. III. Lord, I Need You Daily | Opus 05 | Charles Brown, III
Quintet ~ Mvt. II. Confessional I | Opus 05 | Charles Brown, III
In late December 2015, after I had just performed a pre-opus 06 version of my hammered dulcimer music on Christmas Eve, the music director at the church where I had performed the piece contacted me. He said the piece I played had been so appreciated that they would like to again use the hammered dulcimer during Holy Week 2016. I was ready to expand beyond a solo hammered dulcimer work, so I thought: “maybe I could write something with a string quartet?”
I had this image of me sitting in-between the second violin and viola in the traditional string quartet lineup and thus becoming a string “quintet” in that manner. I pondered this composition for a few weeks; realizing what I wanted to do was not introduce a new opus on Easter, but on Good Friday. I selected three fairly well-known hymns that are normally sung during Holy Week, prior to Easter Sunday. I tried to arrange them in a unique treatment for these hymns.
At that point, I needed to find a string quartet. I was living in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin at the time, where there were not a lot of freelance musicians that I thought had the chops to play what I was writing. I called several musician booking agencies in Milwaukee and Madison. I connected with Leyla Sanyer in Madison, who booked a group known as the Caerata String Quartet. She was enthusiastic about my project, and we scheduled the first rehearsal.
I drove the two hours to get to the rehearsal in Madison, set up my dulcimer, and began to practice the first of the three-piece program I was preparing. Right away, it was overwhelming for me to sit there in between those fine players and realize that I was now a stringed instrument at that moment — much more than I was playing a percussion instrument. A percussion instrument is the case with traditional hammered dulcimer music. It was a sense of belonging which I had never experienced as a hammered dulcimist. It was a terrific feeling being both the composer and a “member” of the Camerata String group. They were all supportive of my compositions. It was the first time any of them had performed in this musical configuration.
As I drove home that evening, I had to pull off the road and just sit for a few minutes, reflecting on just how overwhelming it was to be playing “between” classically trained musicians on this folk instrument of mine. I knew at that point that my approach to composing for hammered dulcimer — and, indeed, music in general —was forever changed. It all started on the day I became part of a classical-music quintet.