On a recent visit back home to the Mitten State to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday, my sister and I sat down at a neighborhood table to challenge a few of our homies to an evening of cards. We were playing spades, which requires partners (unless you’re playing in jail, but that’s another story), and despite the fact that I pretty much only get to play when I go home twice a year, we smoked the competition.
Amid defeated sighs, beer bottles slammed down in frustration and non-stop cussing, my sister and I continued to take book after book, based on a system of subtle, indefinable eye contact and shared DNA that made a sort of what-card-to-throw-when telepathy possible. I mean, we could not lose!
Now, I’m not trying to brag up our skills too much, but what I am saying is that when siblings decide to unite and do something requiring intense concentration, the results are often otherworldly.
One minute of listening to the Ying Quartet—three brothers and a sister who will play in Missoula as part of UM’s Performing Arts Series on Saturday—should bring that idea home. They play chamber music, which requires fastidious attention to harmony and a hyper-awareness of timing that critics agree the quartet heartily possesses.
Janet, Phillip, Timothy and David began their celebrated career in Jesup, Iowa, a farming town with a population of 2,000. They were the first recipients of a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support chamber music in rural America.
Since then, the Ying Quartet has been performing in front of crowds as small as six and as large as the number of viewers who tuned into their spot on “CBS Sunday Morning,” all to the gushing praise of reviewers ever since.
And they’ve continued their mission of bringing music to the masses, even if it’s one tiny hamlet at a time. As the Quartet in Residence for the prestigious Eastman School in Rochester, N.Y., they impress upon students their belief that the living tradition of fine music belongs to everyone, especially the unrefined folks not usually associated with Beethoven and Mozart.
Under the Ying Quartet’s tutelage, students also learn to how to tailor their performances for various types of audiences, whether it’s a group of wealthy matrons in New York City’s Carnegie Hall or a gaggle of yokels wearing Austin 3:16 shirts in the backwoods of the Appalachians.
Considering that Missoula’s audience ought to fall somewhere in between, the Ying Quartet will play something for everybody, and those pieces will undoubtedly be performed with the uncanny rapport that only siblings can provide.
The Ying Quartet performs in UM’s Music Recital Hall on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $18 general, $17 for seniors, UM faculty and staff, and $16 for students and children.