Fuze! Series: The Sixth Floor Trio
By Mike Telin
What does it mean to be classically trained, or more to the point, what do young musicians do with that classical training once they leave the confines of the conservatory? For the members of the 6th Floor Trio, it means presenting concerts that bring the musical genres of Bluegrass, Klezmer, Classical, Latin Jazz, and Pop and wrap them into a unique listening experience for contemporary audiences.
On Friday, March 16, at 6:30 pm, as part of the Fuze! Series at the Akron Art Museum, The 6th Floor Trio, Teddy Abrams, piano and clarinet, Harrison Hollingsworth, bassoon and violin, and Johnny Teyssier, clarinet, will perform their own arrangements of classical standards such as trios of Beethoven and Brahms, and a suite from West Side Story, as well as their arrangements of standards of the Bluegrass, Klezmer, Latin Jazz and Pop traditions.
“The concert will be a pretty traditional 6th Floor Trio concert — which means it will not be traditional at all,” Teddy Abrams told us via Skype during a group interview from McLean, Virginia, where the trio had gathered to rehearse for a performance at a private event. Everything the Trio plays has been touched by their arranging hands, and they will take on any music that attracts them. “This is one of our things,” Abrams continues, “if we like the music, [and it works for us] we will play it.”
Formed by graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, the Trio received sort of a kick start after they were asked to perform concerts in North Carolina, including opening for Marvin Hamlisch. That was the first “gig” the trio did, and they admit that it was a little high pressure. That series of concerts was related to the Center for Judaic Peace and Holocaust Studies at Appalachian State University and all three members agree that it was a wonderful collection of events that they were lucky to be a part of. “The people not only responded to the Klezmer music but also to the traditional American folk music like Bluegrass. So these were the circumstances that got us onto the breaking down barriers thing,” says Abrams.
The Trio’s non-traditional performance practices were also advanced when they received a substantial grant in 2011 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to present “Random Acts of Culture” performances across the United States — engaging communities through surprising performances in unexpected places (Akron is also a Knight Community). All agree that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into, but that it has been an amazing experience. The trio were the National Representatives for the Random Acts project, and have been traveling around performing the Random Acts throughout the country.
The Trio describes Random Acts as the perfect test environment to see how the public would react. Indeed they experienced a wide range of responses, from large groups of people who were giving them money (“that's not what we wanted, but that's fine”, they jokingly say) to people who would walk by and pay no attention at all. But they also found that if a few people gathered to listen then more would stop and listen as well.
They also say that it is important to note that there is no real idea of success, and success changes with every circumstance. Once while performing in a department store the only person listening was the person operating the coffee shop. “Of course she had no choice but to listen, but she was so excited that she gave us all free coffee drinks of our choice. She really was moved by what was happening and that to me, was amazing.”
How did they come to form the group and to call themselves the 6th floor Trio? While students at the Curtis Institute, they lived in a building that had two apartments on the 6th floor. Harrison Hollingsworth and Teddy Abrams were roommates and Johnny Teyssier lived across the hall. It was not until after graduation that the three realized that they missed that “communal atmosphere.” Then after deciding to form the group, and being invited to North Carolina, they called themselves the “6th floor trio in honor of their former habitat.
Doing things to standard works like replacing the cello with the bassoon in the Brahms Clarinet Trio raises eyebrows. Johnny Teyssier says “ I’ve talked to a few bassoonists about that, and when I tell them that I’m playing the Brahms with bassoon they all say, it’s not possible to play that part on bassoon” But Harrison Hollingsworth quickly adds “We gave Johnny the opportunity to go beyond his boundaries. We also played the Brahms Op. 87 piano trio with Johnny playing the violin part, so he got a chance to do some crazy stuff with that.”
Regarding the non-Classical genres: Hollingsworth says that he is the Bluegrass point person. “When I was growing up in Texas I played a lot of western swing and when I got to Curtis, I had a friend in a bluegrass band that needed a fiddle player, so I joined. I still play with a Bluegrass Band based in Brooklyn, NY”.
Johnny Teyssier says that the Latin music has a special place in all of our hearts. “It’s such cool rhythmic music, and just about everyone loves it.” Hollingsworth adds, “the only original tune that we do is one that I wrote a year ago called Belize, and we will be playing that on Friday's concert”.
How did their classical training prepare them to follow this professional path? They all agree that their classical training has played a vital role in giving them the ability to move easily between genres. And although they don’t claim to be experts in all of the various genres, they were trained to learn well and to learn quickly, and because of that training they can take the various styles and make them their own.
Jan Lodal, their host in Virginia and member of the board of overseers at Curtis, adds that his impression is that being able to move across genres in very important for all classically trained musicians, “it does make them better musicians.”
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 13, 2012
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