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Forming friendships while playing music

Grace Takeda

Violist Grace Takeda (Norfolk '17) spoke with to the Festival in December of 2017 about her summer experience at Norfolk.

Violist Grace Takeda, who attended Norfolk Chamber Music Festival this past summer, expected to vastly improve her chamber music skills and expand her overall repertoire while studying with some of the world’s best chamber musicians. What she did not expect was to leave the Festival with lasting friendships.

Takeda is no novice to music festivals. The summer before Norfolk, she attended a strings-only festival that was also small in size. But while the music-making was wonderful, it was not the same experience, she says. Participants lived with host families that were spread far apart from each other, making it difficult to coordinate any type of socializing after rehearsing all day. “People would just go out and do their own thing,” she says. “There was not much socializing outside of rehearsals.”  The was not the case at Norfolk.

Building camaraderie outside of rehearsals is important to the chamber music-making process, Takeda says. “It’s important in order to play any kind of music to have the social part,” she says. “I’ve never been to a festival where the friendships lasted beyond the festival. This time I keep in touch with so many of the people from Norfolk and it’s really amazing. I wanted something specific [musically] from Norfolk but came out of it with something more than that, something more meaningful.”

At Norfolk, she says, Fellows often spend evenings together. “We would hang out every night, perhaps having a drink and playing games,” she says. Popular activities included group games like Mafia, as well as and ping pong.

“The people at Norfolk are a special group of people,” Takeda says. “Maybe it also had to do with the campus. It’s beautiful — secluded but very open. There are no gates or fences. It’s very welcoming and open. For me the kind of environment I’m in affects me, and how I progress and feel inspired. That plus the people made it great.”

The variety of the musical experience offered fellows is another plus. “My goal is to be a musician who’s flexible,” says Takeda, who is in her second year at Julliard in a master’s performance degree program. She was one of eight individual string Fellows attending Norfolk in 2017 — i.e. Fellows who did not arrive as part of an existing quartet or quintet. Instead she rotated around during her stay there to play with a variety of musicians and group combinations.

“We got to play with basically everyone at least a couple of times,” she says. “It was an interesting way to get to know each person in different settings. Being at rehearsals and learning how to work with other people — being able to be flexible and aware of different personalities and learn how to work around it — that was one of my goals of going to Norfolk. I thought it was a lot of fun to get to know people in intimate setting for six weeks.”

Takeda, who studies with Misha Amory of the Brentano String Quartet — also one of the Festival's faculty quartets — came to the viola later than most musicians focused on a professional career. She started violin when she was 4 and was in her senior year as an undergraduate getting a BA in violin performance when everything changed.

“I was kind of going through up and down in a personal crisis of not feeling very comfortable playing violin,” she says. “I felt things weren’t working.” Even so, Takeda kept plugging along. It was during a rehearsal on Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra that Takeda did something that changed her future. “We were rehearsing one day and I said, ‘Hey why don’t we switch instruments to get a different perspective.’ We did that. It was the first time I had played viola.”

And clearly not the last. “It just felt very natural. It felt really right,” Takeda says of that moment. “So when the idea of switching to viola crossed my mind. I got really excited.”

She talked to her teacher about it, got a viola and hasn’t looked back. In fact, in the competition, she played viola and her friend played violin. “I think it’s the fact that it’s lower and closer to the human voice range,” Takeda says of the viola’s appeal. “The way it resonates in my body feels very soothing and heartwarming. With the violin everything is very high and screechy. It was a lot on my ears. The viola sound is so mellow and luscious and beautiful. That’s what really got me.”

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.