While Miró Quartet violinist William Fedkenheuer prepares for his upcoming concert with Houston Friends of Chamber Music that opens the presenter's 2013-14 season Tuesday night at Rice University's Stude Concert Hall, memories of his time studying at the Shepherd School of Music whirl about his tuneful mind.
As an incoming freshman, Fedkenheuer had been offered a healthy scholarship to study with Kathleen Winkler, but, as such is the case with most undergraduate degrees, the emerging classical musician needed to supplement his income. He sought to do so primarily with industry related work that included gigs, private teaching and serving as a recording engineer for the school's concert office.
It wasn't long before Fedkenheuer seized an opportunity to become an usher for Houston Friends of Chamber Music. An older colleague whose responsibilities included hiring part-time staff to man events at Shepherd recruited Fedkenheuer to be one of the happy faces that greeted audiences as they entered the reverberant hall. The job turned into a three-year stint as the head usher for Houston Friends of Chamber Music. Moreover, under the supervision of volunteer board members, Fedkenheuer developed a step-by-step manual to help future stage managers execute a consistent protocol.
"Inevitably, every concert has latecomers," he says. "From the middle of the lobby, you have a clear view of every entrance into the hall. We would watch as they would try each doorway — up and down the stairs — to see if they could find one of us to be a softy. To those seasoned ticket holders that you got to knew well, it was particularly difficult to say no. But we had to."
With no cellphones, beepers and social media to distract listeners, Fedkenheuer didn't have to remove anyone from the concert hall, but he did have to request, on more than a few occasions, for passionate classical music buffs to pipe down and keep discussions about the performance to a more appropriate time.
"When you are sharing your music with the world, you only hope for that kind of intense interaction."
Fedkenheuer confesses that he did break concert etiquette from time to time — for good reason.
"One subscriber had obviously been emotionally touched by the Emerson String Quartet's interpretation of Beethoven's Opus 131 (String Quartet No. 14) — she had tears in her eyes," he recalls. "I was able to facilitate a meeting with the artists backstage. I knew she had experienced something meaningful.
"As an artist, isn't this what you want? When you are sharing your music with the world, you only hope for that kind of intense interaction. I will always remember her."
Fedkenheuer met his wife, Yi Ching, also a violinist, at Shepherd.
After graduate studies at Indiana University, Fedkenheuer's career as a chamber musician launched successfully, first as a member of the Borromeo String Quartet and then as a violinist with the Fry Street Quartet. He joined the Austin-based Miró Quartet in 2011, an appointment that also included a faculty post at the University of Texas at Austin's Butler School of Music, where the quartet has held residency since 2003.
The Miró Quartet's Houston Friends of Chamber Music performance is a homecoming of sorts for Fedkenheuer, who in essence has journeyed from head usher to headliner. Officials at Houston Friends of Chamber Music are looking to the Miró Quartet as the potential replacement for the recently retired Tokyo String Quartet, which for many seasons served as the ensemble that debuted or closed a lineup of notable chamber groups hosted by this art presenter.
"It's such a great honor for our quartet, but especially for myself as I have a more intimate history with the series," Fedkenheuer says. "Everyone in the Miró, as students and as professionals, has admired Houston Friends of Chamber Music.
"To be considered for a spot that's so meaningful for Houston audiences is humbling."
Houston Friends of Chamber Music presents the Miró Quartet on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-348-5400.