It's been more than two years since I sat down with Tracy Jacobson and the rest of WindSync at The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. I left that room feeling way less worried about the future of classical music.
A lot has happened since then. They have new members, graduated from Rice, tried living in the same house, were named the 2011-2012 Ensemble in Residence for the Da Camera of HoustonYoung Artist Program, won a 2012 award from the Concert Artists Guild, the Sylvia Ann Hewlett Adventurous Artist Prize and a Houston Arts Alliance pre-incubator award.
Oh, and I became a WindSync groupie.
"In trying to create a program that is outside of the box, we actually decided to present a concert that is completely inside of the box."
Whether you are a fan or newbie, head on down to their next show, "Where in Time is WindSync," which features works by Hindemith, Reicha, Taffanel, and Tomasi, at 5 p.m. Saturday, at First Unitarian Universalist Church.
"What’s interesting about WindSync’s upcoming show is that, in trying to create a program that is outside of the box, we actually decided to present a concert that is completely inside of the box," says Anni Hochhalter, a French horn player, who joined the group in 2010. "I’m going to use a bad word, but this will be our most ‘traditional’ program to date."
Trust me, this is the boy band (with women) of wind quintets. There will be surprises.
Drum roll, please. WindSync makes its Carnegie Hall debut this November, presented by Concert Artists Guild, in an evening recital. This incredible milestone came after their 2012 Concert Artists Guild win. Thanks to this big honor, they now have several engagements lined up for the 2013/2014 concert season.
"We have full creative license over the Carnegie Hall program," boasts Hochhalter. "You know what that means. The wheels have started spinning. We're investigating the size of the stage, the number of costume changes possible, the technical capabilities of lights and, oh, the possibilities."
As with most groups that emerge from music school, some reshuffling of the members is expected. This past year WindSync welcomed two new musicians, Erin Tsai on oboe and Jack Marquardt on Clarinet. "Both have contributed to a significantly heightened level of artistry, and we now feel like a five-person power team that is truly unstoppable," says Garrett Hudson, the founding flutist.
"This will be our second summer in residence and it's a fantastic summer escape," says Hochhalter. "Our hobbies include moose sightings, driving a huge Ford Suburban through the national parks, and singing songs about Wyoming and the Wild West."
The HAA award bolstered WindSync’s operation significantly this year. The group was able to kickstart its community concert series at First Unitarian, and to offset costs for WindSync’s Play Different Project, their anti-bullying project at Crockett Elementary.
Their “anti-bullying” crusade focuses on a larger range of topics such as friendship, tolerance and an appreciation of differences.
It focuses on a larger range of topics such as friendship, tolerance and an appreciation of differences. This one-of-a-kind program was developed with teachers, administrators, parent volunteers and students.
"We worked with students to create a school anthem using lines of their own poetry as the lyrics, and now the school has their own short song to remember the residency," says Hochhalter. "As five individual musicians of bizarre instruments, we come together everyday to create a beautiful composite despite our differences."
Being almost internationally famous can be tricky
It's not easy having honors and major gigs thrust upon a young troupe, especially considering how many things Windsync does in a typical season."Selecting new repertoire and creating new programs is always a challenge for the group, but it's also one of our favorite aspects in terms of what we get to do as a creative team," says Hudson. "Coming up with our wildest ideas and forming those into appropriate concert productions is a process that we don’t take for granted."
The troupe lived together for a year, where they discovered the joys and trials of too much togetherness. "Living under one roof allowed us a year to brainstorm 24/7, and was invaluable in terms of the group’s history. In that time together we came up with our most diabolical plans because our creative thinking, out-of-the-box thinking was constantly encouraged," explains Hudson. Today, they work out of a studio space where they can come together daily to let the creativity flow then return home to their own lives.
According to Hochhalter, they all have their own forms of coping. "I eat lots of vegetables. Jack has lucky underwear. Erin stays centered with yoga. Garrett hums to himself constantly and Tracy travels to Europe often."
Don't even try to laugh while playing a wind instrument
The troupe is famous for their whimsical theatrics, which often involves animated narration, wearing tights, wigs and sometimes the male members donning a dress. "A dream come true," jokes Hudson. "You have no idea how hard it is to keep a straight face and play an instrument when all your view across the stage is Jack’s chest hair bursting from his ornate corset and Garrett is batting his eyelashes underneath an all-too convincing wig and bonnet," quips Hochhalter.
Besides being top musicians, they are all excellent communicators as public speaking is an everyday part of the job."These two qualities go hand in hand in creating the type of performance experience that WindSync strives to present," Hudson says.
Hochhalter has more ideas about their comfort in front of the crowd. "I think most of us have had secret dreams of acting or being on Broadway," she says. "I know Tracy once auditioned for West Side Story in New York City when she was a teenager. She was incredibly disappointed to get a call back because they needed a bassoon player."
Five is the magic number
Hochhalter, Hudson and Jacobson share the job of director, with all five splitting artistic responsibilities. Five very strong personalities can be a challenge, but the quintet has figured a few things out. "It’s not always easy, lots of pushing and pulling but in the end majority rules and final decisions are always made in the best interest of the group," adds Hudson. "I suppose in a way it’s the boy/girl band effect. Was your favorite N’Sync member Justin Timberlake? Sporty Spice from the Spice girls? Harry Styles from One Direction? The cute flute player in WindSync?"
Hochhalter gets very diplomatic when it comes to the subject of who's the boss. "We’re very honest with each other, and have a really healthy balance of those who love debate and those who are more drawn toward resolution," she says. "Here’s the low down, but don’t tell anyone. Tracy thinks she’s the leader, and I have the loudest voice, but basically whatever Garrett says goes."
Take a peek at WindSync's Play Different Project at Crockett Elementary