String quartet teaches life lessons through music

Matt Gardner
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The Crimson String Quartet will perform for students and staff members at John Diefenbaker Public School on Friday as part of its Prairie Pride Tour 2014. From left to right: cellist Alyssa Ramsay, viola player Alvin Tran, guest violinist Étienne Pemberton-Renaud and violinist Audrey Sproule.

John Diefenbaker School students may emerge from this week with an enhanced appreciation for classical and chamber music thanks to the Crimson String Quartet.

Yet the Montreal-based group, which will be performing at the school on Friday as part of its Prairie Pride Tour 2014, has even higher ambitions for its upcoming appearance in P.A.

“It’s not just a concert,” violist Alvin Tran said. “We also have different activities and games to teach them about music we’re playing and what it’s like to play in a string quartet and also relate it to how they can use the skills we teach them in their own lives.

“Teamwork is really important in a string quartet and how each member has their own say,” he offered as an example. “So we like to relate that to the kids and school and when they do group projects, making sure that everyone gets their voice heard and working together as a team.”

Billed as “A Day With CSQ,” the Crimson String Quartet’s appearance at John Diefenbaker School is closed to the public and targeted primarily at students and staff members.

While previous stops in their tour in Swift Current, Maple Creek and Assiniboia have included performances open to the public, the Prince Albert date continues the group’s work of instilling an appreciation for classical music among Saskatchewan youth.

“The past two years I think we got really good reactions,” Tran said in reference to the group’s 2013 Rural Residency Tour and 2012 Discovery Tour.

“I think it’s the first time they’ve actually heard live classical music and that’s really neat to see. A lot of them, just their eyes light up while we play … It’s really gratifying for us because we really think that chamber music and classical music is really important for everybody, especially younger people, to be acquainted with.”

Aside from Tran on viola, the Crimson String Quartet includes two other permanent members -- violinist Audrey Sproule and cello player Alyssa Ramsay -- as well as current guest violinist Étienne Pemberton-Renaud.

The group originally formed in 2010 while the three permanent members (along with fellow founding member and violinist David Piché) were undergraduate students in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University.

With their shared love of chamber music, the members applied to perform together on a cruise ship, where they found that other bands had a tendency to perform the same material over and over as background music for guests.

Teamwork is really important in a string quartet ... We like to relate that to the kids and school and when they do group projects, making sure that everyone gets their voice heard and working together as a team. Alvin Tran

“We wanted to be different … We rehearsed a ton the first few weeks and got a large repertoire,” Tran recalled. “We played different quartets every day and that really kind of brought us together.”

One of the quartet’s early fans bought red scarves for the female members and red socks for the male members, which helped inspire the group’s name.

Eager to continue their creative collaboration, the Crimson String Quartet went on to record their first album Crimson Sunrise and subsequently continued touring together.

At their school presentations, the group tends to divide students into different age groups to better tailor their performance to each.

“Probably three-quarters of it is actually music and the other quarter we talk, and we also do lots of games,” Tran said.

“We talk about what music we play, we teach them about the composers and why they're important, and then we teach them … more theoretical things like the form of a movement or how we play together and tricks and tips that we can give to them.”

While the group’s Friday performance will include the classical stylings of composers such as Haydn and Dvořák, it will also showcase the quartet’s diversity through its covers of noted pop songs.

In the past, Crimson String Quartet has performed songs from artists such as Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin -- the latter two of which were featured on the group’s debut album.

“This year we’re going to do some Beyoncé,” Tran noted.

Aside from its ongoing tour, the Crimson String Quartet is currently raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign to produce their first professional music video for a rendition of Dvořák’s “American” string quartet.

Additional information is available at

Organizations: John Diefenbaker School, Prince Albert, Schulich School of Music McGill University The Beatles Led Zeppelin

Geographic location: Swift Current, Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

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