There are many expectations for a college graduation: decorated caps, proud parents, thoughtful speeches—but a string quartet performing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”? Definitely not. That is, unless the quartet is ETHEL, and unless the college is Denison.
“I just love that we did that,” says ETHEL’s viola player and artistic director Ralph Farris, who performed the classic with bandmates Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (artistic director, cello), and Corin Lee (violin) after receiving their honorary Denison doctorates last spring. They also performed “String Circle, No. 1” by Kenji Bunch, with Lashonda Love ’18.
“It was honest. This is what we bring. There’s a spark of the unexpected; there’s joy in the making of music; there’s community building by living in the moment and rocking out together.”
It is this enthusiasm and inclusivity that has defined the quartet’s tenure as Denison’s ensemble-in-residence, an idea hatched by the band with President Adam Weinberg, Chair of Music Ching-chu Hu, and Director of Fine Arts Programming and the Vail Series Mike Morris after a standout 2013 Vail concert.
“This partnership has always been unique,” says Morris. “Collectively, we wanted ETHEL to be able to work closely with music students while also making connections across campus and drawing attention to how the arts are essential in both education and life.”
So, for two weeks each semester, ETHEL comes to Granville. Their work has covered everything from discussing the musicality of language in a psychology class to debuting student composers’ works to creating an exhibition showcasing the sounds, images, and music of farms with environmental studies students. As Weinberg says of the ensemble, “They have truly embraced and enhanced the liberal arts ethos of our College.”
The ensemble will complete their residency in April of 2019. “It will surely be bittersweet. I don’t think that we could ever step away entirely,” says Farris.
Already, ETHEL hopes to be one of the first to perform in the Michael D. Eisner Center for Performing Arts, which will open next spring, and plans to stay in contact with students in the future. (In fact, Lashonda Love, who played with ETHEL at the 2017 Commencement ceremony, performed with the group at a gala in New York in June.) But, beyond anything else, everyone involved has faith in the relationships built at Denison and knows good things will come of them.