Marji Gere, May Artist of the Month

Artist of the Month

Marji Gere builds her work around collaborations with idealistic artists and thinkers from a variety of backgrounds. As a violinist with the Boston Public Quartet, she performs chamber music and teaches strings to elementary school students in Mattapan. With pianist and composer Dan Sedgwick, she performs recitals, explores xenharmonic tunings, composes puppet shows, pop songs and rounds, and directs An Exciting Event, an unwieldy and wacky chamber ensemble of musician-puppeteers. Marji received Bachelor’s degrees in Music and English from the University of Iowa in 2002 and a Master’s in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2007.

What’s a brief overview of what you do?

I play violin, teach, write, compose, sing, and make visual art; I often look for ways to combine these activities. About eight years ago I discovered that the art form of puppetry allows – actually requires – me to wear all my different artist hats at once. What I learned through trying is that puppetry is amazingly fun and wickedly difficult. I have yet to do a puppet show during which I don’t hurt myself. So I save puppetry for very special occasions.

My go-to, everyday hat is my music hat. I am a violinist, devoted to the study and performance of chamber music (music written for small groups, to perform in intimate spaces). I play with a string quartet called the Boston Public Quartet (BPQ), and work on duos with my pianist husband, Dan Sedgwick. I love playing music that is very old and brand new and everything in between. A recent obsession is the late chamber music of French composer Gabriel Fauré.

I wear my music hat most proudly as a teacher. My BPQ colleagues and I run a non-profit teaching organization called musiConnects. We have noticed that in the city of Boston, music education is often reserved for a privileged few. We’re responding to this injustice by providing free music education and listening experiences to 40+ children and their families in Mattapan and Roslindale. There is evidence that we’re meeting a need; however, as a need is met, many others arise. We’d like to go deeper with our current students and open to more children.

Are there some past projects you’d like to mention in more detail?

The Moondog Madrigal Puppet Show. It is my biggest creative project to date. It is a very shabby puppet show accompanied by an extravagant and unique chamber orchestra. My puppetry/music group An Exciting Event  premiered the show in San Francisco and performed it at the Charlestown Working Theater in Boston twice. The whole process of writing, making, revising, and staging that show was a five-year labor of love and required 100% idealism from the whole group. We want to perform it again out here, but need to raise money and find time to bring the far-flung twelve-person ensemble together.

Is there anything new you’re working on, or an event that’s coming up?

Coming up soon, musiConnects and BPQ are having a Spring Benefit in a beautiful salon in Beacon Hill; we’re also hosting a Student Performance Party in Hyde Park and participating in an event at the East Somerville Community School. More information about these events can be found on the musiConnects website.

After May, I’ll be heading to Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson, NH, where I will be helping some friends out with puppetry for their electroacoustic setting of a Ray Bradbury story. Then the Boston Public Quartet will join Dan and me there for a busy and fun week of preparations toward our concert in the Apple Hill Concert Barn. Concert information can be found at the Apple Hill website!

Late summer and early fall will be work time with Dan and An Exciting Event members Jacob Barton and Andrew Heathwaite. We will be digging into a xenharmonic rounds recording project that is so unbelievably adventurous, we’re pretty sure it can’t be done. So of course we have to do it! We’ll keep Somerville posted as this wildness unfolds.

Why do you do what you do? What’s something you get out of it?

While I love working on art projects, I am not fueled by a strong ambition to produce and perform my own stuff. My favorite art-related activity is studying and admiring the work of others. I am happy diving into a book or piece of music composed in a bygone era, a faraway place, or from a fresh perspective. I also love observing artists at work - not just in performance, but in rehearsal, and earlier stages of the creative process. This may seem slightly parasitic, but when I notice someone is having an idea that surprises and excites me, I will try to finagle a way to be involved and do whatever I can to help that idea come to fruition.

I have indeed directed and instigated projects and have had the humbling experience of fellow artists taking on my wacky ideas (i.e. the Moondog Madrigal Puppet Show), but in general I am most happy to wonder about what others are up to, join in, and get out of my own little head. That is probably the main reason chamber music and teaching are my constant; it’s impossible to approach either of those activities from a fixed point of view.

What got you involved in doing what you do? Is there someone or something that was important in getting you on your way?

I come from a musical family and was fortunate enough to have piano and violin lessons and thirteen years of a solid, diverse music education through my public school system in Davenport, Iowa. During college years at University of Iowa, I spent as much time as possible in the school’s great chamber music and creative writing classes. My artistry was nourished and supported at every stage during my education in Iowa.

Then there is the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music. I have played and worked at this New Hampshire festival for fourteen summers. It is a place for classical musicians of all ages and backgrounds to revive their souls and stoke their love of music. If Iowa is the musical womb, Apple Hill is my musical home. I am most myself there. I love playing music, running, swimming, doing chores, hanging out, and sleeping in a cabin in the woods. I continue to make lifelong friends there. Dan and I met there and got married there. Awhile back, I traveled to Cyprus as a State Department grantee because of Apple Hill. My life is all wrapped up with Apple Hill and that makes me thankful.

Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative scene?

As a relative newcomer, I’m still at the beginning stages of making myself at home in the Boston metro area. Right off the bat, I love living among so many artists. Dan and I live on the very musical Dell Street; our landlord is a musician and several of our neighbors are too. I attend lots of performances and play with interesting people. I’ve found work. Rent in the area is hardly geared toward self-employed artists, but the businesses and resources nearby definitely are. I love biking (on all the bike lanes!!) to Yesterday’s Service Classical Sheet Music at the Somerville Armory, Artist and Craftsman Supply in Central Square, the Lilypad, Sprout and Co., Harvard Book Store, the Charlestown Working Theater, and across the river to concert halls and rehearsal spaces of Boston.