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Strings of My Heart

The men of Well-Strung talk about reinventing the concept of the string quartet, being openly gay and how making music tends to tug on the heartstrings.

Ask what kind of music a string quartet plays, and you’ll likely get answers like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Mozart’s A Little Night Music. But ask which string quartet also plays (and sings) “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele and “So What” by Pink, and there’s only one answer: Well-Strung.

The group is comprised of violinists Edmund Bagnell and Christopher Marchant, cellist Daniel Shevlin and violist Trevor Wadleigh. Since they came together in 2012, they’ve performed with Tony-winner Joanna Gleason, appeared at a host of prestigious music venues, and their debut album has racked up raves from critics and fans. Metrosource spoke to the foursome about the group’s origins, inspirations and more.

“When I was nine, I had been playing T-ball for a year,” Marchant remembers. “I was terrible and anxious about it, and told my mom I wanted to quit. She said I could, but that if I did I had to play an instrument. So I picked violin. I’ve been playing ever since, and am grateful to her.”

Marchant continues, flashing forward to 2010: “Mark [Cortale, the band’s manager] and I started the group. … I was in another show, and he was producing theater,” he remembers. “We started looking for other guys. We found Daniel on Facebook through a friend of mine. Trevor and Edmund auditioned.”

Before taking on his role as first violinist, Bagnell had also been building an extensive résumé as an actor, but he now describes the group as “a full-time project. Ever since I joined, it’s been all I’ve ever done.”

After their debut,“The gay press started covering us first,” Cortale recalls. “[But] we wanted the group to be known for the playing and the singing. Certainly, it’s been fantastic to be embraced warmly by the gay community. Everyone in this group is out and gay. It’s one component of what Well-Strung is. It’s not a defining factor by any stretch.”

Nevertheless, Well-Strung garnered many of their most ardent fans during summer engagements in a certain seaside gay mecca. “Provincetown has been one of our biggest support systems,” explains Marchant. “There are people [who go] there from all over the country — and all over the world — that love the show. They go back to their hometowns and tell their friends. That really helps spread the word about us and what we do. It’s really helpful when we are touring. We usually have people in almost every city we’ve been to who have seen us in Provincetown.”

Though some might hear “singing string quartet” and think “novelty act,” Shevlin emphasizes that he wants Well-Strung to be seen as a serious venture. “We want to be the string quartet that makes people say, ‘That’s it!’” he shares. “No one else can do what we do.”

There are other string quartets that cover popular music or have collaborated with bands or rock vocalists — e.g., Turtle Island Quartet, Brodsky Quartet, The Duke Quartet — but the fact that Well-Strung performs their own vocals sets them apart.

The group also works to give their shows a different feel than those of more traditional ensembles like the Juilliard or Emerson String Quartets. That includes hiring theater director Donna Drake to direct, dressing casually on stage, playing standing up and talking directly to the audience throughout.

Wadleigh adds, “The difference with us is: When you come to [see Well-Strung], you get more of a performance instead of a seated reading of music.” He further explains, “I think the audience has a little more interactive experience with us. Not many people in their twenties or thirties are used to going to a classical concert. They haven’t learned to have the attention span to watch a classical concert as typically presented. People get bored. They get nervous at this high-glossy art they’re not welcome to. Our presentation of the music, both classical and pop, is something that’s more familiar. It’s more like a pop concert, hopefully a more comfortable atmosphere.”

It’s also an environment that can be conducive to romance. Bagnell remembers a concert in Pennsylvania where that was evidently the case. “I was very aware of this couple in the front row that was holding hands and smiling at each other the entire show,” he recalls. “I think that feels awesome — to feel you’re giving people a nice evening out.”

The group also finds satisfaction from their involvement with charitable causes, including benefits for The Tyler Clementi Foundation (the late student was a violinist in Rutgers University’s orchestra), the Ali Forney Center and a fundraiser for the campaign of the recently elected NYC mayor Bill de Blasio.

Many of Well-Strung’s fans first encounter them online, where their YouTube videos and social-media presence have an enthusiastic following. “A lot of other musicians have been reaching out on Facebook and Twitter and saying they really like what we do,” Marchant says.

“I’ve had friends from the [New York] Philharmonic and other ensembles come [to shows],” Wadleigh adds. “They’re very excited about what we do. It’s cool if you get support from musicians of such a high caliber.”

The group has also garnered support from omnipresent musician and host Seth Rudetsky, who has frequently welcomed them as guests of his SiriusXM radio show Seth Speaks. Even theater icon Patti LuPone (who has also worked with Cortale) has offered them feedback and encouragement.

But sometimes it’s the surprising fans that make the biggest impression. “At a concert we did a couple of weeks ago, there was this twelve-year-old girl with her father. After the show, she came up to us and said, ‘My older sister loves One Direction. You guys are my One Direction,’” Bagnell recalls. “That was really, really cool.”

The members of Well-Strung appreciate the inherent connection between music and romance. “I love sharing music with the one I love and vice versa,” says Bagnell. So it makes sense that their performances contain an electricity not unlike romantic chemistry. “There’s something intimate about sharing this with someone else — the dynamic of watching four people communicate and make music together.”

“One of the reasons I enjoy music so much [is] that it has the power to express so many things — love being one of them,” Marchant offers. “I sometimes think of music as being representative of the human experience and all the feelings that come with that. … When I play my violin, it’s an extension of who I am.”

“I’ve likely been more in love with music and performing than I have been with any other person,” says Shevlin. “Then again, I’ve never really been in love.”

“My relationship with music is like [a relationship] with another person: tumultuous,” Wadleigh says. “Realistically, a romantic relationship isn’t just about steady waters. It’s the roller coaster of highs and lows, making sacrifices, leaving your comfort zone, a shared experience of hardship and so forth. Love is at the basis of what we do. There are days when you win an audition, play an amazing concert or move someone to tears, but in an industry oversaturated with amazing talent, hardships are bound to come.” 

Both onstage and off, the men of Well-Strung are open about sharing their experiences of being gay and coming out. “My family has been hugely supportive since I came out to them,” says Marchant. “Even the people I thought would have a difficult time with my sexuality have been awesome. I’m grateful for them and their support.”

“I think we still have a while to go before [being gay is] widely accepted in this country as a normal thing, or rather what the majority would consider normal,” says Shevlin. “But I also think the LGBT community has come a long way, and we should be proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far. It is important to always keep the goal of our true equality in sight.”

Shevlin adds, “My whole coming-out experience was pretty smooth. I am very blessed to have amazingly progressive, non-judgmental parents. As long as I was happy and not hurting anyone, they were fine. It also may have gone down a bit like: ‘Mom, Dad… I’m gay,’ and they were like, ‘Well it’s about time you figured it out. Now what do you want for dinner?’ I guess I’d always been a bit fabulous — probably more as a little boy than I am now, though now I definitely still have my moments.”

”I’m absolutely optimistic about the future of marriage equality and LGBT rights. When I was in high school a decade ago,” Bagnell recounts, “I never would have dreamed marriage equality would have come so far so quickly. The community and America should be proud of what’s been achieved. Of course there is plenty more to do, but I believe what’s already been achieved will forever shift the social climate of America. It might take another generation for full rights or acceptance to happen, but it’s only a matter of time now.”

As for coming out, Bagnell adds, “I tried to be practical about it, I guess. I knew I was gay around age twelve, and tried to bide my time until the moment was right. I came out at sixteen when I went away to arts boarding school. That bit of distance between me and my family (and even my friends from my former high school) gave me the confidence to go for it. My family reacted beautifully. I know not all kids are so lucky. I really hope and feel that one day, kids won’t have to be lucky to have parents who react well to their children coming out.”

In the meantime, the group is looking forward to recording their next album, a follow-up to their self-titled debut.

Learn more about the men and the music online by visiting http://well-strung.com.

Watch videos of Well-Strung on their official YouTube channel.

By Richard Antone

Photo by Scott Henrichsen

Metrosource is a glossy lifestyle and entertainment magazine geared towards the modern metropolitan gay community. Metrosource has three editions: New York, Los Angeles and National. For more great articles like this, subscribe here or download Metrosource for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle.

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Comments (3)

  1. […] the midst of their first National concert tour and their first major magazine cover spread, Well-Strung, The Singing String Quartet, will make their debut at New York’s celebrated […]

  2. […] (Edmund Bagnell, Christopher Marchant, Daniel Shevlin and Trevor Wadleigh) was featured (“Strings of My Heart”) on a 2014 cover of Metrosource. The four out string players reinvent and infuse pop and classical […]

  3. Metrosource says:

    […] Ballroom (where I’ve had the pleasure of seeing artists such as former Metrosource cover guys Well-Strung) is a great venue, and Monday, March 7, it will be the scene for “The ONLY Premiere Party”, a […]

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