MARQUETTE - The origin story of the Fourtissimo String Quartet may sound familiar: four musicians collaborate at a music festival; they continue the group after the festival ends; they begin performing at a multitude of events. Soon, they're a well-known name.
The twist? The four classical musicians who met at the Upper Peninsula Chamber Festival are all 14year-old girls. They'll be starting
their freshman year at Marquette Senior High School in the fall.
Fourtissimo, a string quartet composed of incoming Marquette Senior High School freshmen, plays a concert at the recent Blueberry Festival in downtown Marquette. Group members, from left, are Mallory Grugin on violin, Megan Armstrong on violin, Maitri White on viola and Sophie Shahbazi on cello. (Journal photo by Taylor Jones)
The Fourtissimo String Quartet plays at the recent Blueberry Festival in downtown Marquette. All four members are 14 year-olds. (Journal photo by Taylor Jones)
Featured in the quartet is Megan Armstrong, who plays violin in the group, but also enjoys performing piano and voice. Armstrong was inspired to join the arts by her greatgrandparents, who were both accomplished musicians.
Sophie Shahbazi performs the cello for the quartet, and also is skilled in piano and voice. Shahbazi's dad and brother play in the orchestra and were role models to Sophie, sparking her interest in music.
Mallory Grugin, who plays the violin, also performs viola, piano and voice. Grugin looks up to her older sister, Elizabeth, who is also a performer. In addition, both of Grugin's parents are well-known musicians and music teachers.
The final member of the quartet is Maitri White, who performs on the viola, but also plays piano and sings. In contrast to the other three, White's musical skills were sparked not from her family, but from seeing a musical at the age of 6 and deciding she too, would like to be a performer.
At first glance, these girls appear young to be performing such advanced music, but from the moment their bows touch the strings, their performance captivates the audience.
"It is really stereotypical to think young people don't appreciate classical music," Grugin said.
Her comrades were quick to agree, adding that the reason many kids don't appreciate classical music is because they haven't been exposed to it. In true professional form, the girls rehearse as often as possible. When called to play for an event, they assess what kind of atmosphere they will play for, and then choose accordingly from their repertoire, which is provided by their orchestra director, Janis Peterson.
Peterson has been the orchestra director for the Marquette Area Public Schools for 34 years. She said self-forming groups such as the Fourtissimo Quartet are growing in number. She added that the girls do most everything on their own and that the quartet is 100 percent good for them, from its socialization values to the feeling of accomplishment they get. And they get paid for
their work, which Peterson said teaches the Fourtissimo members the value of a dollar.
"Those four girls, not only are they very talented, but they are so hard-working. And that is the winning combination of a musician," Peterson said.
When asked what is the most difficult part of maintaining the quartet, all four girls replied in unison, "staying organized!"
The group meets once a week during the school year, while also participating in the school orchestra. During the summer months, rehearsals can happen whenever all of their schedules align.
The girls shared their belief that music instruction is imperative, while talking about the cuts being made to music programs in many schools.
"We need more music. It's so educational," White said.
Shahbazi agreed, and added: "Music is something you can do the rest of your life ... the orchestra is a second family to us."
Peterson had similar views on the subject: "It's a travesty, pure and simple ... it breaks my heart when the state downplays the importance of music in our lives by cutting music programs."
The girls said the easiest and most enjoyable part of performing in the quartet is being able to play with friends. They advise all youth thinking of starting a musical group to choose people they are comfortable with to lessen the chances of conflicts. They also suggest that students go to as many music events as possible.
While Fourtissimo primarily plays classical music, the quartet members enjoy playing contemporary songs as well. They use events such as the recent Blueberry Festival in downtown Marquette, at which the quartet recently performed, as an outlet to play a wider range of music.
Amidst performing and polishing their skills on their current instruments, all four members are also learning new instruments to add to their extensive background in the performing arts. Grugin is learning the french horn, while Shahbazi is learning
guitar. White said she would like to learn the violin and Armstrong wants to learn the viola. The group is also looking into forming a singing quartet to dovetail their string quartet.
"I just hope that even when we're adults, we can still come back and perform together once in a while," Grugin said.
The girls said they owe a lot to their parents, who drive them to rehearsals and performances and also help the group book more performances.
"We couldn't do any of this without them," Armstrong said.
The girls plan to continue their quartet throughout high school. After that, Grugin said she would like to go to a performing arts school or study marine biology. Armstrong is still unsure what she would like to do, but will continue to perform. Shahbazi said she would like to perform on Broadway and is also interested in psychology. White would like to pursue acting and music.
"Even if we don't go into professional music, I'll never forget what we did with this group," White said.
The Fourtissimo String Quartet is available to perform at a wide variety of events. The group can be reached through its website at fourtissimoquartet.weebly.com or their Fourtissimo String-Quartet Facebook page.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org