Sunday, Aug. 6
6 and 9 p.m.
Clear Space Theatre Company
20 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Well-Strung, an all-gay singing-string quartet, has a musical library that might raise some eyebrows.
Chris Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, Edmund Bagnell and Trevor Wadleigh are known for mixing Lady Gaga and Rihanna hits with the likes of Bach and Vivaldi. It’s a combination not often found in a music performance but Well-Strung wants to introduce classical music to the masses through a more familiar genre — pop. Not only are they known for their cross-genre performances but their youthful presence and good looks have also been a big crowd draw.
The foursome are bandmates and roommates; they all live together in New York City, which makes for easy practice sessions. When not practicing at home, they are on tour sometimes in a different city every day of the week. The hard work has paid off as they have performed for big names such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and were invited to perform at the Vatican. They’ve also shared stages with Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and Audra McDonald.
The Washington Blade was able to speak with second violinist and group co-founder Marchant as they prep for their Rehoboth Beach, Del., show this weekend. Marchant revealed why he thinks classical and pop music are the perfect match, why Britney Spears tweeted their performance and the pressures of being a sex symbol.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Why did you first start playing music?
CHRIS MARCHANT: My mom made me. I was playing T-ball at the time and I was really bad at it so I wanted to quit. She said I could do that if I played a musical instrument for awhile. So I said OK and I picked violin.
BLADE: How did you get involved with Well-Strung?
MARCHANT: I co-created the group with our manager Mark (Cortale). In 2010 I was up in Provincetown and Cape Cod doing another show because I used to do musical theater prior to this. I would play my violin on the street just to make extra money in the summer time. Mark was a producer in town at a theater and he saw me playing. So we started collaborating on what making a show together might look like. And we started looking for other people who would be interested.
BLADE: Is Well-Strung everyone’s only job or do you have side projects?
MARCHANT: It’s our only job. We kind of transitioned into that at different times. A couple of the guys used to cater or teach music or take freelance gigs. I used to bartend. But nobody really has time anymore.
BLADE: What do you think classical styles bring to pop songs?
MARCHANT: One of my favorite things that we do is explore the crossover between pop and classical music. Classical music is kind of intimidating for the average music listener because the library is just so wide. There’s just so much material. So it can be a little bit daunting to try and get into it. So what we try to do is highlight some of the crossovers in our covers between classical pieces and the pop songs. It’s always amazing to me when a chord progression used in a Bach partita lines up with something that is a mega hit by Taylor Swift today. People don’t realize that the underlying bed of music can be quite similar at times. That’s not always the case. But it’s surprising how often that is true. Also, I think the different textures that classical music creates is a little more different and intricate than pop music today. But we try to show what the past has offered musically and that is not irrelevant by any means.
BLADE: Has anyone told you that after listening to your performance you got them more into classical music?
MARCHANT: Absolutely. That’s one of my favorite things to hear after a concert. That’s one of our goals in a concert is to show people that there’s room on both sides of the aisle. There’s room for people to like both. We can show someone that classical music isn’t this lost, old art but it can still be relevant today. But, also I think it’s really cool when sometimes we play student concerts or do student workshops and they realize that, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to play this one variety of music to play the violin.” It can be whatever you want it to be. That’s also really cool to me.
BLADE: Do you find yourself frowned upon in the classical music community for doing pop covers?
MARCHANT: If that’s the case, I’m unaware of it. I would say some non-fans have written in response to some of the stuff we’ve done and say that we’re destroying the classical piece with something that was written today. But that just seems close-minded. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It should be both as often as it makes sense too.
BLADE: What’s your favorite song to cover?
MARCHANT: My favorite song that we do is Radiohead’s “Creep.” Our violist arranged that one with “Ave Maria” and (a prelude from) “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” So, it’s actually like Bach wrote “The Well-Tempered Clavier” then a hundred years later Gounod wrote “Ave Maria” over top of that and then we took both and we put Radiohead over it. So it’s like multi-century.
BLADE: Any musicians that have reached out to you about songs you’ve covered from them?
MARCHANT: Britney Spears tweeted a clip of us playing “Toxic” in the hotel lobby of Planet Hollywood where she was doing her Las Vegas residency. And then the Charlie Daniels Band posted our cover of “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
BLADE: Are your fans mostly gay, straight or a mix?
MARCHANT: It’s a good mix. It started out as more heavily gay because we got our start in Provincetown which is a mostly gay community. From there, the people who saw us there would bring us to their hometowns for concerts. So that’s how we started touring. It did start as a stronger gay demographic and I think that is still very present and we’re grateful for that. But we find our demographic just gets wider the more we tour. We tend to have the most engaged audiences when we’re with suburban families. That’s when we find the most successful concerts.
BLADE: You’re known for your music but you’re known for your looks as well. Is it weird being seen as a sex symbol?
MARCHANT: It is weird. We have always said music comes before anything or any of us looking the way we want to look. We always put the music as a priority and everything else comes second to that. But it is very important, for me anyway, to be consistent while we’re on the road. I always try to get up and find a gym before sound check so I can focus my day a little bit. When we’re in different cities all the time, it can be draining in a certain way. Having a routine at the gym is really good for my sanity.
BLADE: What can people expect from your show in Rehoboth?
MARCHANT: We’re so excited for Rehoboth. That community has been so supportive to us from the beginning. There are really sweet people down there. We have a lot of new music that Rehoboth hasn’t heard yet so we’re excited to debut that there and hopefully see a bunch of our old friends. It’s definitely going to be a fun show. They’ve always been a very supportive community. A lot of energy from the audience. Some audiences I think they feel like, “Oh, we’re seeing a string quartet so we should be quiet and respectful of the classical music.” But we would rather people be loud and engaged just having a good time.