Research in the language we all speak: The Caine Undergraduate Research Quartet

The Caine Undergraduate Research Quartet executes an unconventional form of research. Unlike quantitative science so often accompanied by jargon, facts and figures, this group works with one of our shared languages: music. With the primary aim to increase musical awareness, the quartet seeks opportunities to improve their musicianship and performance to raise the public’s interest and participation in the performing arts.

In its first year, the members of the quartet – Amanda Marsha, Brynn Seegmiller, Gavon Peck and Stephen Mitton – were hand selected. Together the four are two violinists, a violist, and a cellist respectively.

Given the strong emphasis on growing musical awareness and understanding, one of the primary elements to the quartet’s work are educational concerts. This past fall audiences ranged from college students in an introductory art course at Utah State, orchestral students at Logan High School, to children ages four to twelve in an afterschool program in Salt Lake.

“The range in our audiences’ reactions to our lectures and performances has been really interesting,” violist Gavon Peck observed. “When presenting for the general education course it was clear that student’s had a range of interest—some were sitting on the edge of their seats, others were board to tears. What’s interesting is that when we played for the elementary kids all of their small young minds were awestruck.”

It is creating this awe, the need to hear or create music that the group is trying to fine tune. In their first semester the Fry Street Quartet provided much of the new group’s guidance. Having participated in Crossroads, an interdisciplinary project to convey the emotional tensions of climate change, the Fry Street Quartet is the perfect mentor to tackle questions of outreach.

Peck articulated, “What is great about what we are doing is that unlike when you go to a scientific conference, you don’t need any musical background to appreciate what we are talking about. If we do a good job, you can feel it in our performance.”

Always seeking to become better performers, the Caine Undergraduate Research Quartet has sought out mentorship beyond Utah State. The group is currently in communication with CU-Boulder’s Takács Quartet with the hope of creating a series of master classes. In the performing arts, a master class is typically a small group of intermediate or advanced students. Several participants will play solos for the master who will comment on unique stylistic components of a piece, notes on the composer or the time and provide feedback to the student on ways they can improve.

After receiving additional feedback on their performance the group intends to submit audition videos to two international competitions, the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and the Coleman Chamber Ensemble completion.
The growth in musicality gained from these opportunities will be shared again with the community. In the coming semester, the group intends to offer master classes to Logan High School students, put on a dorm concert series and network with other undergraduate research fellows at USU.

Unconventional as they may be, the Caine Undergraduate Research Quartet certainly is meeting the broader definition of research, undertaking creative work on a systematic basis to increase our knowledge of man, culture and society.

Emily James | Project Management and Communications | Office of Research and Graduate Studies | emily.james@usu.edu