by Amy Morrill
Seniors Claire and Henry McEwen, twins, are January’s Artists of the Month because of their passion for music and their contributions to North’s orchestra.
What instruments do you play, and when did you start playing them?
- Henry: I play the cello, and I started in second grade.
- Claire: I play the viola. It is like the violin except bigger and better. I started playing violin in second grade, and then freshman year I switched to viola.
What got you interested in music?
- Henry: Both of our parents play in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Our mom plays flute and our dad plays oboe. They think that every child should get a chance to play music. So, they said, “hey, you should play an instrument.”
- Claire: Our parents are professional musicians, so we never had a choice about whether we were going to play an instrument, and I guess we think now that it’s a really important part of culture and arts. I guess that’s why we became interested in it, but it wasn’t until recently that both Henry and I got more serious about it. My mom says that I begged her to play violin. I don’t remember that, but I was very small at the time. There was a while where I wanted to stop completely in middle school. But then, they insisted that I continue.
Do you play your instrument outside of North?
- Henry: I’m in an orchestra outside of school called the Rivers Conservatory in Weston. It meets Fridays from 4-5:30. I definitely enjoy Rivers more because the talent level is higher there, which is to be expected because it’s a larger pool. That makes the entire orchestra a lot more fun because you’re playing with people who are above your level, which helps a lot.
- Claire: I play in the top level of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s program. We also do chamber music at the New England Conservatory NEC. It’s hard to get a good high school orchestra together when a lot of the students are pressured into it by their parents, but everyone in my youth orchestra is really dedicated and serious. It’s just a different level. There’s good things in both. For example, I’m principal viola at North because there are three of us, but I’m pretty far back in the section at the youth orchestra. They both teach you different things.
What is your favorite part about being in Orchestra?
- Henry: Where words fail, music can pick up. I’ve never been really good with words, so music helps a lot in that category. One thing I really like about Orchestra is sight reading, which isn’t a common opinion among musicians. Sight reading is playing a piece of music for the first time without any preparation. It can be very scary because you have no idea what’s going on. The piece could go literally anywhere in the next measure. But it gets the adrenaline flowing, and you’re forced to react as quickly as possible, and to try to do everything right even though you’ve never done it before. I just like that concept.
- Claire: Right now my section of viola in my other orchestra is really close, and it’s full of really cool people. The violas are kind of a section that gets jokes told about us, but we’re really tight, and we all work really hard. My favorite part is just being inspired by all of the other talented young people.
Do you plan on continuing to play music after high school?
- Henry: Definitely in some way I would like to. There are music majors and music minors in college, depending on where you go. I’m trying to find a place that has a mix of both music majors and minor and other majors and minors in other subjects. A music major is an intense lifestyle. My mom teaches flute at Boston University and my dad teaches oboe there. They have a lot of students, and Claire and I often get an insight into their lives as students, which are often pretty stressful.
- Claire: Neither of us want to be professional musicians, but we want to keep playing music a lot in college. There are so many other things I’m interested in. To be a professional musician, that’s the only thing you can do because you have to work so hard. Both of my parents knew that they wanted to do that since they were around twelve, but there’s just so many things I’m interested in that I can’t bear to spend all of my time on one thing.
As siblings, do you ever play together? Do you enjoy playing together?
- Henry: There is a chamber group that Claire and I are in based off of New England Conservatory. She plays viola and I play cello, and we have two other violins in the group. I would say that it’s a lot different playing with my sister than just another violist because we know what the other person is doing just a little bit more than anyone else in the quartet, because we’ve lived together for 17 years.
- Claire: I love playing with Henry! We’re in a quartet at NEC, and then sometimes my family plays quartets because my mom plays flute and my dad plays oboe and they can play the treble clefs, and he plays cello and I play viola. We gave a concert last year at this community thing. It was very fun.
What is your favorite type of music to play? To listen to?
- Henry: There’s a lot of good classical stuff. I’d say I probably like Romantic most because it has the most expressive themes and melodies, and the most gorgeous sounds ever. There are a lot of really cool contemporary pieces being put out too, and classical has Mozart, who’s a genius, so I like those too. I can’t really put one as my absolute favorite. In terms of the music I listen to, I have an equal amount of Train and Yo Yo Ma. It’s a balance.
- Claire: Classical, but within classical I like Romantic. I listen to a lot of things. Mostly alternative. I’m not into country or rock. I have started listening to a lot more classical music. But, you know how people say “I can concentrate and do my homework and listen to classical music”? I can’t because I get too involved in it, and then I can’t do my homework.
How has music improved your life?
- Henry: For a long time in the summer, I didn’t have a chance to practice cello because my family was on the BSO tour in Europe. We went to Iceland, London, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and all around there. It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t play cello for about a month. I realized that my life felt bland without the instrument.
- Claire: It’s definitely given me a greater appreciation for the way it connects people. Music can connect people in so many ways because it’s a universal language. It also made me a lot better at working hard because it’s something where there aren’t specific things that you accomplish. It’s a constant process of getting better, so that definitely taught me a lot about working hard.