Oberlin Blogs

Winter Term with the Petrichor Quartet

February 1, 2020

Ilana McNamara ’24

Winter term is a magical time when Oberlin students get to pick an individual project, which could be related to their major or not, and get an entire month to explore this area of interest. For my very first winter term project, my string quartet and I went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and spent time rehearsing, receiving coachings from professional musicians in the area, performing, and living together. We chose Minneapolis because one of the violinists in my quartet, Makaela, is from there, and we were able to stay with her family, which was incredibly nice. Her parents are the sweetest people ever, and her dog, Mace, is a very good boy. It felt really comforting to be accepted into their family and their home, and Mace, who usually barks nonstop at strangers, eventually got to know us and came to listen to all of our rehearsals. 

Mace, a golden doodle, lays on the floor in between the quartet's cellist and second violinst
Mace, a golden doodle, lays on the floor in between the
quartet’s cellist and second violinst

I was initially really scared to spend two weeks with people whom I had just met that semester. I was worried that we would hate each other by the end, because we would be in such close quarters: living with each other, sharing a bathroom, spending every day together, and rehearsing intensely for hours on end, which can include giving people comments that can be hard to accept, like “You’re out of tune there,” or “You’re not matching so-and-so there.”

Really, the opposite happened. I feel that I really got to know my group members better, and that we became even closer friends, which will be lovely as we rehearse and perform together next semester. 

I also feel that I learned how to be in a professional string quartet, which is something that I’ve always been interested in. Quartets don’t usually live together in the same small house, but they do sometimes have to be together when they tour, sometimes for months on end.

Also, when you’re in a string quartet, as in most professions, you have to be able to take constructive criticism from your colleagues and use it to better yourself, instead of taking it as straight criticism and getting hurt by it, which can damage relationships. You also have to be able to learn music quickly, and our challenge was to learn and perform Claude Debussy’s String Quartet, which is a pretty daunting undertaking. We were able to not only learn it, but perform it after only a week and a half of intensive rehearsal, practicing, and coaching from professionals.

I feel that this winter term project gave me a practicum in being in a professional string quartet, and also in relating positively to other people.

The Petrichor Quartet is performing a piece in a church
The Petrichor Quartet performing a piece in a church.

I really can’t say enough good things about the other members of my string quartet. Makaela, Ciara, and Drew are some of the best musicians and people at Oberlin, and I’m so happy I got to spend this time with them. I realize this all sounds very sappy, but I really do think that. Makaela is from Minneapolis, and her family let us all stay at their house and eat their food, which is so unbelievably nice, considering I hardly knew her parents before going there. Also, she is an incredible violinist and chamber musician. Ciara is literally the sweetest person ever, and such a stellar violinist, even though she would definitely protest me writing that. And Drew is actually one of the best cellists I’ve ever had the good fortune to play with, and also just all-around smart, which is super impressive. I really should have named this “Just me gushing about how great my quartet is.”

All in all, this was such a special experience for me and my quartet, even though Minneapolis is COLD in January. I’m really excited for my next four years of winter term opportunities. Even though you technically only have to complete three winter term projects during your time at Oberlin, I think I’ll try to do it every year, because it’s such a fun and unique experience.

So far, my ideas for future winter terms, some of them having to do with either of my two majors, some of them completely random, are: learning embroidery; having an internship in some math or logic field; learning how to ski; studying abroad; learning and performing all of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites with my sister, a contemporary and ballet-trained dancer who could come up with original, historically based choreography; teaching a creativity seminar for a university that my dad is partnered with in India; making earrings; learning how to bake bread so I can win the Great British Bake-Off; and making inspirational art for Robertson, the conservatory practice building.

There aren’t enough winter terms for me to do all of this, and who knows what opportunities the future will bring. For now, I’m content with what my quartet accomplished this month, and I hope we can continue learning and growing together in the next year. 

Ilana, Drew, Ciara, and Makaela stand in front of Minnehaha Falls, a frozen waterfall, in full winter gear
Ilana, Drew, Ciara, and Makaela stand in front of Minnehaha Falls, a frozen waterfall, in full winter gear.


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