There are a lot of amazing performers out there doing incredible projects, but I find I never hear about them in time or at all. You can’t just expect that people will show up. I think these issues are fairly obvious, but are also easily forgotten when so much preparation is being put into actually practicing the music.
Don’t miss our ticket giveaway to the TorQ concert on Thursday, February 7th, 2013. Details here.
TorQ Percussion Quartet is a classical music ensemble that is full of personality and fun-loving spirit. Founded in 2005, they represent a new generation of performers that no longer take the audience for granted. This is their first year presenting a season of concerts, while also maintaining a busy schedule doing school performances and workshops, guest appearances, and recently completing their debut tour in Atlantic Canada. In this Q&A with founding member Daniel Morphy (appearing third from the left in the photo above), it’s clear that the life of a professional artists never gets slower, as the passion for the art burns brighter.
Dan, could you tell us about yourself and how you came to be a percussionist and involved in the performing arts?
I’m 27 years old and have been living, studying, and working in Toronto my entire life, but I studied abroad (summer festivals, etc.) as much as possible. I’m a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Glenn Gould School, where I studied with some of the best teachers one could ask for: members of the Toronto Symphony and the world-renown Percussion Ensemble NEXUS. I began playing piano at an early age, but started studying percussion when I was 10. My father, Frank Morphy (former oboist of the Toronto Symphony), was my exposure to classical music, which was my first calling to this career.
Through my private study, performance opportunities, and further education at university, I was influenced by so many varying performance possibilities that it was difficult to focus on just one. So I didn’t. Those explorations inevitably has helped form my path, and has developed into my love of chamber music and creative music-making. This is where my percussion quartet TorQ has helped fulfill and continues to fuel those needs.
Who is TorQ Percussion Quartet, what is it all about, and what has been your involvement with them so far?
TorQ is Rich Burrows, Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake, and myself. We are and have always been an ensemble dedicated to creating exciting music experience for our audiences through our instruments. Adam coined an excellent phrase once: “Percussion is not limited to a specific genre, but rather defined by the instruments that we play.” Our music ranges from choral transcriptions, to minimalism, to bombarding drum pieces.
We also put a strong focus on writing original music for the group as well as the commissioning of new works by up-and-coming and established composers alike. We don’t have the plethora of material to chose from as a string quartet might, so I think we find it to be an important objective. We also have a very strong presence in the school system and music education.
Rich and I formed the group in 2005 and since then my role hasn’t changed much. I enjoy the process of researching new music for us to play, whether it be making contact with composers, finding existing music, or composing/arranging music myself. There is also a lot of work behind the scenes (which probably accounts for 90 percent of the entire process!) that we try to split as evenly as possible and allow us to work within our strengths. If it wasn’t for everyone’s individual contributions, TorQ would cease to exist.
Tell us more about the upcoming show “Off the Page” and the inspiration behind it. What kind of experience can the audience expect?
“Off the Page,” in essence, is a concert of completely improvised music, which makes it a little difficult to describe what the audience may expect (as we don’t know ourselves!). The inspiration came from our mentors, NEXUS, and their beginnings as an ensemble, which for the first several years was strictly an improvisational group.
This concert has a slight twist in that every piece in the program will have set parameters, such as set duration, instrumentation, style, imagery, etc. There will also be a piece later on in the program that will be a potpourri of the entire show. Our very good friend, percussionist and mentor Ray Dillard, will be writing down selections from all the improvisations on little pieces of paper. We will then individually select from these pieces of paper to create a new work based on everything we’ve done thus far in the show.
Finally we will be joined by saxophonist Mark Laver for one of the pieces. He is truly a remarkable musician with great control over his instrument. Although quite different from a regular “TorQ show,” I think this will give the audience a chance to see a more personal side of us.
What do you see as an underlying challenge for the performing arts community at large, and classical musicians specifically?
I definitely think that communication and gaining a “fan base” are some of the biggest challenges. There are a lot of amazing performers out there doing incredible projects, but I find I never hear about them in time or at all. Your fans are the ones who, once you’ve gained their trust, will come back time and time again. However, you can’t just expect that people will show up. I think these issues are fairly obvious, but are also easily forgotten when so much preparation is being put into actually practicing the music. An extension to this would be creating a relationship with concert presenters in other cities other than your own. Good presenters have a fan base that trusts them, so you can (hopefully) rely on these presenters to promote you and get people out.
Could you share some examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a performing artist and how you overcame them?
Time management is something that I always struggled with and still do to some extent, especially when balancing solo recitals, concerts, other rehearsals, and all the background logistics of making those things function—i.e., practicing, writing a press release, contacting your fan base, booking a hall, organizing your gear (this is especially important for a percussionist). These are just a few things, but as I mentioned before, I believe this accounts for 90 percent of everything. It’s very easy to allow some things to fall through the cracks.
I try and work on a timed schedule when possible. I allot myself a specific amount of time to complete a task; if it’s not done, I schedule time to continue with it after a break. For example, I tell myself: “I’m going to practice from A to C in this passage for 10 minutes.” I might only get to B, but at least I have done some work, as opposed to telling myself: “I don’t have enough time to do A to C, so I won’t do anything at all.” I do this with writing and composing as well. There have been some exceptions, such as very tight deadlines, but I find this method works best for me. And it’s one that I continue to develop.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out? What words of advice would you give to aspiring performers?
1) Practice as much as you can right now because you will lose that time the older you get and the busier you become. 2) Take every playing opportunity you can, regardless of whether you are paid or not. You cannot put a price on that kind of experience.