Conduit to a perfect soundMay 19, 2021 11:26AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Consider the violin.
The instrument typically weighs no more than 24 ounces, and consists of 70 different parts, among them being four strings that are tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4 and E5. How these strings are played – whether plucked or struck with the wooden side of the bow, and depending on the length, mass, tension and frequency of this contact – pitch of a sound wave vibration is created.
In essence, the air created by these vibrations and the sound that is made is affected by its motion, compressing the air molecules and moving them forward and then allowing a space for the air to retract. These oscillations can be heard at certain levels by humans because they occur on frequencies that ears can interpret.
It is this sound – this holy matrimony between physics and art – that has served as the house music of our humanity, the accompaniment to our grandest emotions and the backdrop to our most precious moments, and those who spend their lives tucking the instrument in the curve of their neck and creating sounds that seem as if they are gifted from the archangels.
They are both servants and conduits to a perfect sound.
When Newark resident Kathleen Hastings – who has owned and operated the Wilmington String Ensemble since 2017 -- began to take violin lessons in her native Oregon at the age of six, she had the fortunate blessing to have her mother Janet Hanneman as her first teacher. In some ways, music was the family business; Hanneman was a professional violinist and pianist, and passed her love of music onto her daughters.
The connection between the young student and her instrument grew, and by the tie Hastings had turned 15, playing the violin was the only thing she wanted to do. She then became a member of the Portland Junior Symphony, which at the time was one of the top youth orchestras in the country, and at the age of 18, she attended the prestigious Aspen Music Festival.
During the festival, Hastings caught the attention of several teachers from the College of Performing Arts (now the University of the Arts) in Philadelphia, who promptly offered her a four-year scholarship, where she majored in violin performance.
Following her graduation, Hastings auditioned for and joined the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and later supplemented her performing with a 16-year teaching tenure at the Wilmington Music School.
Eventually, Hastings expanded her performance repertoire by joining the Wilmington String Ensemble, which was founded in 1983 by Karen Ahramjian. For Hastings, joining the Ensemble translated into a 15-year odyssey of “have violin, will travel” with one of the most highly-respected and leading provider of special occasion music in Delaware.
She played in quartets and as part of duos and trios at wedding ceremonies and receptions, parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, civil union ceremonies, business events and memorial services at countless churches, hotels, banquet facilities and private homes throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
On June 2, 2012, Hastings and her colleagues from the Ensemble performed at the wedding ceremony for First Daughter Ashley Biden at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church in Greenville.
In 2017, Hastings took over the ownership of the Wilmington String Ensemble from Ahramjian.
“When Karen was getting ready to retire, she wanted the Ensemble to continue to grow,” Hastings said. “She had done an outstanding job of building the Ensemble, established a strong rapport with so many of our clientele, so when she asked me if I wanted to take over the ownership, I did.”
From Brahms to Coldplay
To truly comprehend the breadth of the Wilmington String Ensemble is to embrace the experience of its musicians and the catalog of its repertoire, which ranges from Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” to Coldplay’s “Clocks” and “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve.
While the Ensemble consists of a core group of ten musicians, there are more than two dozen other musicians that Hastings calls on to perform, depending on the type of music chosen for an event.
All members are conservatory trained and have extensive resumes that have included the Delaware Symphony, Opera Delaware, Bethlehem Bach Festival, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Ballet and The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and its members have performed with the Philly Pops, for Broadway shows at the Academy of Music and the Forrest Theatre, and in Atlantic City Casino showrooms.
The Ensemble offers a unique and exciting concept in special occasion music – one that affords the opportunity for an event planner to choose the perfect instrumental combination of solo violin, flute, harp, piano, vocalist and classical guitar, in ensembles from duos to string quintets, or a combination of strings with flute, piano, harp, vocalist, or trumpet.
Whatever the combination of musicians and music, the Wilmington String Ensemble is among the busiest touring acts in the region, performing at as many as 300 events in a normal year. Yet, in February of 2020, as COVID-19 began its all-out assault on live performances and events. Hastings began what became a nearly year-long cross off engagements that became postponements and a few cancelations. While Hastings is happy to report that the Ensemble’s calendar is moving its way back to normal in 2021, the original impact of COVID-19 not only put a dent in the Ensemble’s usually packed schedule, it affected the Ensemble’s members.
“There is nothing like playing in an orchestra or an ensemble,” said Hastings, who in addition to coordinating the Ensemble’s schedule of events, still performs. “For all of the classical musicians I know, it has been hard for all of us over the past year not to be able to play with other people.
“For those of us who have played together for 30 years or more, we know what the other person is going to do in their performance. There is a closeness in the community of musicians, because we all have the same thing in common.”
‘More perfect, and more beautiful’
There is an 800-square-foot studio that adjoins the remainder of the Newark home Hastings has lived in with her family for the past 26 years. The room, dotted with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with instruments, sheet music and books, is sun-splashed by a southern exposure of light and serves as both her office space for operating the Wilmington String Ensemble, and as a teaching classroom for anywhere from one student to as many as 30.
There are moments, however, when the space becomes her quiet and solitary domain, a sanctuary for tinkering around with new music to learn. The hours that Hastings spends learning new arrangements is an aspiration that for many of those who are not musicians may seem ironic, given that Hastings has already mastered selections from the songbooks of Bach, Beethoven, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and hundreds of other arrangements in between.
“I will never reach a point where I consider a piece of music that I play to be the absolute perfect way to play it,” she said. “Rather, I find that I can always make something better if I continue to practice it, and while that may be intimidating to a student to know that he or she will never be perfect, I think it’s wonderful that we can make something more perfect, and more beautiful.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].