The Washington, D.C. wedding circuit brought together a dynamic trio of award-winning musicians, The String Queens (TSQ). Ahead of headlining the Flint Hills Family Festival in St. Paul on June 2, Dawn Johnson, Kendall Isadore, and Elise Sharp recently spoke to the MSR about their passion for education and music.
When she sought someone to hire to play viola at a wedding, a colleague of Isadore’s suggested that his Juilliard-trained wife (Johnson) was just who she needed. “It was just wild when he said it, because there’s such a small community of string players of color,” recalled Isadore.
Later, Isadore met Sharp when they played at a variety of weddings and local galas. “We noticed that there was something special when we played classical music together. Behind the Haydn, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, there was an element of soul and a diversity of styles,” said Isadore.
They all finally played together at a wedding six years ago and decided then to form their own trio.
All three work as educators in elementary, middle, and high schools in the D.C. area during the day and indulge their love of music outside of that. Stated Sharp, “We come from a long day of work, but TSQ is very important to all three of us, so it’s worth our time to get it together and rehearse.”
“It gets me through the day knowing that I’m going to meet up with these ladies and we’re going to create something special,” added Johnson.
Johnson, who plays viola, cellist Sharp, and violinist Isadore are in high demand. In addition to weddings and other special local events, the trio has played the vaunted stages of Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and even the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, who attended Isadore’s alma mater, Howard University.
“The feeling was surreal,” recalled Johnson. “It was an experience we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives.” Johnson also explained that since they are mothers of daughters, it was even more special seeing Harris sworn in as VP.
They all feel that music is a crucial aspect of a great overall education. Explained Sharp, “Music is the best place to be creative. It’s the best place for our kids to actually have the freedom to think on their own.
“It’s the place of discipline. It’s the place of teamwork. It’s the place of camaraderie. Absolutely, there needs to be more of it.”
Isadore added that music education also “enhances self-awareness, language, and social development.”
Because of their belief in the importance of music education, they caution educators to be discerning when implementing music programs in schools. Isadore pointed out, “Maybe there is a program in the school, but it’s about quality. We need to evaluate orchestra and music programs the way we evaluate science and math curriculum.”
The String Queens have released several albums, the most recent of which is “Rise.” It consists of a number of popular songs from across multiple genres such as Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman),” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” the Negro spiritual “Motherless Child,” P-Diddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” and more.
“Community is at the heart of what we do,” noted Isadore. “We also know that the world has gone through a lot over the past three years. We wanted to make sure we spoke to those things with this album.”
The trio has collectively been heavily influenced by the likes of Rachmaninoff, jazz violinist Regina Carter, and Stevie Wonder. “Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto,’ stated Johnson, “is absolutely one of the most beautiful pieces of music.”
Isadore continues to be in awe of Wonder: “For me, it’s always been about Stevie Wonder. It’s the storytelling through his musicality and instrumentation. His ability to write lyrics is above reproach and every note, every lyric has a purpose.”
The unique quality of their music demands that Johnson, Sharp and Isadore not only play but also compose their music. Each audience for whom they perform gets a subtly different composition.
“The sheet music for a lot of the repertoire that we perform, allowing the instrumentation to be ready for a trio, literally does not exist,” explained Johnson. “We actually have to create our own arrangements. We’ve never performed the same piece in the same way twice.
“We’re constantly on our P’s and Q’s making sure that we’re constantly listening, revising and adapting our arrangements to make them sound increasingly better.”
Ultimately for The String Queens, their composing also comes back to the community. “We want to make sure that we’re delivering the most fulfilling, most enriching musical experience that somebody who’s paid their money to come see us perform can experience,” said Johnson.
The String Queens will headline the Flint Hills Family Festival on Friday, June 2 at 7 pm. at Ordway Concert Hall, located at 345 Washington St. in St. Paul. For ticket info, visit bit.ly/StringQueensOrdway.
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