Q & A with Margret Gries

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Q   What is your primary instrument?
A   My primary musical instrument is whatever I’m performing on for the next concert. Since childhood my training has been equal parts keyboard and strings, beginning piano in second grade and violin in fourth grade. I began studying organ in high school and harpsichord in college, and even though I was a philosophy major at Pacific Lutheran at Yale University, I was fortunate to have had equal access to music classes and performing opportunities.  One of the great gifts of that experience was discovering the expressive possibilities of harpsichord repertoire, using period instruments and performing techniques and developing an understanding of historical traditions and contexts. Even with these wonderful keyboard options, I was always reluctant to give up violin. For years I’ve played violin in regional orchestras and learned a lot of chamber music as a member of a quartet. But it was in 1976 that on the final day of a string quartet retreat I heard Stanley Ritchie play the Biber chaconne on Baroque violin. That experience changed my life! The sound of the Baroque violin was so unique and provided such a new perspective on the early repertoire. Fortunately, I was able to study with Stanley for several years and played many programs in period instrument ensembles in Seattle. This led to serving as concertmaster with the first period instrument orchestra in Seattle, and then beginning in 1999 as leader of the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra in Ashland. I currently serve as music director of the Oregon Bach Collegium, established in 2008 with the goal of presenting historically informed performances of early music for audiences in the Willamette valley. Our model is J. S. Bach’s own Collegium which united efforts of Leipzig’s students, professionals and lovers of music. In a similar way the Oregon Bach Collegium provides opportunities for local early music musicians to participate in concerts here.  Moving to an even earlier repertoire, I studied vielle with Margriet Tindemans. A highlight of that experience was playing programs in churches along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with Margriet and a vocal ensemble from the Netherlands.  It has been a privilege to have so many opportunities to explore sound through these various instruments, and I feel that each experience has helped inform my musical understanding.

Q  The best teachers?
A  I think my best teachers were those who encouraged me to think for myself. These influential teachers, whether in music or in philosophy, taught me to open my arms wide enough to see issues from many different points of view. They inspired me to be curious, to be thorough and to express my ideas accurately. Ultimately, I learned that over one’s lifetime we each eventually become our own best teachers.

Project I’m excited about?
A  I am scheduled to teach the graduate level Music in the Classical Period course during Winter term, and I look forward to participating in the intense musicological conversations that are part of teaching our music history curriculum at U of O. We have exceptionally inquisitive students and I anticipate interesting discussions based on our reading of the most recent resources for this repertoire. In our history curriculum we also look for connections between the study of music history and the decisions one makes as a performer. This involves not only basic score study and learning about contextual references, but also addressing current issues in performance practice. My background in teaching courses in the Philosophy of Music also provides opportunity for discussions of meaning and value of music.  I find that students are eager to explore these questions as they develop skills in analytical thinking.