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Farewell to our Director of Innovation

Farewells are difficult, and alongside the excitement of what’s ahead of us, there is inevitably some sadness present. It certainly is there for me with Taija’s departure, and I know it is there for many of those who have been supporters of Friction, and for my colleagues. A mentor of ours upon hearing the news said, “These things are often in the best interest of everyone involved.” So it is with the best of intentions that we wish Taija well on her next adventures and pursuits as a human and as an artist. In this blog, I want to take the time to thank Taija for all she gave to Friction, and to celebrate the many superb moments we shared.

Your first question might be “What is a Director of Innovation?” We had the very same question. When Taija first joined Friction we were exploring what roles each of us would take for the administrative side of the quartet. One of the steps in that process was to look at other arts organizations around the country to see what leadership positions they had. We came across the standard ones like executive director, treasurer, director of development, and on and on. Then we found an organization that was trying something new with a position called Director of Innovation. We all chuckled at the title, because its role was slightly vague and it promoted a vibe of being hip or “techy.”

Taija was unsure what role would be best for her, so we jokingly decided her role would be the Director of Innovation as she figured out where her skills would best be applied. Unbeknownst to us at the time, she became exactly that, an innovator for our quartet.

One of the most profound innovations Taija brought was the use of apps and google integration into our working process. When Taija joined, our communication relied heavily on emails and text messages. Needless to say, our ability to keep track of our conversation threads wasn’t great. Taija introduced us to an app called Slack. Slack is like a typical messaging app, except you can have channels that have specific themes. We created channels for scheduling, repertoire, competitions, random jokes, finances, and on and on. With Slack it was incredibly easy to know where we could find what we had talked about for repertoire, or for scheduling. It saved us so much time and energy, and made our communication exponentially more efficient.

Another innovation was the use of google docs and sheets. Taija pushed for us to create sheets and docs to archive the information that would also be in Slack. She helped us create and organize our Budget sheet, with complimentary sheets for each month. The initial work she did for the sheets creation allowed us to simply input the data, another innovation that increased our efficiency.

She created a Document called “Future Projects” where we could see each performance date, and repertoire years in advance. This was one of our first steps of being able to have more long term strategic planning regarding our repertoire choices, and our overall workload. Not only does this type of planning help our ensemble playing in regards to personal preparation, but it also helped us plan our personal lives with our friends and family so that are overall well-being could be improved.

One of the most stabilizing innovations Taija brought to the quartet was the financial planning. By advocating we start a quartet savings account and implement a bi-monthly payment system, she has helped us move towards more financial stability and a more balanced workload.

Many of these small changes had profound effects on our long term strategic planning, and our on short term tactical planning. The innovations that Taija brought to the administrative side elevated our quartet to a position that was more sustainable. And for that, I am extremely grateful.

Taija’s innovations were also felt in our rehearsals. The most profound in my opinion was her doggedness regarding ensemble. Her perception was at a much higher level than mine, and at first I was often confused because I couldn’t hear what she was hearing. The difference in hearing something in rehearsal sometimes was a point of contention, but at the end of the day, if I heard it or not, I would try 100% to achieve a tightness that Taija was seeking. As a result my hearing improved, and the quartet’s ability to play tightly improved a great deal. I think it is not a coincidence that one of our most common compliments from people working with us is how incredibly tight we are. Of course each of us brings a lot to that tightness. After all, it was something we were complimented about before Taija joined the quartet. But I feel Taija really helped unlock that potential in our quartet.

An iconic attribute of Friction is that we all play off of tablets. Taija was the first to do so, and had been talking about a larger iPad since she joined the quartet. She hated playing off paper parts so much that she would play on her iPad mini. Looking back now, with the advantage of having large iPad pros, an iPad mini seems impossible to play from. But Taija did it (mostly) with aplomb. She also investigated bluetooth pedals and picked the most reliable one. It has been so reliable that she never had to get a new one. She has only had to replace the batteries once in 5 years. Meanwhile, Otis, Doug, and I all had to have replacement parts sent for our Airturns during that time. I personally had to do this three times. I eventually switched to the Pageflip because Taija’s pedal has proven itself to be the more user friendly and reliable option. This of course happened after several friendly yet heated debates on which pedal was best. Well, Taija certainly gets the last laugh with me on this one.

The innovations don’t stop with gear and software, or with skill in rehearsal. As a quartet we also had many wonderful first experiences with Taija. Those first experiences are things that really advanced our career as an ensemble. We would not have been able to achieve them without her. What follows is a list of some of our most cherished ones:

  • We performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time, work-shopping with the Kronos Quartet, and performing in Zankel Hall. Later we would come back for our own concert, performing George Crumb’s Black Angels.

  • We placed second in the Alice and Eleanor International Strings Competition.

  • We had our first tour, traveling to Southern California to perform at several local universities.

  • We had our first International trip for the Banff Chamber Music residency program.

  • We recorded our first album Resolve, (an album where I think Taija shines particularly brightly in the Britten String Quartet no. 2).

As Taija moves on to new adventures I choose to focus on the many wonderful experiences we had with her. Despite her administrative title originally being a joke, she filled that position with poise and persistence (the persistence things is especially noteworthy given the fact that her three colleagues can be quite opinionated and vocal!). I am truly grateful to Taija for all that she did with Friction, her innovations helped build a mighty foundation for us to continue to evolve and thrive. We know she will continue to achieve amazing things in whatever she chooses to do next.


Memories from the archives

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