Even dream jobs have their drawbacks.
Many classical musicians dream of landing an appointment with an established organization like an orchestra, but various surveys have shown that even in these coveted positions, job satisfaction can be low. A contributing factor is the inherent lack of creative control. In other words, these musicians have the right to play, but often have little say in what they play, or how.
Since co-founding the chamber ensemble Pique Collective, soprano and keyboardist Lisa Perry doesn’t have these frustrations. “If there’s anything that I could say that Pique has given me, it’s an outlet for artistic expression that I haven’t had in decades,” she said in an interview. “This is the kind of stuff I did in high school — round up my friends and say, ‘Look at this piece wrote. Let’s do this!’”
Founded in 2017, Pique Collective is a Baltimore-based quintet consisting of Perry, flutist Stephanie Ray, guitarist Jeremy Lyons, cellist Peter Kibbe and percussionist Nonoka Mizukami. They met while studying at the Peabody Institute and bonded over a shared love of chamber music: Three of them, Perry, Ray and Kibbe, played together in the Lunar Ensemble, a nine-person group that disbanded when members moved to other cities.
But Pique Collective has another common interest uniting them: their commitment to staying in Baltimore.
From the start, their programming has revolved around incorporating other communities within the city, both musical and non-musical. For Ray, this approach is about “trying to bring down the sacred barrier between performer and audience. It’s less that we’re here to perform and you’re here to listen, but that we’re all collectively here to experience this together.”
That philosophy was evident the moment I walked into the space for their most recent Detach Mode concert — because this was no concert hall, but a yoga studio. The musicians sat in a circle at the center of the room, while audience members were invited to gather mats, blankets and eye masks. During Detach Mode concerts, Pique performs an unbroken set of music while the audience can do, well, whatever feels most comfortable: meditate, dance — even sleep.
Other concerts are more high-energy, but they all involve a unifying theme as well as the contributions of other artists. Pique’s upcoming show at the Black Cherry Puppet Theater will take its inspiration from the theatrical nature of the space. All of the pieces involve a dramatic element, from enacting a Korean folk tale to imagining the inner monologue of a video game character.
Another work, “Table Music,” calls for three musicians to perform rhythmic “hand choreography” on resonant tables. These aren’t any tables, though — they’re sculptures created by local artist Ann Walsh. For Lyons, this kind of fusion “ties people together. It’s not just us playing our instruments. We’re playing something made specifically for the show.”
The group’s instrumentation is another factor in their individualized programming. It’s relatively rare to stumble across mixed chamber works that include guitar — even though, as Lyons pointed out, “it’s probably the most ubiquitous instrument across all cultures.”
Pique has overcome this hurdle by frequently relying on Lyons to compose for them, and, in this respect, he said he often finds himself “almost thinking of us as a rock band.” Between the guitar, percussion and their vocalist, it’s an easy adjustment to make — and invites an electronic element that blends seamlessly with the colors of the other instruments.
Growth, for Pique Collective, means deeper integration with their community. “If you really want to continue to do something, you have to get the rest of the people living around to think, ‘This is a necessary part of my life,’” said Lyons. But it’s mutual: “Right now, this is home, and we want to make it home forever.”
IF YOU GO
Pique Collective performs “Scenes from MasterPique Theater” at the Black Cherry Puppet Theater, 1115 Hollins St., on February 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $15.
Elizabeth Nonemaker covers classical music for The Baltimore Sun as a freelance writer. Classical music coverage at The Sun is supported in part by a grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Sun makes all editorial decisions. Nonemaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.