“We’re the only group in the world who play on what are called new violin family instruments.”
That’s how Hutchins Consort member Joe McNalley describes his group, a renowned and rare collection of musicians native to the San Diego area who are spreading the sweet sound of violin music to the masses. “We have the sound of a small chamber group with much fewer musical forces because of the power of our instruments.”
For McNally, it’s a passion that has taken up the past 30 years of his creative life. When he arrived in 1983 to study at UC San Diego from the New England Conservatory of Music, he met a teacher who wound up being an influential force. “One day he let me borrow a 7- foot-tall violin, and I discovered that when you played it, it shook the floorboards.”
McNalley became enamored with the large violins and a few years later brought together a group of players who together began exploring the new and uncharted territory of these instruments.
“There’s been a lot of writing about the instruments themselves,” McNalley said. “When we started the ensemble, we only had a handful of pieces — (fewer than) 10. We had to create an entire repertory for it. I personally wrote over 250 arrangements for the ensemble over the years.”
The fruits of McNalley’s labor have resulted in worldwide acclaim for the group, which is named a “consort” because, by definition, the word “consort” means a matched group of instruments.
“A lot of people think it means we play early or late music,” said McNalley of the word. In reality, the group plays a wide variety of genres and caters each set list to the specific show, which can vary widely.
Because of this, the consort has played everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, multiple tours around the United States, and even a tour of Ireland and subsequent performance on the country’s RTE television station.
“I get a lot of questions about the science and artistry involved,” McNalley said. “People are always interested in how we make such a big sound while such a small group. We’re only eight players, but it sounds like 20 altogether.”
Above all, the rareness of the group lured McNalley to devote much of his life to the consort in the first place. “If somebody had done it already, I probably would have been less likely to pursue this,” he said. “Whenever you take on a new endeavor, there’s so much uncharted territory. Even if there’s moments of great triumph, you’re always moving on to the next thing.”
The Consort has two upcoming shows in the North County area. Their first is a free family show April 11 at the Encinitas Library, during the Second Saturday series funded by the Encinitas Grant Program and Meisel Foundation. Another show is slated May 15 at 7:30 p.m. for Encinitas’ St. Andrew Episcopal Church.
Said McNalley, “I like to reach different audiences, whether it’s in a library or homeless shelter or big concert in a famous auditorium. To me, it’s all about that one person you reach who is touched by what you do.”
For more information, visit www.hutchinsconsort.org.