A local Wauwatosa ensemble that's performed periodically throughout the city since its inception in 2011 is in the midst of its final year before most of the members graduate from high school.
But it's unlikely that this group will disband even after members move on to college and other ventures a year from now. That's mainly because the members are close friends and enjoy making music in each other's company.
"The Fellowship of the Strings" is the name of the ensemble — a play off the book "The Fellowship of the Ring" from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The group features one bass player, two cellists and five violinists. Many of the members play more than one instrument, so guitars, mandolins, percussion, harmonicas and an accordion are also thrown into the mix.
"I love 'The Lord of the Rings,'" said member Aidan Ayala. "I'm obsessed."
The early beginnings
In its early days, the group had six members and was known as the "West Side Fiddlers." Although the students met at school, they were never a school-affiliated group. The members, now all at Wauwatosa West High School, practice routinely at members' homes, often near a plate of Oreo cookies or other snack offerings from parents.
"I think of it as a nerd garage band," said Alex Ng, father of member Simon Ng. Alex and his wife, Carol, have hosted countless rehearsals at their home. The couple's older son, Jacob, was one of the founding members.
Sitting in the Ng's living room, the group debates its own historical timeline, passes a plate of Oreos around and pluck at various instruments throughout the room. It's evident the group has spent long hours together establishing firm friendships.
In its early years, the group performed at the Hartung Park Farmers Market and the Tosa Farmers Market. From time to time, membership has changed as some graduated from high school, but the number of performances expanded to include venues like retirement parties, art festivals, fundraisers and spaghetti dinners. In February 2014, the group performed on 91.7 WMSE-FM and in April at the Wauwatosa Distinguished Citizens dinner — both gigs that stick out as favorites.
So far, 2016 has had 13 performances on its calendar. Most recently, the group performed at Tosafest in the Village of Wauwatosa Sept. 10.
Sometimes the group is paid for their performances, other gigs offer up food; sometimes a case for tips is set out if the setting is deemed appropriate. Once the members received a $100 gift card to Jimmy's Island Grill on Mayfair Road, which they gladly spent together in one sitting, said Simon.
Challenging one another
Musical selections performed by the group are across the board; Irish jigs, American Fiddle, tangos and pieces from the fantasy film series "Pirates of the Caribbean" are frequently performed, said member Christopher Monty. Throughout the years, the group has added more and more selections, perfecting each piece along the way.
While the group is not associated with the school, members have definitely noticed that their involvement outside the school's orchestra classes has improved their skills, said Simon Ng.
And new members are chosen carefully so that they can challenge one another. Adam Brener, who plays percussion in addition to the violin, completed an impromptu addition once during a live performance when he jumped in to play metal spoons.
Other group members include Brandan Kral, Adam Fendos, Dan Van Zeeland and Max Herteen.
Each of the members plan to continue with music in some way after high school graduation; some will pursue college degrees in music education or music technology, while others hope to join a collegiate ensemble or school orchestra. The hope, though, is that The Fellowship of the Strings will live on for at least one more year, and hopefully beyond that, said Simon.
To book a performance for a private event email firstname.lastname@example.org.