Crowded concerts seem a thing of the past in 2020 as the country continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
But the virus can’t stop the music.
In the last few weeks, South Philly residents have been treated to small outdoor concerts performed by a group of local musicians called Elegance Quartet. The foursome is composed of Temple University grads who met in college and live in different areas of South Philly. Their goal is to spread their love of music with their neighbors during a time when it’s difficult to find live music.
Last week, the group performed at the beautiful Stephen Girard Park at 21st and Porter streets in the Girard Estates neighborhood. More than 100 people spread out on the lawns while others watched from their nearby porches as the band rocked out during a free concert.
“This has been the best turnout because people were really able to spread out and people were comfortable,” said Jennifer Boorum, who plays viola and provides vocals on several songs. “The Friends of Girard Park have been very supportive, so this was a blast. Now we’re getting used to doing this now, and this is such a joy for us to perform so frequently in public. It just keeps getting more and more fun for us.”
Boorum was joined by cellist Rajli (Ray) Bicolli and violinists Aisha Dossumova and Claudia Pellegrini as the quartet played for about 90 minutes at the park to the delight of fans of all ages. Some brought blankets while others lounged on folding chairs and listened to their favorite songs creatively covered by the stringed ensemble.
Eight-year-old Natalya Frye sat on the lawn with her parents and became an instant fan of the group.
“I loved how good they were,” Natalya said. “I loved that they did popular songs and a lot of songs I knew.”
The set list ranged from classic rock songs like the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to more recent tunes like “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish. They also challenged themselves by mixing in songs from movies and even some video game themes.
“Thanks to Rajli, we have some really difficult arrangements of stuff and people probably don’t realize we’re up there shredding because we are a string quartet,” Boorum said with a laugh. “But this is my favorite thing because we decide what we want to do. As a musician, it’s a difficult time right now because we don’t know what the future is going to look like in terms of performances and events. But Ray and I put our heads together and decided to come up with new ways to do what we love to do.”
It started with an impromptu performance on narrow Colorado Street, where Bicolli and Dossumova live.
“We started on my street without any vision of it,” Bicolli said. “I’ve lived there for eight years, and people have never seen us play. So we did a concert, and then our friend got in touch with other people who wanted us to do it in their neighborhood and we just modified the program to what we think each neighborhood might like.”
Stephen Girard Park was the fifth different neighborhood to receive a concert, and more gigs were appearing on the schedule, including a trip to New York. The group has been an official business since 2011, known for playing wedding and corporate events. But many of its opportunities dried up because of COVID.
Free concerts were a way to keep sharp while spreading joy around the neighborhood.
“We got a little rusty and we missed playing,” Bicolli said. “As an artist and musician, you’re never where you want to be but this gave us a chance to play together.”
Friends of Stephen Girard Park co-founder Elaine Fera jumped at the opportunity to bring Elegance Quartet to her favorite park.
“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for them and a wonderful opportunity for all the neighbors to come out and listen to the music and have a good time,” Fera said. “Parks and Rec won’t allow us to have big events but this is something small for the community to come out and enjoy themselves, which is much needed.”
The weather provided a perfect setting on a cool night, as music enthusiasts enjoyed a setting sun behind the group as it grooved on.
“I can’t imagine a better night,” Bicolli said. “People came and treated it like a picnic style and they were very supportive and interacted with us. Kids were dancing, and everyone recognized the songs, so we were thrilled.”