High fashion and classical music both tend to appeal only to a certain segment of the population. Neither is universally accepted and, by their nature, they tend to be intimidating or confusing to many people. Steeped in these influences, double-breasted seek to fashionably blend their classical backgrounds with their love of a variety of other popular music styles. They are seemingly a paradox: an unusual group of classical musicians that can appeal to a wide range of audiences in a variety of settings
Formed at The College of New Jersey by harpist Kristy L. Chmura ’03, cellist Ardith Collins ’01, and drummer Josh Bicknell ’03, double-breasted describe themselves as “couture rock.” Yet, the band feels at home playing some of the state’s legendarily gritty rock clubs, such as Maxwell’s in Hoboken and The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, not to mention the TCNJ’s own famous venue, The Rat. Audiences, though initially perplexed by the sight of a harp and cello on stages usually inhabited by guitars and basses, have been very receptive to the group’s music.
As further proof of the group’s talent and versatility, double-breasted have performed twice at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Initially, the band applied to perform at the 2008 Chase Sounds of the City Festival, but was denied. Within months, however, the festival’s co-producer contacted Chmura to have the group play at NJPAC’s Prelude Concert Series, wherein local artists perform in the venue’s lobby. In that setting, double-breasted performed as the prelude to The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra last December. The lobby, according to the band, was impressive, amazingly resonant, and visually stunning, and served as a great setting for the band’s sophisticated and stirring instrumentation and ethereal vocals.
In February, double-breasted were again asked to perform, this time for the national tour of Rent. Audience reaction tends to be similar no matter the venue: a mix of curiosity and excitement. At the rock clubs, the band’s quieter songs can be overwhelmed by the noise coming from the bar. However, at a venue such as NJPAC, the surroundings provide a quieter, more consistently attentive crowd.
The three band mates were each attracted to their instruments at an early age. Collins is from a musical family; her two grandmothers were musicians, as are her brother and sister. She began piano lessons at age 4 and, by third grade, had developed an intense interest in playing the violin. Collins’ mother, however, believed she would be more suited to play cello, which turned out to be true. From third grade to her senior year of high school, Collins performed in school and regional music ensembles, community orchestras and at her local church.
Chmura’s attraction to music happened at a similarly young age, while she was in Kindergarten singing in her church’s Cherub Choir. She continued singing at church and eventually became a cantor. When the church provided a harpist to accompany the choir on the piece, “Be Thou My Vision,” Chmura became inspired to learn harp. It took a few years to convince her parents, but by eighth grade, she began studying the harp with Merynda Adams, who had, coincidentally, been the inspiring harpist that had performed at Chmura’s church. Like most adolescents, Chmura initially struggled with where to go in life, and abandoned the harp after high school. Discovering she missed playing, she realized the harp and music were her passion and was accepted into the TCNJ’s Department of Music as first harp.
Listening and singing along to his parents’ record collection, which included The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, Bicknell’s love and interest in music started early. He, too, began as a young singer and then discovered percussion in third grade.
The band believes TCNJ’s Department of Music enabled them to become well-rounded musicians, in terms of knowledge and confidence as players. Under the direction of music faculty, such as Philip Tate, Robert Parrish, and Michael Mendoza, the musicians enhanced their skills as musicians and performers.
When they aren’t entertaining audiences at clubs and coffeehouses, the three musicians hold down day jobs that incorporate their passion for music. Collins teaches general music and strings at a middle school in Rockaway Township. Chmura is a full-time freelance musician and is attending graduate school for Harp Performance at Montclair State University. Bicknell works as a product manager for a publisher of elementary and secondary music textbooks, where he is able to contribute to the support of quality music curriculums at the grammar school, middle school, and high school.
The band recently released its first full-length album, Who Will Love You? and plans to perform throughout the year at typically varying venues, working to expand their fan base.