by Erik Franklin
Every time we play a concert, someone comes up to us and asks "What is up with your name?!" While the similarity with Novocain - the drug dentists use to numb your mouth - is obvious (yes, we know we spell it "wrong"), the origin of our name actually is more complicated than that.
I started this group when I was taking a semester off from school. I was interested in founding a group that focused on new music and new ways to present art to audiences. I grew tired of the "old school" performance models, and my freedom from school allowed me more autonomy to create something that aligned more closely with my goals. Many of my colleagues suggested to me variations on the typical chamber music group names: either the name of a composer we admired or some name in a foreign language. Now, I'm not going to rail against groups that use these kinds of names - many are successful, brilliant, and push the envelope in terms of adventurous and innovative programming...
Still, I was totally opposed to something like "Quartetto Bello" or "the Anton Stadler" quartet...it just didn't align with our mission, and I frankly think names like that aren't appealing to the general public (especially when they find out we aren't a string quartet...). That being said, I kept coming back to the word "nova"... As much as I hated the idea of having a Latin-sounding name, that word resonated with me. Then, I remembered a name from another group I played in, and for this I cannot take credit...
Around this same time, I was also playing in a reed quintet - a group of my friends were playing on a couple of degree recitals. The group was a lot of fun, and we decided to come up with a name for ourselves. Our oboist, Natasha, suggested Novacane, and, since we are all reed players, it made sense. That one got out-voted by something else, but I called "dibs" on using that name in the future because I loved it!
...So here we are, a new group with no name, and I keep getting suggestions with all of these Latin words that I haven't heard since stems class in high school, and Novacane pops back into my head...I couldn't resist...it just fit so well! The rest of the group seemed on board, though not super-enthusiastic, so we decided to keep it until something better came along. The moment of truth came when I had to buy our website domain. If I paid for www.novacanequartet.com, I was going to make sure we were going to use it! By then, we all loved the name, so it was set!
The name is a bit on the "cute" side, and some have been worried that it might not be as serious as it should - but that's exactly what works for us - we are a serious group, but we don't believe in being stuffed shirts about music or art. We want to treat music with respect, but we want to use it to connect with people rather than set ourselves apart. Having a name like Novacane invites people to be curious about us...it intrigues them that we have an unusual name. I think somehow "quartetto nova" and similar names would discourage that curiosity and willingness to approach us.
Even now, in our second year of existence, the name is an interesting subject of conversation. People LOVE to make jokes about it - usually puns on novacain...the best one I've heard came from my former history teacher, who coined our slogan: Novacane - an aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience. Anaesthetic experience. Anesthetic experience... Get it?! Dr. Malvern is a clever man...
As we get older and go more places as a group, the name has become part of our collective identity. When we get together, we somehow become this four-person unit, greater than the sum of its parts. When we dress for concerts, I feel a bit like a superhero team - like we are the justice league of chamber music or something. (I don't think Kylie and Sammy would ever let us wear matching leotards with a giant N on the chest, but Keith keeps suggesting it!)
And people have started calling us Novacane, too! I recently met a stranger on a bus who said "Hey, I know you! You are the bass clarinet player for Novacane!" Wow. He recognized me and knew my group's name. I felt like a rock star! Granted, he was a clarinet player - it's not like we are the Beatles or something and everyone in the world knows our music and what we look like - but having a name and a collective identity has been a thrilling part of being a member of this group!
So, there you have it...the story of our name. I think it really has shaped our group in important ways. Our identity is now tied to that name, and as we continue to play as a group, this identity will become stronger. That's pretty crazy to me, since we have no idea where this group will take us, and we certainly didn't know when we first chose the name!
I'm sure our readers have some pretty good puns on our name - feel free to leave your jokes in the comments below!