Muscles and music with team Well-Strung on “The Amazing Race”

The musical quartet Well-Strung
The musical quartet Well-Strung

Chris Marchant and Trevor Wadleigh of Well-Strung, a New York City based quartet, found passage from the strings of their instruments into the strands of competition in The Amazing Race. Initially YouTube sensations, Well-Strung found fame in the world of social media with a Classical meets Contemporary fusion and have performed at many LGBT Pride festivals as well as for Hillary Clinton, former President Obama, and the Vatican.

While the four friends in the Well-Strung quartet live together in NYC, including musicians Edmund Bagnell and Daniel Shevlin, Chris and Trevor took an intermission to pursue their dreams of competing on The Amazing Race.

Exceptionally charming and thoughtful, Chris and Trevor talk about their competitive natures, musical backgrounds, and meaningful friendship

What brought you to NYC?

"Amazing Race" photo by John Paul Filo at CBS
“Amazing Race” photo by John Paul Filo at CBS

Trevor Wadleigh: I first moved to NY to pursue a Master’s of Music at Manhattan School of Music, but then I didn’t go! I decided I didn’t want to do music, but apparently here I am doing music. There were two or three years that I left it completely. I was working in an investment bank when I heard about Well-Strung performing. One of my issues with music academia was that most of the people in it weren’t drawn to performing or entertaining people, and people felt self righteous to keep the craft alive. I respect that, but I was getting nervous that it was an over-saturated industry. Who is it really serving? Anyway, I realized Well-Strung was a good opportunity for performing and entertaining in a new way.

Chris Marchant: Music brought me here as well. I went to a conservative Christian university and got my degree in Music Ministry, but towards the end I found myself still loving music. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Then, I started doing musical theatre, and wanted to go to NY to try that. I started doing community theatre, and started going to NY for auditions and regional theatre productions, national tours, and after a couple years, felt like an official move to NY was necessary.

When did you both start playing classical music?

TW: I started in fifth grade.

The quartet Well-Strung
The quartet Well-Strung

CM: Fourth grade for me! We’re both very grateful for the public school systems we went to because they had those programs, and you find that less and less now.

TW: Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued music, even privately.

Well-Strung collaborates with many other kinds of artists including Gay Chorus groups.

How much time do you all invest in rehearsing separately and when collaborating?

TW: We all live together in one apartment. We make good use of our living room and kitchen for our rehearsal and planning space.

CM: We’re gone two-thirds of the time on the road, so when we’re here we have to fit in recording sessions, making videos, working out new tunes. It really depends on what we have coming up. Because we all live together, it’s like sharing one constant brain. It’s hard to avoid thinking about the group because we’re all so close together. Our whole lives are pretty much devoted to it.

TW: Before, when I was just studying viola, the trajectory was conservatory, and an orchestral position. But even the people I know who have those coveted positions, I don’t know if I would be happy with that. You’re a cog in a giant wonderful machine, but you have no real autonomy, especially as a section violist. You’re not thinking about marketing strategies or pushing the brand or composing your own music or wrapping your head around a demographic and what they want to hear. We get to do all of that. We’re not just musicians who try to hone a craft and repeat that on stage, we’re sociologists, marketing people.

CM: One of our favorite things to do as a quartet is to collaborate with other kinds of artists, so we collaborate with Gay Men’s Choruses around the country too. We essentially become their string sections during their program.

The music of Well-Strung is very avante-garde

Your music is described as avant-garde. Tell us what inspires your group the most in Well-Strung.

"Amazing Race" contest photo by John Paul Filo for CBS
“Amazing Race” contest photo by John Paul Filo for CBS

CM: At the beginning when we formed as an ensemble, we were either doing a pop cover or we were playing a classical piece. We really started to jive as a group, thinking about what Well-Strung’s sound should be when we started blending classical music with current tunes. There’s a lot of people who take classical music and use snippets of it in pop songs, but I don’t think anyone’s really using classical pieces as the basis for a pop song today.

TW: Again, there’s something really cool about the orchestra experience, but sometimes you’re playing something the audience doesn’t want to hear. As a player, you might have this small three bar melody that’s barely audible but is so delicious and so wonderful that you could feel everyone around you also appreciating it. It’s so often lost on audiences. If you think about classical music as a genre, amid millions of hours of music that are composed and millions of instances of beauty like that, most people don’t know or will ever have access to it. Being able to bring those really special moments of glory to our people is really cool.

Were you guys able to play music while filming The Amazing Race?

CM: No! A month off.

TW: Not even an .mp3. A solid month of not one song of our choice.

Doing Amazing Race was a long standing dream.

With The Amazing Race behind you, can you tell us what brought you to this professional or personal season of your life?

CM: Doing The Amazing Race has been a long standing dream of mine. Trevor and I are super competitive, drawn to games. Trevor was a “100% in” right away, but didn’t even realize there was a prize involved! It was a long audition, tons of paperwork and interviews, we had to make videos, and the dates ended up working out super well. We were both really excited because, how often would you get an opportunity like this? We’re not the typical American workers with a 9-5. Things are outside the norm, and this spoke to both of us in similar ways.

TW: What’s also really cool about doing the show is that we are not only colleagues, but colleagues who are around each other 24/7. We live together, we do everything socially together, we know how each other work. Socially and vocationally. We had opportunity to see other teams flailing when they had to work together, fighting a lot, but because of our history we weren’t having those issues. We got to make use of all this time we spend together.

After the first episode of The Amazing Race, people began fawning over the two of you; muscles and music, and now you’re facing reality TV. Has all of this had a positive influence on your lives?

CM: We’re still seeing everything unfold, but everything has been really fantastic. It’s given us fun stuff to focus on, and we have a really strong base of fans that are excited to see us attempt all these things around the world. It’s been cool to use this as a new way to connect with people, and to connect with new people. A lot of people got to see who we are for the first time, and now we have new fans!

TW: It’s still so new, but it’s going to be really interesting finding a new broad audience. For Well-Strung, we started with a very niche demographic, with a performance in Provincetown, and people responded to our product so we kept going. I don’t want to say we’re pigeon holed into one demographic, but we’re beginning to reach out to new theaters and demographics. We’re slowly, but surely, coming out of a niche demographic, and the world is seeing us. I’m excited for that, and I hope people have more access to us.

You wrote a fun song about Chelsea Clinton and previously performed for Barack Obama. How does today’s politics climate influence your music?

TW: One of my biggest issues with the current administration is that it normalizes bigotry and fearfulness. It’s important to remain a solid visible platform and role models for people who were once in the shadows, and who think they might have to rescind into that because they might fear are once again severely marginalized or have their rights taken away.

CM: I concur!

LGBT visibility in the broader American culture is really important

As LGBT advocates, how do you hope your experience on The Amazing Race, and generally, as a part of Well-Strung will impact the LGBT community?

TW: I think visibility in the broader American culture as gay men is really important, doing something positive that we’re really proud of, showing that we’re not archetypal. It would be lovely to normalize “gay” in a positive way. It’s not something you point at and laugh at. We hope we can be ambassadors for a positive image of what it’s like to be a gay man.

CM: In addition to doing concerts, one of our favorite things to do is to go to different schools across the country, doing some sort of student performance or a workshop, working with their orchestra privately. When we get feedback from them or messages on social media, they often thank us for taking the time to meet with them and that it’s cool that we’re out doing this. They say that it’s nice to have people to look up. A couple kids say that we gave them the courage to come out to a parent or a friend, and we feel very honored by that.

What strengths can you point out in each other that you appreciate the most?

TW: We get along because we’re so different. Chris is very left-brained. A pragmatist, hard working, has a lot of perseverance.

CM: What helped us the most on The Amazing Race is specifically knowing each other’s strengths. I’m the eager doe-eyed optimist. If I present an idea to the group, for example, I have to start defending it to myself so I’m prepared Trevor’s response. It makes me really solidify my ideas, and I think Trevor is a great critical thinker and he’s often able to see another side of something that it hasn’t occurred to me to look at.

Musically, what can you tell other young musicians looking to excel in their artistry, and to increase their reach?

TW: Find something specific that you love in music and build off of that, put in hours of work, hone in on what you love and keep reminding yourself that it’s what you love. You have to pepper the intrigue through the things you don’t love doing. Always bring it back to whether or not it seems daunting and remind yourself what you love about it.

CM: I didn’t really get to explore outside of the box that school or college created for me until after I graduated. If you are convicted by something in particular in the music that you’re creating, then you’re going to run out of energy trying to make it happen. A lot of people comment that I’m an energetic person, it’s because I really love all the things that I get to do, and I want to do them.