Written by guest contributor Solara Martin

Chamber music duo, Jâca, is composed of clarinetist Wesley Ferreira and guitarist Jaxon Williams. Not only is this instrumental pairing unique, but so is the situation in which the ensemble operates: long-distance. Without the ability to consistently rehearse in person, I wanted to find out how Jâca was able to maintain such a high level of performance and continued engagement. I was interested in learning the ins and outs of how a performing duo operates while living many states away. After sitting down for an interview with them, I discovered the many creative and industrious ways that Wesley and Jaxon make Jâca highly successful collaborators, and how their distance actually benefits the group:

Solara: As a duo living in different locations, how does this affect your ability to collaborate?

Jaxon: It’s important to look for opportunities rather than the negatives. It’s clear what our limitations are but we focus more on what we can do at a distance. Weekly meetings are a must to keep us accountable and productive. We want to be creating, always.

Wesley: … and when we are together in person, our time is incredibly productive and creative. Sometimes I wonder if we would actually be as productive if we did have access to each other in person each week.

Jaxon: People ask us how we are able to get our pieces together in such a short amount of time. But because we are so far away, it means we have to be 120% ready individually so that when we are together, we are able to piece everything together. The distance holds us accountable. It is absolutely amazing how much you can get done when it’s crucial that you have to be ready.

What specific tools do you use to effectively work together?

Wesley: Yeah, we use a lot of different tools and technology. For keeping on task we use a Trello board to set goals, a shared Apple notes file, and Google drive folders. We make sure to use the same notation software so that we can easily send ideas and compositions back and forth. We use Zoom or FaceTime to meet weekly online. Voice memos or Garageband are also helpful to record us playing to send back and forth.

Jaxon: It’s kind of like a Frankenstein situation! We record bits and pieces and overlay them until it resembles something we are looking for… and then we use that as a base for when we are together in person, when we can really piece the music together.

Wesley: It has been really important that we have the same products so that we can share and pass material easily back and forth. We’re also experimenting with some up-to-date live streaming software.

How often do you get to play in person?

Jaxon: When we do get to be in person, whether it’s for a day or a week, we are optimizing every opportunity we have to rehearse together. Fortunately, we are able to meet together fairly often in a year. Also, we’re together preparing for an upcoming concert, we’re accomplishing many other things on the side too. Whether it’s a video filming or audio recording session, discussions about one of our current or future projects and programs, we are always using our time together wisely.

Does your living situation affect your thought process when planning and scheduling a performance or a tour?

Wesley: Yes, I think so. Of course, we have lives outside of being a performer, including teaching and family time. These are things that need to be worked around. Fortunately, we are each very organized and efficient people, so you learn to balance the different parts of life.

Jaxon: And to spin your question a different way, there is also an automatic expense built into the life of a touring musician. These expenses could be financial or just even the value of time, and so we always have to consider these other aspects before accepting and securing our concerts. It’s like we were talking about before, when we are on a concert trip we try to pack more into it so that we are optimizing our time and turning that into an even more valuable experience.

Does your duo style come from the locations you live in or from your musical background?

Jaxon: Definitely. We’re influenced by our backgrounds musically, culturally, and also because of the versatility of our instruments. For me there is a special connection to Spain due to my time living there and because of my wife. I would say that my musical and cultural understanding and experiences and also the type of music that classical guitar has typically played is what contributes to my voice rather than the location in which I currently live. I would say the same for Wesley. He’s a Portuguese-Canadian living in Colorado so there is a mix of a lot of culture.

Wesley: There is definitely a unique style and identity in our music due to the musical heritage of the particular instruments we play. As musicians we also each have our own tendencies in how we perform, what kinds of styles of playing we each feel comfortable in and gravitate to. But I think for any chamber ensemble to be successful, there needs to be a similar approach to the music from the individual musicians. The playing just has to fit, it can’t be work. For us it was never difficult because our playing fit together easily and our approaches were so similar that it just worked. But we also really enjoy the multicultural aspect of our lives and what that brings to the table.

After adjusting and learning to rehearse and collaborate at a distance, would you prefer to maintain the distance or would it be easier if you lived closer together?

Wesley: When we started this ensemble there was never any hesitation because of our distance. It was never a question of being an impediment. Starting this ensemble was and has always been about what we wanted to accomplish. Even now there is very little discussion about the distance between us. I think we end up valuing our time together much more because of it.

It is clear that this group has mastered collaboration at a distance. Where many ensembles would fall apart by working at such a distance, this group has flourished. Jâca proves that distance is no barrier. Solara Martin