Three is the Magic Number: Interview with Time for Three

By Aryn Henning Nichols

At a typical symphony orchestra concert, you don’t hear a “yeeee-awww” coming from the audience. It’s just not proper. But the trio Time For Three isn’t really all that proper, and they’re most definitely not typical. They’ve even gotten a “yeee-awww.”

Described as a “ground-breaking, category-shattering” ensemble, Time For Three (TF3) is an up-and-coming group of talented blue jeans-wearing, violin and double-bass-playing classical-with-a-twist musicians. That’s a lot of hyphens, but what TF3 does is truly a hyphenated hybrid of things.

It all began for the group at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute for Music. Three young musicians – Nick Kendall (violin), Zach De Pue (violin), and Ranaan Meyer (double bass) – met with a mutual interest: doing things a little differently.

“We were the only ones who improvised,” says Nick during an early afternoon phone interview. “We all played classical in the beginning and practiced our butts off, so we’re extremely technically proficient, but we’re also creating music – kind of like street musicians in Europe, creating music from where they’re from. We’re making American street music. All of it has an energy that opens the door to a wide range of audiences.”

They write and arrange the majority of their music, and have produced two albums – the 2002 self-titled “Time for Three” and the 2006 “We Just Burned This For You” – and they have one on the way in January of 2010, “Three Fervent Travelers.” The upcoming album and their growing audiences have got them really looking forward to the future.

“It’s an exciting time,” Nick says. “What we think is happening it people are having to rethink the way things work. Because of that there’s a lot of acceptance for different music. In the coming years there will be a lot of times for collaborating – we’re evolving.”

And while Nick jokingly blurts out, “We play mostly strip clubs,” then laughs, “no, don’t print that,” in truth, they primarily play concert halls like Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and soon Carnegie Hall. That’s even with a collection of songs that edge into bluegrass, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and country. “I like to say we’re a classically-trained garage band.”

Ensemble, yes. Band? “Hell, yes,” Nick says.

That attitude – along with the fact that they, also, are young with ages ranging from 29 to 31– is helpful in reaching a younger demographic. This is part of TF3’s mission: They’ve done almost 400 shows and presentations for youth and students.

“Young people are an unexpected breath of fresh air and a good excuse to have fun,” Nick says. “We’ve definitely garnered a lot of interest that way.”

They also garnered some attention from a novel lights-out jam session in July of 2003. While technicians attempted to get lights rolling again after a power outage at Mann Music Center, Ranaan and Zach also rolled with it, busting out tunes like “Jerusalem’s Ridge,” “Ragtime Annie,” and “Orange Blossom Special” in the dark hall. The audience loved it. Was there a “yeee-awww” that night? That came at a different show on the other side of the world.

“We were playing with the Chicago Symphony in Australia and were doing a piece with bluegrass. The bass player did some awesome licks and a few people yelled out, ‘Yeee-awwwww!’ I think the orchestra was shocked, nobody knew what to do,” Nick says, laughing.

Although people rarely dance at their shows, “in a concert hall, that’s sort of weird,” Nick does entertain its possibility. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll create that sort of atmosphere someday. We don’t just go up there and play: We’re really captivating – it’s fun.”

More info at tf3.com.

Aryn Henning Nichols might give a “yeee-awww” at the upcoming Time For Three concert. And she bets SOMEONE in Decorah will dance. It’s just that kind of town. 

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