By Nicolas Grizzle
Juilliard-educated violist Drew Forde is a busy man. Under the name “ThatViolaKid” on Social Media, he has been posting educational and inspirational content for years on sites like Instagram, where he has over 100,000 followers. He’s also shared the stage with artists like Alicia Keys, Adele, Earth Wind and Fire, and Danny Elfman, among many other stars, and recorded for movie soundtracks including Avatar: The Way of Water, Creed III, and more. His latest endeavor is a string quartet called Wholesoul, which specializes in creating virtuosic, dynamic arrangements of hip-hop, R&B, and soul music.
“We write our own arrangements, and we workshop arrangements with trusted compositional partners,” he says. “We chose to focus our efforts on this specialty for a few reasons. One, I personally grew up with music of this kind, and it really speaks to me. Two, it’s a market that isn’t really being developed in a way that allows other people to participate. Three, we aim to serve as an example of a force that will innovate the art of string playing. Our mission is to fundamentally shift the way string quartets are utilized in popular music.”
We asked him about this new quartet for his Strings Magazine Sessions in Place video of Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open.”
Can you tell me a little about this performance? Where and when did it take place?
This performance is the launch show for our EP Cosmic Upcycle. We performed this April 5, 2023 at Art Share LA near Little Tokyo. We featured a 90-minute program full of our own arrangements of hip-hop and R&B/soul music for string quartet. We had audience of over 50 people, which is really cool for such a small place!
Who are the players in this performance?
The players in this performance are the principal players of Wholesoul. From left to right, we have Haesol Lee and Andrew Kwon on violin, Daniel Lim on cello, and yours truly, Drew Alexander Forde, on the viola.
What is your approach to arranging this style of music for string quartet?
I want to defer the meat of this response to Daniel (Lim). What I will say is that we are striving to develop a modern, rhythmic sound for the string quartet. Hip-hop and R&B/soul are rhythmic genres that require innovative percussive techniques on stringed instruments. We are among the innovators!
Daniel Lim: We believe any arrangement we perform should be a fulfilling opportunity that will challenge us but also inspire us to discover new possibilities. When arranging hip-hop/R&B/soul music for string quartet, it is essential to be able to capture the rhythmic spirit and groove of a song, being that they are the core components of these genres. Stringed instruments get all the praise for being melodic instruments, but I feel that they are versatile rhythmic instruments as well. In my experience performing and arranging hip-hop/R&B/soul for string quartet, there have been many cases where covering a song has been a seamless transition, but I am also constantly learning and implementing new sounds and techniques, which is incredibly exciting. We feel that our arrangements are innovative, but at the end of the day, we are fans of these genres, and we simply want any cover we perform to sound authentic.
What releases does the quartet have available now, when did they come out, and what’s on the horizon for Wholesoul?
So far, we have released two singles, “Juice (Lizzo)” and “Heartless (Kanye West),” as well as our EP Cosmic Upcycle, which features eight re-imaginations of some of our favorite songs. Now that we have our EP released, we’re arranging new music. I’m laying down the foundations for original tracks for us, and we’re looking to launch our first short-form content campaign centered around our past and future projects. We’re excited to grow our audience and share our story with the world.