Violist Drew Alexander Forde on the Experience of Taking His Music to Sea

By Drew Alexander Forde

As the electric, final chord of Astor Piazzolla’s “Primavera Porteña” washes over the audience at the end of our third performance of the night, the room erupts with applause. It is just another hard day’s work aboard ship. 

When people ask me why I chose to perform on a cruise ship, my first answer is “ ’cuz I’m broke.” But all joking aside, a lot of stars had to align for this gig to make sense. I had recently ended a relationship, and wanted to perform more. I also felt the need to get out of New York City and travel, and I honestly didn’t have anything to lose. If I was ever going to drop everything and perform on a cruise ship for four months, this opportunity was the chance to do it! And the list of destinations didn’t hurt: Cruising through the Panama Canal from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale, hopping among the islands of Hawaii, and sailing the seas between Vancouver and Alaska.

I remember auditioning for Lincoln Center Stage back in January 2017. I had seen some of my friends on Instagram visiting the Mediterranean and Baltic seas—sharing their experiences of performing and traveling. Once I found out they were part of a program called Lincoln Center Stage (LCS), I signed up for the next audition I could find. Funny enough, I had spent months thinking I bombed the audition because I was asked to leave earlier than most of the other participants. I didn’t hear back about my audition for ages, so I just assumed that they had decided to move forward without me. Then, about three months after the audition, I got an email saying that I was in! I had just finished teaching a lesson and I was so excited. I had always wanted to perform on a cruise ship, and it was finally going to happen. (I also I couldn’t wait to eat all the free food.) I’m so thankful to have made the cut!


“We typically perform three shows per night, six days a week. That’s 18 performances a week! I can’t remember the last time I had 18 performances in a month!”

Performing on the ship differs from many of my previous performing experiences. We typically perform three shows per night, six days a week. That’s 18 performances a week! I can’t remember the last time I had 18 performances in a month! What I love most about the atmosphere is the intimacy. Because we’re next to the art gallery and dining room onboard, there’s a lot of foot traffic while we’re playing. The setup reminds me a lot of my daily busking performances in the New York City subway. At the same time, we also have a dedicated stage, enclosure, and seating that almost resembles an expansive living room. This particular aesthetic reminds me of the countless Groupmuse performances I’ve been a part of—performing in strangers’ living rooms across NYC. (If you don’t know Groupmuse, google it. Sam Bodkin is a dear friend and a genius!) Essentially, we’re playing in an elaborate living room where people can listen to incredibly intimate chamber music and can come and go as they please. It’s really wonderful. 

The preparation for our four-and-a-half month voyage took place over a two-week period at RWS Associates. Transitioning from performing solo gigs to committing to months of chamber music wasn’t as difficult as one might think. Chamber music is the reason I play classical music. To me, there is no medium that is more potent in telling stories through sound than a small chamber group. If I could spend my life playing in a chamber group, I would say it was a life well-lived. We rehearsed eight hours a day and put together 12 different programs to present on the ship. You would think that’s a lot, but you tend to go through 12 programs really quickly when you perform 18 times every week. Our programs are vibrantly colored with music of various genres—classical, pop, jazz, Latin, and R&B. We even have piano arrangements of music by the Dave Matthews Band and Radiohead! Who would’ve thought?

The guests upon the ship closely resemble the subscribers of major symphony orchestras; Holland America attracts a mature crowd. However, in spite of this, many of the comments we receive after shows reveal that many of our concertgoers don’t often get a chance to hear classical music, let alone chamber music. Ultimately, it seems that we are exposing people to a genre of music they aren’t accustomed to, and that is what I want to be doing more of with my career. 


The aspect that is most unique to this particular program is that the LCS performers have both guest and crew status onboard. Essentially, we’re free to roam pretty much any area of the ship. So, we get to have meals upstairs with all the guests, we get to see other shows, and participate in activities and excursions. But best of all, we also get to attend engine room parties with the other members of the crew.

This has been such an incredible experience and I’m so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share my music while traveling the world. 


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This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Strings magazine.