Interstate 35 connects the northern forests of Minnesota to the southern beaches of Texas, but over the past year it has united more than just road-trip travelers.
It has become the asphalt bond for a group of musicians.
The saxophone quartet, called Quartet 35, is composed of members from Oklahoma City and Waco, Austin and Temple, Texas — all exit signs on I-35 — and Tuesday through Sunday, they are in St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, for the World Saxophone Congress, an international gathering of saxophone musicians to showcase the best talent in the world.
But the convention also is for fledgling groups like Quartet 35.
Bill Funke, 30, an Edmond native who will teach music classes at Irving Middle School in Norman this fall, is a founding member of the quartet.
A year ago, Funke was working as an adjunct professor at Baylor University, but needed a creative outlet to perform professionally. Funke had an idea: Gather the best group of saxophone musicians in the Texas-Oklahoma region to form a professional quartet.
“Music is a funny thing,” Funke said. “After you get your music degree, you usually don't get to perform like you did in college.”
He started with Michael Christensen, a Lawton native that Funke battled for all-state band recognition in high school. Then he added Michael Culbertson, a senior at Baylor. He rounded out the final pieces with Eric Daniels of Austin and Marcos Duran of Temple. Duran serves as an alternate for the group and will not join the quartet in Scotland.
“We want Quartet 35 to be something that is well known within our community,” said Christensen, 29, who earned his master's degree in music from OU this summer. “But we also want it to be something that's fun, to be enjoyed. It's like four brothers out together.”
For the past year, the group has met one weekend a month to rehearse in a city with an I-35 exit. Most times they meet in Waco, sometimes in Oklahoma City, and a stop or two in Austin. Each rehearsal is about 10 hours of practice — and the fellowship that comes when musical minds connect.
“I really love it,” said Culbertson, 22, the youngest of the quartet. “It's amazing how comfortable we can be in rehearsal while still being critical. That helps, because nobody ever takes anything personally.”
As the musical chemistry formed, the quartet moved from local gigs at college campuses to national symposiums in Washington, D.C., playing both modern and classic French styles. But this week's international debut is the group's crowning achievement to culminate its one-year founding.
“This is kind of a career maker,” Culbertson said. “This is the big stage for us.”
In Scotland they will have the opportunity to learn from artists around the world, attend seminars, listen to others' music and perform their own.
They hope it is the start of something big for the highway-connected musicians.
“We would love for people to see our name in the program and say, ‘Oh, we should see Quartet 35, they're really good,'” Culbertson said.
“It will be a few years before we get to the point where we are there, but I think we work hard enough, we can get there.”
To learn more
For more information about Quartet 35 and to listen to its music, go to www.quartet35.com.