This month’s Spotlight Series features the brilliant and über-talented Megan Chartier. Megan is a professional classical cellist creating ballpoint and ink drawings in between performances under the name Inkermezzo. Integrating both passions, Inkermezzo is a blend of the words “ink” and “intermezzo,” a short instrumental movement inserted between acts of a larger work.
Searching for her identity when the performances halted in the early pandemic, the artist/cellist embraced musical artwork to cope; she was still a cellist, even without a stage. Her musical illustrations focus on classical music education, awareness, and activism through anatomical and portraiture work. Megan currently holds positions as core cellist of the Astralis Chamber Ensemble and Principal Cellist of the Opera San Luis Obispo in California.
TFTL: At what age did you start playing the cello? Were you naturally drawn to it, or was it something that someone suggested you try?
MC: I started playing cello through the school strings program in fourth grade. I knew I desperately wanted to play an instrument but I picked the cello for probably all the wrong reasons. One, I wanted to play the biggest instrument. Two, all the boys wanted to play the cello. I didn’t feel particularly girly enough to play the violin and I was also admittedly boy-crazy. Three, I wanted to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music and the cello was the closest thing to the guitar to swing around – which I did running off the school bus on many occasions, with somehow only one catastrophic cello accident. While none of these reasons are very profound, I found my voice on the cello shortly after and knew it was mine.
TFTL: What about art? Is it something you trained in formally? Or are you self-taught?
MC: I am almost entirely self-taught with my art. Unlike music, artists run in my family: my grandfather was an incredible oil painter and my mom and aunt were very advanced at drawing. I considered choosing art school instead of music school, but I couldn’t stand being told what to do with my art.
TFTL: I get a lot of requests from high school and conservatory students to give them a taste of what different career paths really look like. What does a typical month of work look like for you?
MC: Every month can look quite different, and I’ve learned how to really enjoy that aspect of my career. Some months I go on tour with my chamber ensemble for a week or two, return and jump into an orchestra cycle, then drive down the coast to perform with the opera company for a week or two. Some months, I’m in full audition mode and won’t take many freelance gigs to focus. I also have a full online cello studio, allowing me to travel and perform freely and make cello lessons accessible to those in remote locations or with tight schedules.
As the first musician in my family, the variety of my workload originally felt like I was failing at the big one-job goal, but over time, I’ve grown to view success more in terms with my ability to maintain all of my passions at a high level.
TFTL: How similar or different are your approaches to the craft of cello playing, and the craft of drawing? Do you have routines for both?
MC: That’s an interesting question – I would say that my approach to the cello is far more organized and calm compared to my art at times, but they both affect each other equally. My organization in cello helps my art, and my problem-solving in art helps my cello playing. I often compare daily struggles in each and am able to work myself out of creative holes.
I absolutely have routines for both although, most strongly is the cello. Routines are super crucial with two competing art forms because you can get carried away with one or the other. At the start of Inkermezzo, I would have cello days or art days, nothing in between. Now, I only allow myself to draw at night as a reward for meeting my practice goal in the day – and the evening art routine is a good way to reflect on musical goals for the next day.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?
MC: In sixth grade, we were required to choose careers; creating business cards and interviewing professionals in the field as part of a career project. I picked “orchestral cellist,” interviewing a cellist in the Detroit Symphony at the time. My teacher protested my choice, saying that it was like choosing the career path of “soccer player.” It only strengthened my perseverance.
That clear picture didn’t include art though. I knew I loved art and was just as crazy about it as cello – but I thought I had to pick between the two. I actually kept my art a secret from colleagues until the start of Inkermezzo, because I feared that my art would make people think I wasn’t as serious of a cellist. I’m just starting to really explore the possibilities of my career as both an artist and a cellist!
TFTL: What was it like to start Inkermezzo? How has its growth affected the music side of your life?
MC: Inkermezzo really only started because I wanted to sell a few stickers on Etsy and needed a name. It wasn’t a formal launch, just something on a whim. It started with the support of friends and before I knew it, it snowballed into something magical. I go to rehearsals and meet people that have my stickers that I’ve never met before. That’s pretty wild.
Inkermezzo is all about musical art, so it’s really helped define the type of advocacy I’d like to be doing as a musician. For instance, a cello colleague, Horacio Contreras, invited me to join his organization Strings of Latin America (SOLA) as the graphic artist for their sheet music covers and more. We’ve released a beautiful edition of the Ricardo Castro Cello Concerto with more music on the way.
TFTL: What is one change you would like to see in the classical music world?
MC: Apart from the obvious celebration of underrepresented musicians and better ways to recruit younger audiences, the mental health of classical musicians really needs some serious attention. Take toxic teachers and the intense competition out of the mix — our job is to sit alone in a room and criticize every detail of every note for hours upon hours, then get up the next day and start all over. I don’t know many musicians that haven’t suffered mentally from the demands of competitive perfection. Social media has certainly started the change — from Hilary Hahn’s 100 days of practice to @hungrymusician’s self-care cooking classes for musicians, the ball has started to roll and I look forward to seeing what it can do for classical music as a whole.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it? What do you find is the most challenging aspect of it?
MC: Who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with practicing? I’m 90/10. I love the problem solving, but to be honest, the most challenging aspect is having to sit all the time. I get tired of sitting.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
MC: Very obviously Jacqueline du Pré – but I didn’t know about her until much later. I don’t come from a musical family — or a family that knows much about classical music — so my role models were very much the teachers I had in front of me. In particular, I had one middle school teacher and later my high school youth orchestra conductor, Bill Milicivic, that was particularly impactful for me. He was the first classical musician that I had ever met that was so passionately invested in every aspect of performing and educating. I still wish to be like him when I grow up!
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine to get you going each day? Can you share some of it with us?
MC: Every single day: I have breakfast, do my Spanish Duolingo while having a cup of coffee, fill Inkermezzo orders, get ready, and practice at least one hour before my first lesson. I’m very much a morning person and without those things, I feel like my day was somehow wasted.
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about attending (not performing in) a classical music concert these days?
MC: Perhaps a controversial favorite thing, but I love observing audiences clap between movements. To me, that means there are new audience members there – new audience members that feel moved enough to disregard the more experienced members not clapping or getting agitated. There is magic in that moment and I wish there was more appreciation for them.
TFTL: What 6 people (dead or alive) would you invite to your ideal dinner party?
MC: Ira Glass, Nadia Boulanger, Anton Kraft, Mark Rothko, Clara Schumann, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
TFTL: Where can people find you? And what is the best way for people to show their support for what you are doing?
My musician pages:
My artist pages:
TFTL: Do you have any upcoming performances or projects that we should check out?
MC: Yes! Astralis Chamber Ensemble tour throughout Florida late April 2023
Opera San Luis Obispo (CA) Die Fledermaus in May 2023.
2023 Classical Card Collection, one card per week.
New SOLA (Strings of Latin America) sheet music for cello
TFTL: Thank you SO much, Megan! It’s been such a pleasure to gain a bit of insight into your life, career, and process. Thank you for sharing it with us!
(Drawing in Top Photo: “A Cellist’s Self-Portrait”)