Welcome Sam Shuhan on bass and Helen Newby on cello


“Polished string-quartet playing with haunting, expressive singing.” –Strings Magazine

World Vocal Chamber Folk 

String quartet, string band, vocal quartet, jaw-dropping improvising world-music collective….pick a box and Real Vocal String Quartet will think outside it, with style. RVSQ plays original songs and unique arrangements that pay tribute to music from Appalachia to Kenya to Brazil, with sparkling improvisation that impresses and moves.

What’s New From RVSQ…

Finalists in the SAVVY Chamber Competition 2017

Awarded the Gerbode Special Grant in the Arts 2017

Real Vocal String Quartet to Headline Fundraiser for Syrian Humanitarian Aid May 11th at the Freight and Salvage 



RVSQ in the News!


Subscribe to our YouTube Channel!



Curious About Our Last CD?

“Trusting the Muses: Classical Skills and Indie Thrills Abound on Real Vocal String Quartet’s Four Little Sisters.” Read about it now!

Slacker Ridge, the new CD from the Real Vocal String Quartet

The new CD from Real Vocal String Quartet


RVSQ in Oakland Jazz in the Neighborhood

Jazz in the Neighborhood03/29/18 7:30pmBuy Tickets

About RVSQ


Real Vocal String Quartet began with violinist Irene Sazer’s inspiration to combine her musical passions: chamber music, improvising, composing, and singing. With violinist Adrianna Ciconne, violist Darcy Rindt, and cellist Vanessa Ruotolo, Sazer’s vision sparked the creation of a collaborative ensemble that freely mixes and ultimately transcends genres.

RVSQ’s surprisingly broad repertoire embraces the diverse influences of all four players, from classical, jazz, and rock, to songs and styles from West Africa, Brazil, and rural America. Four distinct voices can be heard and create a unique group sound.

Starting from the eclectic, musically sophisticated base of the San Francisco Bay Area, RVSQ has found a national audience since releasing their debut CD in 2010. Recent accomplishments include:

  • Awarded Gerbode Special Grant in the Arts for a suite of new works called Culture Kin 2017
  • Finalists in the SAVVY Chamber Music Competition 2017
  •  RVSQ’s third album, “Slacker Ridge,” was released in March, 2016.
  • Selection by the U.S. State Department to perform as musical ambassadors with the American Voices program, which will send RVSQ to 5 countries in Europe for concerts and educational programs in Fall 2012.
  • Quartet Residencies at University of Delaware School of Music and Cal Poly Pomona
  • Booking by nationally recognized presenters including San Francisco Performances, Folk Yeah, U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, and Switchboard Festival
  • Appearances on local and national television (including appearance with Canadian Grammy Nominee Feist on The Tonight Show) and radio
  • Press coverage in national publications including Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Relix, Strings Magazine, and The Strad.
  • Collaboration and/or recording credits with nationally recognized artists including Feist, Mirah, Beats Antique, Vetiver, Aaron Novik, and Spencer Day


Irene Sazer

Irene Sazer is an improvising violinist, composer, arranger, and singer whose unique style combines world and roots music with classical, jazz, and pop sensibilities. Known internationally as a founding member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, Sazer’s career has encompassed success as a concerto soloist, a concertmaster, an established recording artist, and a recognized educator of music and improvisation. She founded and directs the School of Strings and String Improvisation in Berkeley, California. Sazer’s own recording First Things First highlights her original voice as a singer and songwriter. An in-demand genre-hopping violinist, Irene has recorded and/or performed with Jai Uttal, Ali Akbar Khan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Smoky Robinson, David Grisman, Linda Rondstadt, Bjork, Maria Marquez, and Billy Joel. Passionate about combining her musical interests in new ways, Sazer continues to push boundaries, exploring the world with her violin, her voice, and her imagination.


Emily Onderdonk






Vanessa Ruotolo

Vanessa Ruotolo serves as a lecturer in music, in cello, at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She received her musical training from the New England Conservatory in Boston, Boston University (B.M.) and San Francisco Conservatory of Music (M.M).
She is concurrently affiliated with Santa Rosa Symphony, San Jose Chamber Orchestra, Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra, Skywalker Sound Orchestra, California Symphony, Quartet Rouge, and the Worn Chamber Ensemble. She has performed with San Francisco Contemporary Players, Berkeley Contemporary Players, Empyrean Ensemble, SF Opera, SF Ballet and Shorenstein Hays Nederlander.
Dedicated to bringing music into our schools, Vanessa has worked for the San Francisco Symphony’s Adventures in Music program for the last five years where she scripted and performed interactive educational programs for every 1st-5th grader in the San Francisco Unified School District. Vanessa is also a member of The Rhythm Sisters, a String Quartet dedicated to educational outreach.
Vanessa enjoys playing a wide variety of music and has performed with several popular musicians including Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, rap artist Jay-z, Donna Summer, Ray Charles, Barry Manilow, Il Divo and Kenny Loggins, to name a few. Ms. Ruotolo has recorded for motion pictures and popular video games and performed with Broadway shows here in San Francisco and on U.S. tours.


Darcy Rindt

Darcy Rindt achieved a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied with Roy Malan, concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors in both music and marine biology. She also holds a Master’s Degree in performance from San Francisco State University, where she studied under Paul Yarbrough, violist of the internationally acclaimed Alexander String Quartet. She continued post-graduate instruction with Catherine Van Hoesen of the San Francisco Symphony. She holds positions in the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the Santa Rosa, Marin, Oakland, California and Berkeley Symphonies. She has also performed with a number of other symphonic groups including the New World Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet, New Century Chamber Orchestra and Symphony Silicon Valley as well as contemporary chamber ensembles such as the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and Empyrean Ensemble.

Less conventional ventures include Jazz Mafia’s “Brass, Bows, and Beats” and “Emperor Norton Suite,” with whom she played at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Central Park in New York City, and the Monterey and San Francisco Jazz Festivals. She toured internationally with the band SRO and has played shows with Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Chicago, Transiberian Orchestra, the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and numerous other Bay Area bands.

Ms. Rindt is composer and arranger for Squid Inc, an alternative string quartet whose goal is to reach new audiences through dynamic, engaging performances, original compositions and compelling arrangements of modern rock, alternative and pop music. In December 2015, she joined the Real Vocal String Quartet as violist/vocalist/composer.

She has also been very involved in education, having completed four seasons with San Francisco Symphony’s “Adventures in Music” outreach program. Through AIM, Ms. Rindt has performed over 600 musical outreach programs, inspiring and educated every elementary student in the San Francisco public schools each of those seasons. She was previously a MUSE mentor through the Oakland East Bay Symphony, visiting 2-3 Oakland schools each week and assisting in the music instruction programs and has done outreach concerts through California and Monterey Symphonies.

Ms. Rindt is a Docent Naturalist at Ano Nuevo State Park where she leads guided tours through the Elephants Seal Rookery each winter. She is also an insatiable tennis player.



Irene Sazer, violin and voice
Emily Onderdonk, violin and voice
Darcy Rindt, viola and voice
Vanessa Ruotolo, cello and voice


Slacker Ridge (2016)
Four Little Sisters (2012)
Real Vocal String Quartet (2010)


slacker-ridge-cover-392Coming March 24th!






Available now from CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, BandCamp, Rhapsody, and at our live shows.








Available from CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, and at our live shows.




RVSQ also recorded on:

Feist “Metals” (Cherrytree/Interscope , 2011)
Lord Loves a Working Man, “LLAWM” 2011 (Working Man, 2011)
Vetiver “To Find Me Gone” (DiCristina, FatCat Records, 2006)

…and opened for and/or played with:

Väsen, March 2010
Alicia Jo Rabins/Girls in Trouble, January 2011
Beats Antique, March 2011
Mirah, August 2011

RVSQ performed at the opening ceremony of “Language of the Birds,”
a site-specific permanent art installation in North Beach, San Francisco, 2008.

Electronic Press Kit

Download RVSQ Electronic Press Kit (21MB Zip file)


Photos & Videos



Our arrangement of "Sweet Honey Bee" by Duke Pearson Video produced by Chasing the Moon


Our arrangement of "Falling Polska" by Vasen Video produced by Chasing the Moon.


Video by Max Baloian


Video by Max Baloian


Video by Max Baloian



A Band of Sisters 

The Real Vocal String Quartet is a chamber-jazz group that can sing and perform ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in Macedonian. Scout’s honor.

By David Templeton, October 2013

“Jet lag! The gift that keeps on giving,” smiles Irene Sazer, unpacking her violin inside the studio at KQED, San Francisco’s largest public radio station. Less than 24 hours after returning from a multi-country Eastern European tour, courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad Program, Sazer and the three other members of the Bay Area-based Real Vocal String Quartet are valiantly fighting the effects of desynchronosis while preparing to tape a mid-morning interview for the syndicated radio show The California Report….”




Strad Magazine

2/1/13   James Crel  

Real Vocal String Quartet

A generally enjoyable collection from a group of singing string players

Machine: violinist Alisa Rose’s sophisticated arrangement is carried off with aplomb, the group’s finely textured percussive playing accompanying a clean, stripped-back vocal. It’s a recipe that continues into subsequent songs – the ensemble’s range of pizzicato builds a really strong and distinctive rhythmic feel that makes their performance of folk/pop songs both credible and interesting – not something that many string quartets can pull off.

In fact though, vocals are used relatively sparely so there’s plenty of room for the group to demonstrate their playing calibre – the stylish, bluesy phrasing of Homage to Oumou, the polished violin solo of Elephant Dreams or the warmth of the bluegrass Allons à Lafayette are prime examples.  

Strings Magazine 

Put a Lil’ ‘Sweet Honey Bee’ in Your Morning Coffee

The Real Vocal String Quartet makes a definitive statement on latest CD

2/1/13  Greg Cahill

Four Little Sisters. The Real Vocal String Quartet. (Flower Note)

From the opening track, a string-quartet arrangement of Regina Spektor’s “Machine” (with its intimate vocal), the Real Vocal String Quartet calls the listener to attention with the clockwork tap of bow on wood and the grating snap of a well-played chop. This independent release from the San Francisco Bay Area–based string quartet—violinists and vocalist Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist and vocalist Dina Maccabee, and cellist and vocalist Jessica Ivry—shines a light on one of the most talented and innovative quartets on the chamber-music scene (Sazer is an up-and-coming composer and a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet, Rose is a current member of Quartet San Francisco, and all are gifted arrangers, who have contributed arrangements to this publication’s Strings Charts line).  

Read more…


 The California Report  

Listen to a feature about RVSQ on the California Report Friday, December 21, 2012.


The group, just back from a 5 week cultural ambassadorship in 5 Eastern European countries, plays and tells stories from the trip. 

San Francisco Classical Voice

10/29/12   Stephanie Jones

The Queens of Improv: Real Vocal String Quartet

The game has changed more than many are ready to admit, and being a classical musician these days requires some real versatility. But with two CDs under its belt, including its recently released Four Sisters album, plus a month-long tour on deck, the Real Vocal String Quartet (or RVSQ) must be doing something right.


World Music Central

10/23/12    ARomero 

The Real Vocal String Quartet, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, has released its new album Four Little Sisters this month. The ensemble will be presenting the new material during an East Coast tour.

The quartet is known for its combination of classical music, jazz improvisation, American roots genres and world music. On Four Little Sisters, the ensemble includes a tribute to Malian star Omou Sangare, new arrangements of songs by Brazilian star Gilberto Gil, Cajun maverick Michael Doucet and pop singer David Byrne; and a Swedish polska with a little bit of klezmer.

Four Little Sisters is a genuinely diverse album by a string quartet that holds great promise.


Four Little Sisters

SF Weekly

10/17/12  Ian S. Port

“The quieter songs are even more surprising. Opener “Glyphs” features lush contributions from members of the Real Vocal String Quartet. Somber closer “See You on the Slopes” finds Donovan singing alone, accompanied only by a piano. Sic Alps have approached this kind of intimacy in the past, but it was always tempered with chaos, by sonics that alienated the listener while luring them in.”


Splinters and Candy

by Alex on October 16, 2012

 Real Vocal String Quartet are not your typical string quartet. These four women from the Bay Area play a lot more than baroque and classical music. RVSQ came together with a mission to combine chamber music, improvising, composing, and singing. Their style of chamber music is all encompassing. On their latest record, Four Little Sisters, RVSQ perform their own stunning renditions of Regina Spektor’s “Machine,” Gilberto Gil’s “Copo Vazio,” Duke Pearson’s “Sweet Honey Bee,” David Byrne & Dirty Projector’s “Knotty Pine,” and more.

read more at:


Real Vocal String Quartet – Four Little Sisters


No Depression The Roots Music Authority


From the opening track of their new album, Four Little Sisters, Real Vocal String Quartet bring a stunning vision to their arrangements. The first song is an acoustic stringband re-envisioning of Regina Spektor’s song “Machine,” and I guarantee you haven’t heard a cello, violin, or viola played this way before. Machine-gun stutters, growling, rippling rhythms that sound almost harmful to the instrument, and floating ethereal vocals. Sounds a bit out there, but these four women are grounded by the traditions and the instruments they’ve chosen, and the album has a remarkable consistency.



Midwest Book Review

Four Little Sisters is the second collaborative album of Real Vocal String Quartet, a skilled set of arrangers and composers who enjoy reinventing traditional music by drawing on inspiration from jazz, pop, the great classics, and more. An instrument-heavy medley offering a harmonious fusion of ideas and rhythms, Four Little Sisters is highly recommended as an excellent choice for music lovers looking for something different. The tracks are “Machine”, “Homage to Oumou”, “Elephant Dreams”, “Copo Vazio”, “Allons a Lafayette”, “Sweet Honey Bee”, “Falling Polska”, “Durang’s Hornpipe”, “Knotty Pine”, and “Grand Mammon Waltz”.

Lucid Culture


Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet

Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.
read more at:

Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange FAME

Mark S. Tucker
Irene Sazer was one of the original members of the Turtle Island String Quartet, but she’s erected a new wrinkle in the old gig in her new incarnation within the Real Vocal String Quartet, a deviation that’ll interest her old alma mater and then some. I mean, Christ, ya can’t possibly ace a group that numbered Mads Tolling and Darol Anger among its erstwhile august roster and still features incredible co-founder David Balakrishnan, but you sure as hell can give ’em reason to pause in their tracks, and that’s what Four Little Sisters establishes. For one, there’s an enticing sense of playfulness ranging right alongside the classical, avant-garde, folkways, and jazz sensibilities, nor does the band lack for cleverness or subtlety…and, hey, it’s all wimmens!
Read more at:

Utne Reader

Music Sampler pick for October, 2012 http://www.utne.com/utne-reader-music-sampler.aspx
Four women, three violins, and one cello are the ingredients for this surprisingly eclectic and experimental collection of music. Real Vocal String Quartet melds influences from the predictable (chamber orchestra) to the less expected (jazz and folk) to the downright surprising (rock, West African, and Balkan music). Genres are mixed, then layered with the quartet’s vocal harmonies and improvisation for results that are playful, complex, and often mesmerizing. Each of these elements have a place in RVSQ’s cover of Regina Spektor’s “Machine.” The group’s second release, Four Little Sisters, is available through their website now.

Read more: http://www.utne.com/utne-reader-music-sampler.aspx#ixzz28G8ToDnp

Camping with RVSQ


September 20, 2012   Andrew Gilbert

“Four string sisters find their calling with help from Feist”

The Real Vocal String Quartet blend conservatory chops, roots soul and vocal harmonies, laced with improvisational brio

The four women of the Real Vocal String Quartet know they have something rare and unusual going, but it wasn’t until they answered a last-minute call to collaborate with the Canadian singer/songwriter Leslie Feist that they fully realized the singular nature of the ensemble.


Midwest Records

September 14, 2012

Bay area pomo babes go for it with girl scout uniforms hiding the sonic experimentation. A solid case of left of center girl power, this is a set that gleefully colors outside the lines that pairs Duke Pearson with Regina Spector with their take on traditional music. Certainly not for you if you watch “X Factor”, this head music is tailor made for those that like their pop music made for their summer home on Mars.


My World Music Friends

September 20, 2012
Matthew Forss

The San Francisco-area quartet finds music and beauty in jazz, pop, string, and classic traditions. RVSQ is Irene Sazer on violin and vocals, Alisa Rose on violin and vocals, Dina Maccabee on viola and vocals, and Jessica Ivry on cello and vocals. “Machine” is a Regina Spektor song with delicate vocals and writhing string melodies. “Homage To Oumou” is a plucked string tribute and vocal medley in honor of Oumou Sangare–a female diva from Mali, Africa. Though, the string arrangements represent Scandinavian traditions. There are prancing tunes of Brazilian charm (“Copo Vazio”), Cajun folk music (“Allons a Lafayette”), and a David Byrne cover (“Knotty Pine”). The diverse material on the album is easily captured on the strings and vocal melodies without leading to boredom. String fans unite with the pleasant instrumental and vocal magic of the Real Vocal String Quartet.  

Hearth Music

September 2012

A masterful album from a group with great vision and a lot to say.”

Read more



April-May 2012

Imagine yourself as an A-student who wants to use your hardearned skills in a way that shows you can have regular-kid fun, too. That’s essentially the situation that violinists Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry—known collectively as the funky, genre-bending Real Vocal String Quartet (RVSQ)—were in when Feist discovered them via YouTube. The singer subsequently invited them to play on her latest album Metals and tour with her.”

Read more


Top 20 of 2011: 11. Feist – Metals
Kind of Bleu

The other show-stopping guest is the Real Vocal String Quartet, an unusual group of women who sing while each plays her instrument. The warm strings and lush harmonies swell perfectly around the rest of the music.”

Read more


Real Vocal String Quartet: Feist’s Secret Weapon

Geoffrey Himes, Paste Magazine

Feist had always had plans to add strings to her new album Metals. So when she and her three co-producers (Gonzalez, Mocky and Valgeir Sigurðsson) finished the basic tracks at Big Sur, they went looking for a California string quartet. Mocky called someone he knew who recommended someone else, who recommended the Bay Area’s Real Vocal String Quartet. The studio’s remote location meant that it took three hours to download a YouTube video of the band at the Berkeley nightclub Freight and Savage, but that was enough for Feist to extend an invitation.” 

Read more


The New York Times – Feist: The Bounty of Solitude

They were after a sound that Feist described as ‘modern ancient,’ from Mr. LeBarton’s vintage keyboards to the live strings and backup vocals of the Real Vocal String Quartet, a four-woman group from San Francisco that sings and plays simultaneously.”
Full article



Their chemistry as a musical group has become a catalyst for a creative explosion.


Strad Magazine Review

Irene Sazer: Remixing Vocals

 “Irene Sazer is a violinist, composer, arranger and singer. She is the founder of the Real Vocal String Quartet, an ensemble that bends and mixes genres and combines vocal and string sounds into beautiful compositions. In this interview Irene talks about how the group came together, why it’s important that every member have room to create their own music and what musical influences you’ll hear in their debut album.”



At times they remind me of some of Zap Mama’s early work but they have a style that is all their own.”


Part Vocal. Part String Quartet. Very Real.

By Rik Malone | Mar 14, 2010
KQED Arts, Feature/Concert Preview  03/14/10

RVSQ’s music is by turns beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing and foot-stomping fun.”


Music Union : Live Your Music

Shannon Logan 03/18/10

The instruments sometimes mimicked the sounds of sitars, bagpipes, flutes, human voices. And sometimes they just sounded like…a viola, a cello, a violin.”


The Un-Chamber Music of Real Vocal String Quartet

March 13, 5:59 PMLA Performing Arts Examiner
Melissa Berry

They dive into the unpredictable when they play ‘Now,’ a group improvisation that changes every time. No one, not even the person who initiates the piece knows what she is going to play, but that all changes once they get going. Wherever they began individually, together, the players in Real Vocal String Quartet have gone somewhere entirely new.”


The California Report

Violinist Irene Sazer is best known as a founder of the innovative chamber group Turtle Island String Quartet. Sazer has always had a wide range of musical interests, lending her talents to everything from orchestras to jazz singers. On the new CD by her group, the Real Vocal String Quartet, Sazer’s diverse musical vision comes into sharp focus. Jazz critic Andrew Gilbert has a review.”

Read more


Vocal strings

On their eponymous debut CD, the Real Vocal String Quartet (Flower Note Records) winningly redefines string quartet repertoire with an authority that puts them in the same league as the venerable Kronos Quartet. These four Berkeley women perform largely original music – flavored with Appalachian fiddle tunes, African songs, and Brazilian dances. As their name suggests, their dulcet voices harmonize in lush synchronization with their violins, viola, and cello. This spritely marriage of string quartet precision and elegance with lyrically sophisticated pop vocals makes their bridging of the chasm between pop and classical music freshly enchanting.”


Real Vocal String Quartet

Tonight @ Freight & Salvage: The brainchild of violinist Irene Sazer (Turtle Island String Quartet), RVSQ brings together some of the Bay Area’s most versatile musicians, including violinist Alisa Rose, violinist/violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry. Celebrating the release of its eponymous album, the band combines four-part vocal harmonies, foot stomps and percussive bow techniques with melodies and rhythms from Brazil, West Africa, Appalachia and the Balkans. Erasing distinctions between old-time and new music, the gals are simply keeping it real.”

Read more


Classical music played differently from the norm, but with the passion and joie de vivre worthy of the great masters

Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)

Real Vocal String Quartet is the exciting album of four classically-trained female players who have forsaken the artificial constraints of both the old classical realm, where musicians are expected to sacrifice their creativity to better contribute to the overall orchestra sound, and the contemporary classical world, the “new music” of which can take difficulty to absurd lengths. Real Vocal String Quartet features simultaneous singing and string playing that defies the boundaries of the soloist-centered and conductor-centered classical music scenes. An extraordinary acoustic experience, Real Vocal String Quartet is a gem for public library collections and anyone interested in hearing classical music played differently from the norm, but with the passion and joie de vivre worthy of the great masters. Highly recommended.”


CD Review: The Real Vocal String Quartet

Lucid Culture

There’s so much here that it ought to appeal to a lot of fanbases: neoclassical types, world music and chamber music fans, and just your average pop/rock person looking for something good for the ipod.”


Real Vocal String Quartet

East Bay Express
By j. poet

The Real Vocal String Quartet is set on expanding the parameters of classical string music.”


Roll over, Beethoven: Real Vocal String Quartet takes the classics for a ride

By Caitlin Donohue  sfbg music blog   2/8/10

Gotta love a classical quartet that chills barefoot in the dirt.”


String Explorations

World Music Central
Contributed by: ARomero

Beautiful combination of violins, cello and viola with polyphonic vocals.” 


Real Vocal String Quartet – Cliches Interrupted

Heroes of Indie Music

The past two weeks have been a time of review and reflection on this soon to be released (February 9th) offering from Real Vocal String Quartet. Normally, I can get a sense of the style and artistic prowess of a release after a mere handful of auditions. Not this time. This album strikes all the good chords in my appreciation of classical music. But that is just a bare start. This is professionally done with an international infusion of styles/genres. I am especially enjoying the vocal tracks from Irene Sazer and comrades. What beautiful voices that blend so playfully. Their warmth of personality that flows from these lyrics and often plucked arrangements will keep you coming back for more. Not what I expected and not lacking for anything.”
~ by castleqwayr on January 18, 2010.


Midwest Record

REAL VOCAL STRING QUARTET: So what do classically trained Windham Hill refugees do when the system turns their back on them and sets them adrift in the Bay area? Pretty much what ever they damned well please. Classical with a punk/lounge core sensibility, these ladies will not be playing any tea parties anytime soon, unless it’s a guest shot on ‘Weeds.’ Kinda world, kinda classical, kinda folk, kinda a bit of everything, this is way out adult listening that never gets cute for the sake of being cute, it’s solidly played above everything else. A wondrous left field outing that won’t disappoint.”


Something to Sing About

February 2010 / Strings

The playing and singing is gorgeous, the flow of the recording is like a river, and even when the mood is dark, they’re absorbed and having fun.”

—David A. Lusterman


Inventive and brilliant, Irene Sazer & The Real Vocal String Quartet Rock the Sanchez

Pacifica Tribune
By Jean Bartlett

RVSQ defines brilliant musicians with fun personalities playing beautiful, inventive music; that’s as good as it gets.”


Globally Infused Music

San Francisco Chronicle
Andrew Gilbert

Irene Sazer was ready for a musical party, but tonight’s event at Freight & Salvage wasn’t what she had in mind. A force on the Bay Area music scene for two decades, the violinist corrals her far-flung musical passions in the Real Vocal String Quartet, a band that weaves together the textures of a vocal ensemble and a string band with a mix of original songs and Sazer’s arrangements of tunes from Ireland, Kenya and Brazil.

Featuring violinist-violist Dina Maccabee, cellist Jessica Ivry and violinist Alisa Rose, the band showcases some of the region’s most creative young string players and vocalists. But in the midst of working on the quartet’s first album, Sazer was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and although her prognosis is good, she’s been forced to put the project on hold. “This band started out with my vision, but has taken on a truly collaborative vision,” Sazer says from her home in West Berkeley. “Everybody is an improviser and composer, and they’re all so talented and creative. I’m damn sad I have to take a break. This was going to be our yearly concert at the Freight. Hopefully, I’ll get better and back in the saddle soon.”

Instead of canceling the gig, Maccabee and fiddler Kaila Flexer put out the word to Sazer’s musical colleagues, turning tonight’s show into a benefit for Sazer, who will take the stage if she’s feeling up to it. Among the musicians scheduled to perform are singer-songwriter Vienna Teng, Aux Cajunals multi-instrumentalist Suzy Thompson, fiddler Amy Hofer, the Crooked Jades’ Erik Pearson on banjo, reed master Sheldon Brown, klezmer mandolinist Gerry Tenney, jazz and blues guitarist John Schott, and avant-garde cabaret vocalist Amy X Neuburg, a cast that reflects the many stylistic circles through which Sazer moves.

Raised in a musical family from Los Angeles — her father, Victor Sazer, a longtime fixture on the L.A. studio scene, is author of the instructional book “New Directions in Cello Playing” — Sazer graduated from the Peabody Conservatory and settled in the Bay Area in 1985.

Within weeks, she helped launch the pioneering, jazz-steeped Turtle Island String Quartet. She’s served as concertmaster of the Bay Area Women’s Philharmonic and performed with the Oakland and San Francisco symphonies, while playing or recording with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles to Ali Akbar Khan, David Grisman and Bjork.
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Irene is that she’s mischievous and playful, like a sprite, and at the same time she can tear into that violin and play like crazy,” says Flexer, who started collaborating with Sazer 20 years ago in the quirky Composers’ Cafeteria band. “I run into a lot of kids who have studied with her. She’ll teach a heavy-metal tune on violin or whatever they want to do.”

Ladies pluck, bow, and shout

East Bay Express
Stefanie Kalem

When Irene Sazer helped start the Turtle Island String Quartet in Oakland a decade ago, its classical-ification of Cole Porter and Miles Davis dissolved borders in a frenzy of joyful pioneering, adding a laid-back component to the deconstruction of chamber music that the Kronos Quartet has begun some years before. These days, violinist and violist Sazer still gets her yo-yos out, playing with artists such as Holly Near and Will Bernard and Motherbug, and on soundtracks to such films as Hellboy and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. This week, you can see what’s she’s been up to with Irene Sazer’s Vocal String Quartet, a foursome of ladies who aren’t afraid to raise voices and bang on fiddles and such while playing original compositions, Kenyan and Brazilian songs, and a Paul Simon cover.”  





On tour with RVSQ

Real Vocal String Quartet offers unique hands-on workshops, masterclasses, coaching, and educational sessions for string players of all ages, as well as music educators.

With the demand and abundance of alternative string playing, the members of Real Vocal String Quartet have found their niche and want to share it with you! Find you inner creative voice and learn to become more comfortable improvising, writing songs and playing your favorite string instrument!

RVSQ brings unique string and vocal styles to audiences not just through performances, but through educational clinics, demonstrations and interactive workshops. For these outreach events, Real Vocal String Quartet performs original music, demonstrates unusual rhythmic sounds and improvisational skills and techniques through games and song, and introduces techniques and characteristics drawn from a rich variety of string-playing cultures. Demonstrations and hands-on activities encourage learning in a friendly and fun environment where any level and age will benefit. RVSQ also shares in the creative compositional process for budding musicians and professionals alike.

THE MEMBERS of RVSQ are all experienced pedagogues who teach privately, in schools, and on the road. The organizations at which our members teach include the San Francisco Music Conservatory Preparatory Department, the College of Marin, the Berkeley School of Strings and String Improvisation, Starr King Elementary School, the Berkeley School, and through the Adventures of Music program run by the educational wing of the San Francisco Symphony.

Past workshops and clinics include:

University of Delaware, October 2011
-String Improvisation for Classical Musicians

Cal Poly Pomona, October 2010
– “How to Teach Beginning Improvisation” clinic for undergraduate music education majors

Ashland High School, Ashland, OR, September 2010
– Improvisation and performance clinic for advanced string orchestra class

San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score outreach program, May 2010
– “Adopt, Adapt, Create” lecture-demonstration for Bay Area high school teachers

American String Teachers Association Conference, February 2010
-Reading session and discussion presented by Strings Magazine


Published charts for string ensemble including RVSQ repertoire and other material arranged/composed by members of RVSQ are available from


Current titles include:







For bookings contact:

Tom Gallant
MCM Arts and Entertainment
P.O. 825 • Highland, NY 12528
Phone: 845-691-4960

To reach RVSQ:

Real Vocal String Quartet
P.O. Box 2753
Berkeley, CA 94702
Contact Us


Rock Paper Scissors

Electronic Press Kits:

Download RVSQ Electronic Press Kit (21MB Zip file)












Art Direction and Web Design:




Howard Fishman

Bruce Kaphan

Erik Pearson



Corey Weinstein, art director

Doug Chayka, CD art and design

Liz Leggett, CD graphic design

Mad Dog Productions, web design



Rock Paper Scissors

Photography and Videography:

Matt Washburn

Lenny Gonzalez

Max Baloian

Chasing the Moon



Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse

Subterranean Arthouse


Publications and Organizations:

Berkeley School of Strings and String Improvisation

San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music

Strings Magazine