Anarchy in the Roc

The Ying Quartet goes punk. You got a problem with that?



I WANNA BE CREATIVE. The Grammy award–winning Ying Quartet first performed professionally in 1992. As quartet-in-residence and educators at the Eastman School of Music, they’ve performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House to schools and juvenile prisons. “We’ve always enjoyed breaking boundaries as a string quartet,” says violinist Phillip Ying. From left: Ayano Ninomiya and siblings Phillip Ying, David Ying, and Janet Ying.

Quick, name that band: four guys leaning against a brick wall, wearing leather jackets, shrunken t-shirts, beat-up sneaks, ripped jeans, and flat-lipped scorn. Pretty much any rock fan with a rapid-fire pulse would recognize the Ramones.

Back in 1974 in Forest Hills, Queens, this band of “brothers” helped to invent one of rock’s most aggressive and expressive genres while reinventing themselves. They called themselves the Ramones—Tommy, DeeDee, Johnny, and Joey. “Eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the substance,” said drummer Tommy Ramone. Their focus was three chords, a breakneck beat, ADD lyrics, and songs not so much played as shot out of a cannon. It ended up creating a substance few could have envisioned: punk rock.

The Ramones’ stripped-back style was echoed not only in their sound but also in their dress. Call it punk, call it normcore, but whatever you do, don’t call it fashion. The band was among the first to visualize and inspire a punk aesthetic. Forty years later, it’s a style that’s become so ubiquitous it’s hard to imagine a time when it was actually revolutionary.

But even the most ordinary look can become revolutionary again—especially when flaunted by someone totally unexpected. A chamber music quartet, for example. We invited the internationally acclaimed and somewhat sartorially reserved Ying Quartet to reimagine themselves as punk rockers. “In a way, chamber music is like punk, in that we eliminate the excess and focus solely on the music,” says David Ying. “Also, reinvention is great for creativity,” says Janet Ying. “You never know where your next inspiration might come from.”


WE’RE A HAPPY FAMILY. Phillip, Janet, Ayano, and David bring some serious intensity to whatever they do—whether it’s performing Mozart at the White House or muscle-ups at Crossfit Rochester, which violinist Janet Ying does. “Music is one of the most powerful vehicles of human creativity,” says Phillip. “Its power to say who we are as human beings has a profound effect on us.” We can’t help but think that Tommy, DeeDee, Johnny, and Joey would agree. Janet & Ayano’s jackets, pants and leather boots from Dado Boutique. Phillip & John’s jeans from Volunteers of America; David’s “tie hoodie” made in NYC by Rochester’s own fashionfitted.com.

In 2015, resolve to reinvent your own personal style. Because style, like music, is always “commenting on, building on, react- ing to, extending, transforming, destroy- ing, or developing what came before,” says Phillip Ying. Or, as the Ramones might put it, “Hey, ho! Let’s go!” 

Photo by Will Strawser; hair and makeup by Shevaune Ray.

Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go, Kate Sonnick is a writer, creative director, and occasional stylist. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and at katesonnick.com. 

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