WFU/Ken Bennett

The Reynolda Strings perform for the community

Students applying to Wake Forest are often passionate about a topic or subject. For many, music is a passion started from a young age, which students hope to continue throughout their career at Wake Forest.

Senior Lee Mendenhall is an embodiment of a passionate student wanting to pursue a music career at Wake Forest.

Mendenhall was exposed to chamber music throughout high school but when he arrived at Wake Forest, the opportunity to participate in a chamber ensemble was non-existent. To change this, Mendenhall created Reynolda Strings, an on-campus quartet.

Bob McGee, former Episcopal minister on campus who died in Aug. 2015, was a leading influence in the creation of Reynolda Strings.

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He expressed to students that his lead organist in his church received a job at the nearby pharmacy and was leaving the church. Without an organist, it was going to be difficult to maintain the orchestra and musical ensemble.

“I offered to help out,” Mendenhall said. “And I thought to start a quartet and help the church. I wanted to help, get started on what I loved to do and McGee encouraged me. I talked to the senior members of the orchestra and we went ahead and played the next Sunday at the church service, and everything made sense.”

With the help of McGee, word quickly spread about Reynolda Strings. On campus, Reverend Kellee Rice-Jalloh hired the quartet to perform at memorial and healing services. She said that before Renolyda Strings, the organists would perform at these services — but now, she can’t imagine a service without the quartet,” Rice-Jalloh said. “They’re simply amazing. They sound great. They are always professional.”

The quartet consists of Sophie Leruth, KyungMin Yoo, Adelina Cato, Lee Mendenhall, Jihae Moon and Elizabeth Sarkel. Leruth says the members have a large impact on the community.

“[Even for] people who don’t know about music, it still touches them,” said freshman member Sophie Leruth. “And that’s something powerful.” 

Beyond the confinements of Wake Forest, Reynolda Strings expanded its services to the community. Following their performance at McGee’s masses, they soon began volunteering at nursing homes.

“We want to touch as many people as we can,” Leruth said. “Anytime we can get together and make music, it means the world. Everyone we play for is just very appreciative and grateful. Even if we just went and played random music, they wouldn’t care. It’s very gratifying.”

Leurth also provides that the quartet expanded its volunteer services and now plays for Alzheimer patients. The group alternates between the nursing homes and Alzheimer homes every week.  Despite their timely commitment to volunteering, the quartet continues to play at the church weekly.

Byan McGee, McGee’s wife, said the Renolyda Strings had an impact on her following her husband’s death.

“The quartet played for the service at Davis Chapel, then at a celebration dinner,” McGee said. “It was the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. Lee tells me that my husband inspired him. Lee’s stories about their friendship have helped me though my grief.”

Volunteering is one of the quartet’s aspects which Mendenhall hopes remains. Yet, the quartet has seen success beyond the realm of Wake Forest University and volunteering. At a community level, they have been hired to play at different weddings, including that of the Band Between the Metal and Me drummer Blake Richardson.

The quartet played with Duke University and the Salisbury North Carolina Symphony. But, their largest accomplishment is their prominence in a new movie coming out on March 25th.

The Disappointments Room is a thriller, filmed in Greensboro, and features actors such as Kate Beckinsale and Lucas Tale along with a world-renown opera singer, Peabody Southwell. D.J. Caruso, the director of Eagle Eye and Disturbia produced the movie.

“So the fall of my junior year, we saw a blurb about the need for musicians in a movie being made in Greensboro,” Mendenhall said. “Throughout the three-week audition process, we survived and got the job. We got to not just play the music, we got to be on screen. We had the costumes and got our hair and makeup done. It was one of the coolest experiences.”

Their success with The Disappointments Room leaves Mendenhall hopeful about the quartets future.

“Each year we’ve expanded what we take on,” Mendenhall said. “I definitely don’t want to lose the service aspect. I do think it’s important we continue to offer ourselves the community. It would be cool to start entering into competition and recording.”

As a graduating senior, Mendenhall has trained his members to deal and manage the quartet. He is hopeful about what the quartet can accomplish and hopes it will continue to expand in the upcoming years. Responsibilities may be handed to Leruth.

“I will do everything in my power to keep this going,” Leruth said.

She believes music has the power to bring individuals together and has allowed the members of the quartet to become more than just musicians working together, but a family.

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