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Symphonic seniors: La Jolla-based group finds friendship in making music together

Martin Nass, Jack Clausen and Willis Frisch (from left) gather at Nass’ condominium in La Jolla to play chamber music.
Martin Nass, Jack Clausen and Willis Frisch (from left) gather at Nass’ condominium in La Jolla to play chamber music. Not pictured is Cathy Comstock, the other member of their quartet.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Martin Nass, 94, and fellow seniors Jack Clausen, Cathy Comstock and Willis Frisch have been gathering for years at Nass’ La Jolla condominium to play chamber music.

For 94-year-old La Jollan Martin Nass, playing music is a very important part of life. “It’s a way to express feelings that can’t be put into words,” he said.

He has played violin for 86 years, the past five with La Jolla residents Jack Clausen and Cathy Comstock and La Mesa resident Willis Frisch, who gather at Nass’ condominium in La Jolla’s Village to play chamber music.

The quartet has been playing together routinely, except for the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jack Clausen (left) and Willis Frisch have played music together for more than 50 years.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Clausen, 81, plays viola and said the quartet “is just a whole lot of pleasure, trying to fit together music with other people.”

Frisch, 82, plays cello. “Music has been my main interest all my life,” he said. Playing in the quartet, “when all four players are on the same page, if they’re interpreting the music in the same way, it kind of feeds. It emanates a lot of excitement in the process and a lot of satisfaction.”

Comstock, 87, plays violin but has taken a break for health reasons and hasn’t played with the quartet in months, Clausen said.

The members found one another through a mutual friend who connected Comstock with Nass when he visited his daughter in La Jolla five years ago from his home in New York.

Nass then contacted Clausen through the Associated Chamber Music Players, an international directory of professional and amateur chamber musicians, and Clausen brought in Frisch, with whom Clausen has played for more than 50 years.

Nass moved to La Jolla four years ago and the quartet began weekly sessions.

Clausen said the group selects a piece of music and “we go home and practice our individual parts. We come back and oftentimes we’ll work on just one movement per session.”

“After we feel that we have mastered or destroyed that piece,” Clausen said with a chuckle, “we move on to another piece.”

During COVID-related restrictions that kept each group member isolated at home, Clausen played on his own “a little bit, and I took lessons. I didn’t play as much as I should have.”

For Martin Nass, 94, playing music is a way to express his feelings.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Nass also played on his own while in quarantine but said he prefers how string instruments “resonate with each other” when played together. “The sound is much richer.”

Clausen, Frisch and Nass struck up in-person practices a few weeks ago and expressed happiness at being able to get together again.

None of them has been a professional musician, although all, like Nass, have played their instruments since childhood.

“Music is a nonverbal way of getting to parts of yourself that you don’t get to otherwise,” said Nass, a former psychoanalyst.

His wife died in August, and “starting to play music brought me back to life a little bit more,” he added.

Clausen, a former lung specialist with UC San Diego, picked up a violin at age 6 and switched to viola at 12. He said his parents encouraged his music learning, which he said has provided “a lifetime of enjoyment as recreation.”

Frisch learned to play cello at age 12, when he inherited the instrument from a relative. He later continued using his ear for sound as a contractor with the Navy working on “quieting ship noise,” he said.

Playing music also has opened “a nice social window,” Frisch said. He used the ACMP directory to put together string quartets while traveling in Hawaii, Mexico City, Wales and Australia.

“It’s a nice way to meet people with similar interests,” he said.

Nass and Clausen also have used the directory while traveling. When playing chamber music in foreign locations, “we got to know a different side of the city [and] meet people,” Nass said.

Clausen said the opportunity to play with other enthusiasts in faraway places has contributed to his love of music. “I love the enduring friendships associated with playing chamber music,” he said. ◆