From performing to teaching to founding and directing festivals and outreach programs, Elizabeth “Beth” Etter’s life has been centered around music.
But for Etter, it’s never been about the music. Or rather, it’s never been just about the music.
“Chamber music is an extraordinary language,” she says. “We are transported beyond the realm of what is explicable and into a form of communication in sound where we support one another, feature each other, encourage our teammates to go beyond ourselves in expression, all the while being a part of a greater whole.”
Etter first began learning to play the piano at age 7, and music quickly opened a world of possibilities for her. Since then, she has performed on many stages throughout the country and has mentored and taught hundreds of young musicians. She earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in harpsichord performance and Master of Music in both collaborative piano and harpsichord performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music, as well as an undergraduate degree from Allegheny College. After these studies she was “on fire with passion” and excited to create the same opportunities for others, so she founded the Summer Music Festival and Music Outreach Program at Allegheny College and served as its Executive and Artistic Director.
These roles, while different, have proven intricately linked and valuable. “Without playing, I will not understand the importance and meaning of organizing and creating festivals and opportunities for audiences to hear and begin to understand this extraordinary art form,” Etter says. “Without teaching, I deprive young people of the opportunity to share some of the life changing experiences I have had.”
Music continues to open a world of possibilities for Etter. After attending a Kingston Chamber Music Festival (KCMF) concert, she was inspired to take on the role of Executive Director because of the integrity of what is currently offered: a well-deserved reputation for excellence built on decades of delivering world-class performances to a variety of audiences. “The chamber music that is performed here and the musicians performing it are truly as good as it gets. Anywhere.”
Her vision for the future of the festival embraces that reputation while invigorating a traditional art form with new life and new possibilities. “I want to manifest a vision for KCMF that takes this amazing organization into the next century, alive and well,” she says. “That will mean balancing the trusty gems of the repertoire with fabulous works by living composers.” In this way, chamber music becomes a bridge between history and evolution: the classics remain integral and respected while making space for new composers and artists to add their perspectives, expertise, and uniqueness. The communication that results – between old and new, performers and audiences, and performers themselves – is what Etter calls “extraordinary awe and mystery.”
As she embraces the challenges of keeping classical music alive and cherished – especially for young people and diverse audiences – she says she’s excited to explore new ways to continue connecting with people. “It might mean coordinating with other art forms from time to time in ways that enhance both,” she notes.
Ultimately, though, Etter’s mission will continue to be about more than just the music.
“I believe we are mistaken to think that we can get everything we need from technology in a consumer driven world,” Etter says. “More than ever, we need humanness. As humans, we need to be filled with awe and respect for communication. And that is what chamber music is about.”