Why chamber music?
We posed this question at a recent Kingston Chamber Music Festival board meeting. Our board is a diverse group – young professionals and retired professionals, musicians and non-musicians, participants with backgrounds ranging from chemistry to composing – who come together out of a shared love of chamber music and a commitment to turning that appreciation into active support. Here we will share some highlights of how that question was answered.
So, why chamber music?
Chamber music is about communication – and it functions without words. “You have to breathe together, make eye contact together,” Mary Parlange says of playing in a small ensemble without a conductor. “To keep the connection, you have to constantly adapt and adjust to one another. It’s a magical experience.”
“We are transported beyond the realm of what is explicable and into a form of communication where we support one another, feature each other, and encourage our teammates to go beyond ourselves in expression, all the while being a part of a greater whole,” says Beth Etter.
“Chamber music helps us gain invaluable skills in active listening,” adds Natalie Zhu. “It’s a different language – very abstract – but it’s really close to what we do everyday.”
As musicians learn to collaborate through nonverbal cues, chamber music becomes driven by breath: musicians must find their synergy through breathing together. Breathing is not simply a vital process; it is an active and intentional process that fuels creativity. “There is something innately human about the chamber music experience that demands us to be on the same page, breathing and creating and imagining together,” says Sam Hollister.
“Everything is all out there in chamber music,” adds Winnie Brownell. “You can’t hide anything: there’s that split second timing that sends chills up your spine.” With no action too small and no sound too insignificant, in chamber music silence can amplify sound: “I listen to the silent pauses between breaths,” says Barry Levin. “That’s sometimes where the real magic is.”
“It’s everything,” Brownell says. “It’s romantic, it’s soothing, it’s challenging, it’s thrilling.”
More than music
Chamber music is not simply about music; it’s about people.
The power of what can transpire when people connect through music is apparent in the camaraderie between musicians and in the dynamic between musicians and the audience. But perhaps most notably, many have established their love of chamber music not simply because of an innate interest in classical music but because of how it led them to a sense of belonging.
The human connections people make – whether as performers or audience members, as children or adults – propels the art into something profoundly meaningful and enriching.
Emily Chen remembers being a student participant in a KCMF outreach program in elementary school. “It was a fabulous program that fostered my passion for chamber music,” she says. She later became our second scholarship recipient, and she now works as a music teacher. “I strive to instill that same passion in my students now. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Gigi Edwards notes that as a schoolgirl, performing in ensembles is where she felt she fit in – and this experience was echoed later with her children, recalling days when they organized informal chamber music groups on her front porch and serenaded the neighbors. “They learned teamwork, collaboration, and how to listen to other people,” she says of her kids. “It’s been central to their development as human beings.”
Why chamber music at the Kingston Chamber Music Festival?
The quality of the performances is, in a word, excellence defined.
“I came upon KCMF after attending many other festivals,” says Vera Wilson. “What captivated me right away was the beauty of the music making, its gorgeous sound and the repertoire – they were of a quality that filled my senses and my soul. I have been back ever since.”
“It brings the community together in an intimate setting to hear musicians up close and personal,” adds Eve Sadd.
When Shaughn Robinson first attending a KCMF concert with his wife, he thought: “Look at this wonderful gem of music we found!” His enthusiasm was echoed by other board members. “I’ve attended every KCMF festival,” says Larry Grebstein. “I’ve always thought it was the biggest bargain in the world.”