By Stephanie Price
The Chamber Music Connection (CMC), located in Worthington, Ohio, provides an environment where student musicians of all ages and levels of experience can study and perform chamber music. CMC is a non-profit, performance-based, and equal opportunity educational program, Founder and Artistic Director Deborah Barrett Price—better known to students and faculty as Debbie—has maintained a policy of “no audition required” since starting the program in 1992. Students who apply to CMC are primarily string, piano, and woodwind players, but CMC accepts all types of instrumentalists and vocalists. Ensembles are formed based on age, previous experience, and their potential to learn from—and inspire—one another. Students must collaborate to achieve their musical goals.
CMC has experienced gradual growth over its more than twenty-year history. In 1992, the organization started with just twenty students who came together for a two-week summer festival. In 1998, CMC became a yearlong program, finding a home base at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, Ohio. Currently, CMC typically supports 20-30 chamber ensembles (about 100 students in groups ranging from trios to octets), 5-7 chamber orchestras, semi-annual opera scenes, a thriving gig program, a revolutionary high school fellowship program, a jazz/alternative music seminar, and the iSTEM (improvisation, Solfège, Theory, Eurhythmics, and Movement) project. Along with our educational programs, CMC presents over thirty concerts a year.
Debbie also believes in collaborative teaching. Our associated faculty of over forty professional musicians includes community pedagogues, members of local professional orchestras, as well as professors from prestigious universities and conservatories throughout the state of Ohio. Debbie rotates coaches, giving each group at least two different faculty members to work with each semester. Students also receive coaching from visiting guest artists, who are often high-profile musicians in town to perform. Receiving feedback from a team of coaches and guest artists gives CMC students the opportunity to learn multiple interpretations and enables each group’s unique creative process.
Connection: The Philosophy of CMC
The philosophy that led Debbie to create CMC is based on the idea that chamber music is an ideal art form for promoting personal as well as musical growth and development. “I wanted the educational focus to remain primarily rooted to the art of chamber music,” she writes. “I found [that] this is where students and [the] program benefit the most and that our passion for chamber music would translate into future generations and [the] current generation, engaging in an art form together. Crossing the boundaries of generation.”
Chamber music empowers students’ solo and orchestral playing, because they learn how to become supporters and leaders in a democratic society through the art of chamber music—and not to simply follow the musical opinions of a conductor or teacher. This approach encourages our students to take the skills they have learned at CMC into their day-to-day lives. At CMC, music and people connect, hence the organization’s name: The Chamber Music Connection.
The Conservatory Series
One of CMC’s most powerful means of connection is the Conservatory Series. Debbie created the Conservatory Series in 2004 to connect students and professionals not only in education, but also in performance. She had noticed that there was a large disconnect between students watching professionals perform and professionals watching students perform. Where was the crossover, she thought? Debbie knew that visual artists went through apprenticeships to study side-by-side with their mentors, but when did you ever see a middle school or high school student rehearse and play side-by-side with a professional musician?
The first Conservatory Series concert took place in Kilbourne Hall at St. John’s Episcopal Church in 2004. CMC alumni and professionals performed a variety of works including my CMC quartet at the time—we played Dvořák’s “American” quartet—when I was just 14 years old. I’m positive that the type of preparation my quartet and I worked on for that concert jump-started my excitement for playing chamber music past the “student” level. I started to search for more in the music during rehearsals and aimed more for technical perfection, as if I was going to perform the piece within the next hour rather than thinking I still had time to figure it out later. I started problem solving like a professional chamber musician.
The inspiration, however, goes both ways. “The Conservatory Series was also intended to reignite teachers [and remind them] why we chose this profession in the first place,” says Debbie. “The enthusiasm, excitement, and energy of the students in rehearsal, coaching, and the performance is infectious and equally inspirational to the professionals.” The group of professionals participating in the Conservatory Series soon came to include professional touring groups.
Debbie realized that if the side-by-side concerts were extended to include such professional groups, “our students [would receive] a unique opportunity to work with chamber musicians whose primary focus is performing chamber music on tour.” Since 1998, Debbie had wanted to connect with the local presenter Chamber Music Columbus (CMColumbus), which routinely brought world-famous chamber musicians to town. After many board meetings and discussions, CMColumbus came up with a budget to provide support for master classes to be given at CMC by their touring artists. Eventually the idea of engaging one of these visiting quartets to the Conservatory Series residency was accepted. Today, the majority of side-by-side residences are made possible by the support of CMColumbus. Their outreach and educational support these past nine years have played a key role in connecting CMC students with phenomenal chamber musicians from outside the Ohio region.
Performing Side-by-Side: The Conservatory Series in Action
The first official CMC side-by-side residency in collaboration with CMColumbus took place in 2006 with the Cypress String Quartet. Debbie with CMColumbus arranged for the artists to come in for a four day residency, which included rehearsals, master classes, and a performance with the CMC students.
Many of the professional artists that have participated in the Conservatory Series have told us that this was the first time they had experienced a collaboration of this nature. The artists are continually impressed by the professionalism exhibited by such young students, noting that it prompts them to think creatively about how they approach rehearsal time. The program has been so successful that several of the professional artists have returned for an additional visit to coach and/or perform with our students at CMC.
CMC Side-by-Side Residencies
2006: Cypress String Quartet*
2006 – present: Annual CMC Spring Festival, Cavani String Quartet*
2008: Claremont Trio*
2010: Claremont Trio
* = Residencies supported by CMColumbus
Each professional ensemble participating in a side-by-side residency with CMC has a weekend schedule that looks similar to this:
Guest Ensemble arrives
- 4:30 – 9:00pm (dinner included) Rehearsal with Guest Ensemble and CMC’s Conservatory Chamber Orchestra or ensemble
- 1:00pm arrival, 1:30pm outreach performance at the Ohio State School of the Blind, featuring Guest Ensemble with the CMC Conservatory Chamber Orchestra or ensemble
- 4:00-7:30pm Master classes given by Guest Ensemble at CMC for all ensembles
- 8:00-9:00pm Rehearsal with Guest Ensemble and the CMC Conservatory Chamber Orchestra or ensemble
Saturday and/or Sunday:
- 12:00 – 1:30pm Rehearsal CMC Conservatory Chamber Orchestra or ensemble
- 2:00pm Sound Check at Performance Venue with Guest Ensemble and CMC Conservatory Chamber Orchestra or ensemble
- 2:30pm Pre-concert talk given by CMC Fellowship Students and Guest Ensemble
- 3:00pm Conservatory Series Concert
What CMC Students Say
The most recent side-by-side residencies at CMC have included the Jupiter and Calidore String Quartets. Bringing in the Calidore Quartet was a special opportunity, as one of its members, Jeffrey Myers, is a CMC alumnus. This side-by-side was a very special occasion not only for connecting with alumni, but also for supporting an up-and-coming, powerhouse quartet.
The feedback of CMC students who participated in these residencies shows just how much these opportunities mean to them:
“It was a really amazing experience to play alongside with this incredible string quartet [the Jupiter Quartet] and have them treat us like equals.”
—CMC violin student, 15 years old
“…having section rehearsals and talking to the artist individually at the dinner was interesting and fun. I felt like almost all of the chamber music skills that the Jupiter String Quartet wanted us to do or fix was taught at CMC before, so that was helpful. And it was really cool performing at the Southern Theater.”
—CMC flute student, 16 years old
“CMC brings in so many great groups, but Jupiter is one of my favorites because they really became kids again and just had lots of fun with us.”
—CMC cello student, 14 years old
“The Calidore Quartet was inspiring to work with. They brought a lot of really positive energy to the challenging pieces we played. Their intricate knowledge of the score, as well as the styles of the pieces helped a lot in playing as an ensemble, as well as being true to interpretation. They may be the best quartet I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. ” —CMC violin student, 18 years old
“Seeing [the Calidore Quartet] perform was inspirational and their rendition of the Ravel String Quartet brought me to tears. Rehearsing and then performing with them reminded me why I love chamber music so much. Their kindness towards the students and passion for the music made the whole experience one of the best I’ve had at CMC.” —CMC violin student, 17 years old
“The residency was absolutely unique. I learned so much about musical and verbal communication. I learned how to give and take constructive criticism within my own quintet by learning that any comments said are not personal, but rather said out of mutual respect for each other as musicians (which is very easy to forget sometimes).” —CMC violin student, first residency experience, 17 years old
The side-by-side residencies at CMC have been a huge success, not only in exposing our students’ ears to a professional sound, but also in teaching them about the life of a professional chamber musician. Though the side-by-sides directly focus on CMC’s advanced students, the residencies also provide inspiration to our younger students through master classes. The beginning and intermediate students always look up to the older, more experienced students at CMC. The Conservatory Series sets a level of musicianship that our younger students strive to be a part of someday and continues to push our current advanced students.
CMC is a one-of-a-kind program, and we strive to continue its uniqueness. For more information about how to connect with CMC, or to learn more about our upcoming concerts and educational programs, please visit www.cmconnection.org or our Facebook page TheCMConnection.