DePaul University

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NouLou Chamber Players: Reviving the Intimate Chamber Music Experience


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By Cecilia Huerta-Lauf and Laura De St. Croix

Who we are:

In 2015, cellist Cecilia Huerta-Lauf and violist Laura De St. Croix moved to Louisville, Kentucky. We quickly formed a friendship by bonding over our love of chamber music. Because of this passion, we held informal sight-reading parties with other musical colleagues. It became clear that we all wanted an excuse to perform more chamber music together and felt a desire to enrich the Louisville community through this outlet. Thus, NouLou Chamber Players was born. The name comes from a blending of the ideas ‘NuLu’ (a newly revitalized cultural hotspot in downtown Louisville) and the French word ‘nouveau.’

 

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A painting of a “Schubertiade,” from which NouLou Chamber Players seeks inspiration.

Looking back at the the roots of chamber music:

As the ensemble began to take shape, the first question we asked ourselves was ‘where would we perform?’ We took inspiration from the roots of chamber music concert venues. In the early classical period, performing chamber music was reserved for amateurs of the cultural elite, confined to small rooms and private residences. In the 19th century, chamber music flourished, and it became fashionable for audiences to attend these social, musical events. The houses in which these chamber music concerts took place were often lavish and ornate. During Schubert’s lifetime, his events were affectionately called “Schubertiades,” which included poetry readings, dancing and other social activities. Chamber music originated in an intimate setting where both performer and audience could interact closely together. NouLou Chamber Players is determined to share this special experience with Louisville.

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The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum (left), and parlor (right), which was designed for social & musical gatherings. 

Partnering with the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, Sponsors & the Louisville Community:

In the spirit of bringing the idea of intimate chamber music experiences to life, we created a partnership with the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum. Located on St. James Court in the heart of Old Louisville, it is one of the finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the city. Completed in 1895, this masterpiece was often the site of dances, musical performances and lively entertainment during the Edwardian age. The executive director, Kate Meador, has been a wonderful collaborator, as she too believes in reviving chamber music concerts in this beautiful, historic house. Meetings were spent discussing every detail from the arrangement of chairs to choosing which linens and dishes to use for the receptions. The docents have also been supportive and helpful, acting as ushers and showing the patrons the house.

In order to fund a reception, we approached sponsors such as The Fresh Market and Whole Foods Market, who have been generous in donating delicious snacks and sweets for our events. Additionally, we are grateful to Bottled, a locally owned liquor store in Old Louisville, for providing wine and champagne for our patrons.

But most importantly, NouLou Chamber Players have been very fortunate to exist among a community that cares so deeply about the arts and chamber music. The people of Louisville are highly supportive of ensembles like us who find new ways to enrich arts and culture. It is a wonderful time to be living in Louisville!

 

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NouLou Chamber Players performing the Mozart Horn Quintet in order to celebrate Mozart’s Birthday Bash

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Musicians and audience members mingling and admiring the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum together at the pre-concert reception.

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NouLou violinist Robert Simonds (with pianist Andrew Fleischman) describing what he loves about the Mozart E Minor Sonata

Premiere concert: Mozart’s Birthday Bash!

For our premiere concert in January 2016, we felt there was no better way to begin than with a celebration of Mozart’s 260th birthday. Our ensemble at the time included 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, french horn, clarinet and piano. The musicians discussed which unique combinations of Mozart’s works we could perform and decided on the following: a sonata for piano and violin; trio for piano, clarinet and viola; arias arranged for two celli; and the horn quintet.

In order to create a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere in which musicians could engage more with the audience, we experimented with and encouraged a variety of ideas:

-Start the reception before the concert so that the audience could socialize with the performers beforehand and explore the house. They could also take their time to choose where they would sit in the parlor during the performance.

-The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum executive director and NouLou founders double as hosts and emcees to maintain flow between each piece and engage with the audience.

-Have at least one representative musician from each group say something that they found fascinating about Mozart and/or the piece they were performing.

-For the cello duet arias, we played a “name that tune” game where the audience was prompted to guess from which opera each aria belonged. The prizes were Mozartkugel, Austrian chocolate bonbons named after Mozart!

-Hold a raffle for prizes donated by the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum before the last piece on the program.

Overall, the evening was a big hit and we had a packed house!

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Starting “Eine Kleine Hausmusik” with a Haydn Divertimento for horn, violin, and cello
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Performing a Beethoven Serenade for flute, violin, and viola; view from the library

 

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NouLou Chamber Players rocking out with Dohnanyi Serenade in Haskins Hall

Our Latest Concert: Eine Kleine Hausmusik

At our latest concert, we decided on a broader themeMusic of Central Europewhich included repertoire that some of us had been working on already and new selections that fit our instrumentation and theme. We added three more players to our ensemble; a flutist, bassoonist, and another violinist.

This time, we wanted to explore different rooms of the house and have the audience surround the musicians. We started the program with a Haydn divertimento and a Beethoven serenade in the main entryway so that the audience could observe from three different rooms. Then, we moved into the parlor for selections from Bruch’s Eight Pieces. At this point, there was a brief intermission so that patrons and musicians could stretch their legs and enjoy more reception treats in the dining room. Next, we moved into Haskins Hall where we finished our program with a Rossini woodwind quartet and the Dohnányi Serenade for String Trio. The audience loved the concert and showed appreciation by clapping in between movements (and also at the end).

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NouLou Chamber Players celebrating after finishing our premiere concert

Looking to the Future and Some Lessons Along the Way:

While NouLou is committed to bringing back the intimacy of chamber music in house settings, we are also interested in performing out in the community. We will be playing at Old Louisville Live, a summer series at Central Park on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, September 4, 2016. As we are still learning how to make NouLou even more accessible to the community, here are some lessons we have taken away from our experiences:

-Always ask “I wonder what would happen if…” for any idea you may have.

-Don’t be afraid to approach potential partners and sponsors. It never hurts to ask, and even if they are unable to collaborate with you, you may have a potential new friend for the future. Besides, the worst answer is only “no”.

-You don’t have to break the bank on marketing. There are many free or reasonably priced resources that you can use to help create professional designs (we have used Canva and MailChimp). Social media is a great tool, although the best advertisement of all is word of mouth!

-If you are pursuing a project that you are passionate about, doors can open where you least expect them.

-Every musician, business partner, and audience member is a part of your project. Take the time to listen to feedback and gather new ideas. It is not just your ensemble; it is the community’s.

-If you are having a winter concert, it is a good idea for everyone involved to agree on a back-up date for inclement weather beforehand and make that policy clear on your website. This was a huge lifesaver for us because we had to reschedule our Friday night concert in January to the following Thursday. The transition would not have worked out smoothly if we had not agreed on this prior to the concert date.

NouLou Chamber Players strives to find meaningful connection with our audiences. We believe in revitalizing musical and cultural traditions of the past and making them exciting and relevant in our Louisville community!

 

Copy of Huerta Bio Pic (HMI Photo)Cecilia Huerta-Lauf is a cellist and co-founder of NouLou Chamber Players. Currently residing in the Louisville area, she freelances in Kentucky as a performer and teacher including substituting in the Louisville Orchestra & Louisville Ballet in addition to serving on the board and executive committee of the Chamber Music Society of Louisville. Her studies have included pre-college at Vanderbilt University, B.M. DePaul University, M.M. New England Conservatory, and D.M.A. University of Miami.

Copy of Laura-7962Laura De St. Croix is a violist and co-founder of NouLou Chamber Players. Laura resides in Louisville, KY, but is an active freelancer across Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Recent appearances include the Louisville Ballet and Louisville Master Chorale as principal viola, and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Kentucky, & Lexington Philharmonic as a substitute. She received a B.M. from Texas Tech University, M.M. from University of Minnesota, and D.M.A (ABD) from University of Minnesota.

Pedagogy

When Practicing Goes Off the Rails


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By Jason Heath

Everyone has a bad week of practicing now and then. I’m certainly no exception!

This happened once every few weeks for me in college. Maybe I had a big project. Maybe I was doing a lot of traveling. Whatever the circumstances, life got in the way, and suddenly I found myself realizing that I haven’t actually done a thing since last week’s lesson.

As a student, what should I do in this situation?  De-rail the lesson with conversation?  Fake it and brace myself for the same old comments when I can’t play anything?  Just admit that I had a bad week?

It must have been just as obvious to my teachers when I didn’t practice as it is to me with my own students now.

The problem was that now they were stuck with me for the next hour.

Handling a Bad Week of Practicing

Now that I am a teacher, I see things from a different perspective. Early on in my teaching career, I used to get visibly mad when my students didn’t practice. That sometimes produced results, but down deep it just didn’t sit right with me, and as I got older I learned other mechanisms that worked more effectively for me.

These days, my new mantra is “how can I help?”  After all, this person is paying me for my expertise, whether directly out of their pocket in private situations or through their student loans in a college setting.

Do I wish that they had practiced? Of course, and if it becomes habitual then we have a serious conversation and I try to help.

Some of my colleagues make their non-practicing students practice in the studio on their own for most of the lesson. These colleagues will leave the room out to socialize, catch up on email, or check Facebook, and then come back for the last 10 minutes of the lesson to listen to what the student has now practiced.  While I understand this tactic (you’re wasting my time by not practicing, so you will now spend this lesson time practicing), I’ve never really been able to do that, at least not since my first few years teaching (when I was a little more of a hothead).

Tactics for Handling “Bad Practice Week” Lessons

These days, I find that I do one of three things with students when they don’t practice:

1. Practice with them – Maybe I’m a pushover, but if someone hasn’t been working, unless I am in a really foul mood I will switch hats and become their practicing coach, barking at them like a coach and doing with them what they should have been doing on their own that week.  Again, they’re paying me for this time, and I want to offer something of value.  While I’d certainly be able to offer more value if they had practiced, and least I can do some reps with instruction and help them to strengthen some elements of their playing.

2. Help them with practice strategies – A lot of people have no idea how to practice.  This is understandable.  Practicing effectively involves creative problem-solving skills and a great deal of thought and awareness.  It is actually a pretty sophisticated skill and takes time to develop.  When my students don’t practice and as a result I don’t have much new to offer them (yup, you still stink), this can be a worthwhile way to spend our time together.

3. Play amateur psychologist – Sometimes a student is having issues that transcend the practice room.  As I’ve gotten older and had more experience working with young people, I’ve become more confident in knowing when I can offer some “dad advice” and help them to work through things in their life.  I probably only fall into this role 5% of the time that I’m teaching bass lessons, but I’m ready and willing to be an amateur life coach with my students if that will help them.

After going at it both ways (yelling at them for not practicing versus using the aforementioned techniques), I’ve found that the latter leads to more consistent practicing and a stronger relationship with the student, which leads to more practicing… a healthy positive cycle for sure.

Final Thoughts

In an ideal world, all of my students would consistently practice three hours or more every day and follow to the letter every instruction of mine.  But… (shocker)….. this doesn’t always happen!  Choosing how to deal with the times that aren’t ideal will actually strengthen practice habits if approached correctly.

Jason Heath teaches double bass at DePaul University and hosts the podcast Contrabass Conversations (http://contrabassconversations.com), featuring interviews from principal bassists from major orchestras.