Celebrating 30 Years of Chamber Music
Auditorium Chamber Music Series brings intimate, classical style of performance to UI and beyond.
An auditorium full of fifth-graders at the University of Idaho is creating a new march.
One-two. One-two. Push that beat. Push that beat. One-two. Push that beat. The children clap along with the rhythmic chant while members of the New York-based chamber ensemble Deviant Septet create the music.
Learning the basics of marches was just part of the lesson for the concert hall full of elementary school children from around Moscow and the Palouse. The annual fifth-grade concert, held each fall, is part of the outreach mission of UI’s Auditorium Chamber Music Series. The series, which is celebrating its 30th season, has come a long way since founding director Mary DuPree first brought chamber music to UI’s Moscow campus in the 1980s.
After three decades of labor and love, this also is DuPree’s final season as director of the series.
Three Decades of Musical History
Housed in the Lionel Hampton School of Music in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the Auditorium Chamber Music Series (ACMS) has been introducing area school children, college students and the public to chamber music since 1986.
At the time, DuPree — now an emerita professor of music history and musicology — was teaching music students at UI about medieval and Renaissance music.
“I wanted my students to have the experience of seeing live performances of ‘early music,’” DuPree said. She found a few regional groups performing that style and brought them to campus. Within a few years, the performances had grown in popularity. It’s now a five-concert series that includes all forms of chamber music, from the early style to more contemporary varieties, spanning classical to modern to world music.
Chamber music is a small number of instruments or voices, typically one person on each part. Each of the musicians is equally responsible for his or her part and making the whole group coalesce as an ensemble. The ensembles were created for small spaces — such as private chambers, where the groups originally played for nobility. UI’s Administration Building Auditorium offers beautiful acoustics, allowing for an intimate experience with the audience.
“You get to watch the process of communication among the musicians. They communicate with their eyes and gestures,” DuPree said. “It’s beautiful to hear, but it’s also wonderful to watch. You really feel that you’re part of the experience.”
The intimacy is one of the things that DuPree loves about chamber music. For the past two years, she has co-directed the series with Leonard Garrison, associate professor of flute. Garrison has been on the ACMS advisory board for several years and is taking over as director after the 2016-17 series.
Garrison was first introduced to chamber music as a child at the Red Lodge Music Festival near his home in Billings, Montana. He began playing it at an early age and has performed in several chamber groups.
“I think it’s the highest form of our art,” Garrison said. “It’s so intimate. Composers can share their deepest thoughts through chamber music.”
Chamber groups have no director and no amplification. The groups typically interact with the audience, sharing stories of their instruments and music. After each Auditorium Series concert, the audience has the opportunity to meet the musicians, and once each season ACMS major donors are invited to a special performance, which offers an even more intimate feeling.
Concerts of chamber music attract a different type of audience than typically attend larger symphony or jazz concerts, Garrison said. UI’s students and the Moscow community also are very supportive of the series, which draws attendees from around Latah and Whitman counties.
Attracting New Audiences
It used to be common for universities to have a chamber music concert series, Garrison said, but UI’s now is one of the few remaining in the region. That staying power and reputation helps the ACMS attract up-and-coming artists who are looking to establish themselves.
“The secret to our staying power is the balance between university and community support,” Garrison said.
The 10-member advisory board helps organize the various ACMS events throughout the season, with each board member taking on a different project, DuPree said. The biggest challenge facing the ACMS — as with all forms of classical music — is reaching a younger audience.
The visiting artists feel that same pressure, DuPree said, and are eager to engage with the community. Each of the chamber groups that visit UI performs some sort of outreach, including teaching master classes to UI music students and performing community concerts. Each year, the ACMS reaches more than 1,000 people through outreach, Garrison said.
“Almost all of the groups these days are trained to get out into the community and develop younger and new audiences,” DuPree said. “Almost all these musicians feel it’s a critical mission of theirs to engage people in the community that haven’t come to concerts before.”
In January 2017, the Chiara String Quartet will spend a week in residence at UI, teaching students as well as performing a free concert for preschoolers at the 1912 Center and coaching the Palouse Chamber Music Workshop for teenagers. The string quartet has visited UI before and is popular because its musicians play from memory.
“The result is that you have four people on stage, and they aren’t focused on music stands,” Garrison said. “It’s this wonderful conversation with the audience because they don’t have anything between them.”
Funding for the Future
To celebrate its 30th season, this year the ACMS is holding a fundraising drive to grow its endowment and build a financial cushion for the series. The advisory board has pledged $30,000 in matching funds for the drive.
“Increasing the endowment will stabilize the series for the future so that we don’t have to rely so much on the sources of income that we have now,” Garrison said.
In addition to the endowment, the series is funded through student fees, in-kind support from UI for facility fees, grants and private donations. The strong outreach component — like the fifth-grade concert held each fall — helps ACMS be successful with grant applications.
Strengthening the endowment will allow the ACMS to focus on its core mission, DuPree said: Beautiful concerts and musical outreach.
“I just hope that it will continue to serve the aesthetics needs of people who love this kind of music and fulfill the educational needs of students,” DuPree said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for them to attend the concerts and see the level of performance that they are aspiring to.”
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing