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Chamber ensemble sparks musical collaboration

February 15, 2019

Ann Basu
HARMONY & EUPHONY: The chamber ensemble program, offered by the Department of Music, is highly student-driven and sparks creative collaboration in an intimate setting different from most academic classes. From left to right, Kookie McNerney, Ben Bousquet ’20, David Morrison ’19 and Ethan Hill ’21.

The “quad squad” may sound like an unusual moniker for a music group, but this is far from the only surprise offered by the Bowdoin’s Department of Music’s chamber ensemble program.

Each semester, dozens partake in a variety of independent, student-driven chamber groups. Although participants work with an instructor, they are responsible for holding independent practices each week and curating the selection of pieces they rehearse and ultimately perform in concerts throughout the semester.

Students have rare autonomy even in terms of grades; they can participate in chamber ensemble for academic credit or as an extracurricular. This format, not found elsewhere on Bowdoin’s campus, has opened the program up to an average of roughly 20 to 25 students in a given semester over recent years.

Another unique aspect of the program lies in existing combinations of musical interests and abilities. From brass and woodwind to string groups, students of all backgrounds and academic interests are brought together by their love of music.

Robert Beckwith Artist-in-Residence and Director of the Bowdoin Orchestra George Lopez is responsible for forming each group and matching them with a coach. He looks carefully for musical compatibility and personality.

“During the audition process, I ask them what they are accustomed to, what they are looking for in an instructor,” Lopez said. “All of our coaches are highly experienced, but they have different personalities, so I try to match the personality of the coach as well as the instrument type.”

Selection of repertoire also comes into play in the beginning stages of each ensemble group.

“I have to know the repertoire to some degree or be able to find access to the information through coaches who have a wealth knowledge of [the instruments] their students play,” said Lopez. “We really work hard to find a piece that motivates [students] and gets them excited.”

A crowd of diverse yet passionate performers comprise the groups. Jenny Wang ’22 participated in chamber ensemble at her high school and already had an idea of how each group at Bowdoin would operate before she arrived.

“I’ve played the piano for more than 10 years now. So it’s something that I didn’t want to just give up in college,” said Wang.

An experienced soloist, Wang is surprised by the dynamic musical experience that chamber ensemble provides.

“Doing chambers is more like a collaboration—you’re trying to find a harmony or euphony between different instruments,” she said. “There’s definitely more communication between different musicians … and that’s just something that you can never find when you’re playing solo.”

Ethan Hill ’21 likewise noted the sense of community that comes with the chamber ensemble program—the origin behind the group’s intriguing nomenclature.

“It’s kind of like we’re our own little sort of Friendship Circle. You know, through the process of working together, there’s definitely a bond that we kind of get,” he said. “Last year, we called ourselves the ‘quad squad.’”

Wang, Hill and others in the chamber ensemble program have extensive playing experience; however, Lopez is hoping to expand the program to students with beginner abilities in the future. There is also a new initiative to open up community spaces in Brunswick for student performances.

Later this semester, there will be two major platforms on which chamber ensembles will perform. Common Hour performances are reserved for more advanced groups, usually string and woodwind, and take place once a month in Studzinski Recital Hall. The major performance of the year is the Chamberfest concert, which takes place on May 9.


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