|Musicians present the first Student Chamber Music Festival
April 21, 2007
Contact: Kate Minogue
Don Williams '08, bass
Musical collaboration is an important part of life for Davidsonians. Each semester, almost 200 students enjoy performing as part of large ensembles or as featured soloists. But Don Williams was looking for another musical avenue in between those two extremes. On Saturday, April 21, 2007, the first student chamber music concert took place in Tyler-Tallman Hall, the result of Williams’ initiative to increase interest in small-ensemble performance.
Williams, a math major of the Class of 2007, regularly performed chamber music at his high school, and also participated in master classes with highly respected ensembles such as the Frye Street Quartet. He now serves as principal contrabassist of the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra, and is also a member of the Jazz Ensemble. After three years of performing in Davidson’s Music Department, he felt comfortable enough with the faculty and other music students to try an experiment.
“I’ve always loved DCSO and Jazz Ensemble, but I missed playing in small groups,” said Williams, observing that chamber music is a unique way for performers to collaborate.
“Solo playing is internally driven. It’s up to you how you want to present the music; it’s a completely individualized approach.” Williams noted that Davidson offers lots of opportunities for students to perform as soloists, whether in studio recitals, senior recitals, Musical Interludes programs, or as featured soloists with the DCSO in the Concerto Concert.
“In a large group, like the orchestra, you’re pretty much following the conductor’s interpretation. Chamber music offers a little of both ways of playing: everyone has ideas, but no one person is in charge.” Williams describes chamber playing as a powerful experience, where small groups of players combine their understandings of the musical phrases, but rely on themselves to cover individual parts.
He had noticed that out of a large number of talented individual students, a few small ensembles had begun to perform together. The Aurora Trio, with Julie Grubbs ’08 on cello, Mejin Leechor ’08 on violin, and Emily Howe ’09 on piano, performed a recital last spring and another this year. In addition, the senior horn recital of Will Winter ’07 included a performance of one of Johannes Brahm’s trios, featuring Ryan Cockman ’10 on violin and Emily Howe on piano.
Williams had formed his own group, the Trout Quintet, and the idea for an all-student chamber music concert was born. Other students shared his enthusiasm, and he approached Music Professor Tara Chamra with the idea.
“The department has been totally behind the idea, but Don was really the one to get the ball rolling and put things together,” said Prof. Chamra, who directs the DCSO. “It’s been great to see students initiate this, especially since more than half of the performers aren’t majors.”
Rehearsing for the concert was an intense process, requiring individual preparation to develop confidence on independent parts. Frequent group rehearsals were also necessary, in order to develop unity as ensembles.
“Many of us were unfamiliar with chamber playing. We had to learn how to play as a holistic unit, and less individually,” said Williams. John Cloer, the Music Department’s adjunct instructor of cello, led several of the groups in coaching sessions. The sessions helped students learn to match the sounds of different instruments within ensembles so that the character of the melody was maintained as it was passed from person to person.
The rehearsal process also forged bonds between musicians. Prof. Chamra observed that the new trust students developed in each other was evident within the DCSO, as well.
“One of the nicest things for the faculty to observe has been the community of student musicians which this event has helped to establish. Many of the performers are also principal players in the DCSO, and have become better leaders through the experience.”
The concert on April 21 included performances by the Aurora Trio, the Brahms Trio, and the Concord Quartet, with Molly Barnes ’09 and Erica Cribbs ’09 on violin, Michael Spangler ’10 on viola, and Stephen Westerfield ’10 on cello; as well as the Trout Quintet, whose members include Williams on bass, Ryan Cockman on violin, Michael Spangler on viola, Stephen Westerfield on cello, and Emily Howe on piano.
Williams is hopeful that the Chamber Music Festival will become a yearly event, and expects students’ interests to grow.
“I’d like to explore interesting and odd combinations of instruments, maybe in a piece like Dvorak’s bass quartet. We’d like to turn heads with different types of music- we might even like to include to include a student composition from Dr. Stasack’s class. It’s really been a pleasure to hear the progress each group made… Only at Davidson would you find so many interested and enthusiastic people for an independent project like this.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by PResbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.