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The Making of a Musician

If you have read the posting by Allyson Dawkins, our Outreach and Education Chair, you already know we sponsor Monday concerts and classes at local schools; I know she has written about our last venture which was very successful, but I’d like to tell you my impression of the magic that happened in the school gym.

This elementary school accepts children who may require some help in addition to the regular standard curriculum. The Ariel String Quartet members (two violinists, a violist and a cellist) had performed a magnificent concert the day before, and they were ready, willing and most able to take on an audience that ranged in age from 7 to 10.  It was quite a cold morning, this Veterans’ Day, and the children were bundled up as they filed in from the playground where there had been a special commemoration to mark the day.  They were arranged by their teachers in rows, seated on the floor, and there was a hush of anticipation as the musicians tuned their instruments.

As they began to play, I surveyed the audience – fully expecting to see someone pinching a neighbor or whispering secrets, but they were quiet.  Then I noticed a young man in the first row.  His elbow rested on his knee and his chin rested on his hand as he leaned slightly forward.  He never moved.  I’m not sure he even blinked his eyes.  He was, to me, the Norman Rockwell personification of a boy who was completely caught in the gold and silver threads of the music.  I thought, as I watched him, so rapt, so attentive, “This is how musicians are made.”

I thought, as I watched him, so rapt, so attentive,
“This is how musicians are made.”

There were another two grades of young children who were ushered in by their teachers, and this group included a little bespectacled boy who sat by the door and commenced a Classic Meltdown.  He wept, he hollered, he banged his heels on the floor.  As the musicians began their concert, he became quiet and, after a while, I noticed he had crept closer to the main group, moving stealthily on hands and knees until he reached a few feet from the last row of children.  There he sat and, was he listening?  I couldn’t say for sure, but his head moved back and forth in time to the rhythm of the music.  Something had gotten through to this little fellow and I wished his parents could see the transformation that the music, classical music, had wrought.

I think we all know the magic of music:  how it makes us forget the every day, how it can ease worries and smooth the brows.  And how it can affect even rambunctious little boys, at least for a little while.  These two may never pick up a violin or write a score, but they may be future members of our audiences.  Like you and me.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all, and be sure to mark January 26 on your new 2020 calendar.  That’s the date of our next concert, the Akropolis Reed Quintet.

– E Doyle

Ariel Quartet Outreach Event

Ariel Quartet Outreach at Lamar Elementary School on November 11, 2019

Kudos to SACMS board member, Paul Giolma, for having us invited to present an educational outreach for very young listeners at Lamar Elementary.  Lamar is situated on one of the streets that defines the border of Mahncke Park just off Broadway.  We were greeted at the entrance by a magnificent and huge oak tree estimated to be 150 years old.  As we made our way to the gymnasium, we passed by many more equally beautiful and old oak trees in the courtyard.  The gym, open, airy, and decorated in bright colors, was our concert hall for the two concerts.  The students sat happily on the floor and squeezed up close to be near the quartet members.   A wide age range attended – for the first concert, second and third graders, and for the second, fourth through sixth graders.

The musicians began by speaking in their native languages – Sasha Kazovsky in Russian; Amit Even-Tov in Hebrew; and Jan Grüning in German.  Of course, almost no one could understand what they were saying.  So then the concept of music as universal language was introduced.  Violinist Gershon Gerchikov explained the difference between the instruments that comprise a string quartet.  The group played movements from a Haydn Quartet and a Beethoven Quartet demonstrating moods ranging from happy to sad and from introverted to extroverted.

If you would like to support the Outreach events of the SACMS, please consider donating to the Mandel Trust for Education.

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Apollo’s Fire Outreach Event

Apollo’s Fire Outreach at The Towers on October 7, 2019

On October 7, rejuvenated by one of the first cool mornings of our south Texas autumn, residents of The Towers enjoyed a delightful private concert of baroque violin and traverso music. Violinist Olivier Brault and traverso (wooden flute) player Kathie Stewart delivered an intimate performance under the beautiful vaulted skylight in The Towers lobby.  We watched puffy white clouds go by while listening to music of Telemann and Bach. Both musicians explained how their instruments came to be developed and how they differ from their modern-day descendants. Each musician performed a solo work displaying characteristics of the baroque period specific to their instrument. They followed up by playing several movements from a Telemann duet.

Olivier appears to be living stylishly with one foot in an earlier century.  He sports a long ponytail tied with a black ribbon and Benjamin Franklin style glasses. He also wore an old-fashioned vest accented with a gold watch chain dangling from the pocket.  He is the very embodiment of a baroque musician!

We are pleased to be able to present Outreach Events around our community. If you would like to support this activity, please consider making a gift to the Mandel Outreach Perpetual Trust.  

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Wu Han Outreach Event

Wu-Han at St. Mary’s Hall on April 28, 2019

Following the Han-Setzer-Finckel Trio concert on Sunday April 28, pianist Wu Han gave a beautiful Outreach Concert at St. Mary’s Hall for around 250 students aged 14-17, faculty, and a handful of Chamber Music Society board members. Chaplain Cameron Gunnin set the scene beautifully with a vivid description of Wu Han that captured her multi-faceted career in a compelling way. The students were incredibly well-behaved, attentive, and respectful. It was obvious that they are well-shepherded by Chaplain Gunnin and the faculty at St. Mary’s Hall.

Wu Han talked about her life growing up in Taiwan and attending a private Catholic school where she had a rigorous training and education. She also described with infectious enthusiasm her many jobs ranging from performer, to arts administrator, to fund raiser, to educator. She played several works by Spanish composers Albéniz and Granados that she had recently performed on tour in Spain.

During the Q&A portion of the concert one young man asked Wu Han if she knew any music by French composer Erik Satie. She replied no, but that she had recently recorded the Faure Piano Quartets and advised that he should listen to them. She told the student that if he would give her his address, she would mail him a copy of the CD when it is released. Sure enough, I saw him up on stage after the concert exchanging addresses with her. She told me later that he had told her that listening to classical music relaxed him and allowed him to do better in basketball games!

Throughout the Q&A Wu Han’s answers to the students’ questions were global in scope and had applications for skills in lifemanship.  Wu Han and her trio are amazing ambassadors for musicians in modern society.  It is obvious by the way the trio embraced every aspect of their visit here – from Wu Han’s brilliant introduction to the Sunday concert, to the beautiful expression of the playing, to the warm interaction with audience members after the concert – that they embrace a life dedicated to the celebration and nurturing support  of live music performance.   

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Eighth Blackbird Outreach Event

Eighth Blackbird Outreach at Morningside Manor Assisted Living on March 11, 2019

On March 11 Eighth Blackbird shared their talent with a segment of the population that is too often forgotten.  They played for an hour in the Morningside Manor assisted living unit.  Their pieces were thoughtfully chosen and warmly introduced to the quiet audience of elderly people who mostly arrived by wheelchair.

The program was completely different from the music performed by the group on Sunday here in the Temple.  We had the chance to hear a compelling work by Eighth Blackbird flutist Nathalie Joachim, from her piece “Fanm d’Aviti” (Women of Haiti).  Etude No. 12, a minimalist piece by the revered American composer Philip Glass, was soothingly played by pianist, Lisa Kaplan.  Violinist Yvonne Lam gave a riveting performance of a solo work for violin – “Dissolve, O My Heart” by Missy Mazzoli.  The group ended with “The Days Run Away” by Peter Garland, a piece for all the instruments that brought the program to a calming end.

It is difficult to witness a program in an assisted living environment without feeling very much humbled by the power of music to heal and soothe.  We are grateful to Eighth Blackbird for their loving kindness in presenting this concert.

Submitted by Allyson Dawkins

Cavatina Duo Outreach Event

Cavatina Duo Outreach at UTSA on January 26, 2019

The Cavatina Duo outreach took the form of two simultaneous masterclasses at the UTSA Department of Music on Saturday afternoon, January 26, 2019.

The flute masterclass conducted by flutist Eugenia Moliner began with group exercises for the ten students from the studio of UTSA flute professor Rita Linard.  She positioned them in a semi-circle and worked with them on the art of breathing- air flow and control. Rapport was quickly established between Eugenia and the students: she spoke to them in Spanish to help clarify certain points, after discovering that most of them spoke Spanish at home. Then individual students played their prepared solo pieces, after which Eugenia gave each one constructive critiques and helpful pointers on air support, rhythm, dynamics, and tone production. She also gave each student a “prescription” for fixing specific problems – exercises to handle technical challenges. She impressed on them that only 10% of the flute’s sound is produced by the instrument, the rest is coming from inside the performer’s body – the “sound box”. Seeing that many of the students were nervous about playing solo in front of the class, Eugenia told the students that they need to believe that the audience always wants the performer to do well – knowing that will help them relax and keep their anxiety under control.  After a brief Q & A session, Eugenia showed the students the score of Matt Dunne’s “Three Artisans” – a tour de force for flute, and demonstrated how she practiced it when she was learning the very difficult piece: using the same methods that she had taught them earlier.

The guitar masterclass had about twenty attendees, some of whom came from out-of-town. Guitarist Denis Azabagic worked with five students from the studio of Matt Dunne, director of the Guitar Program at UTSA. Similar to the format of the flute masterclass – each of these five students performed a solo piece and then had a discussion with Denis about the fine points of tone production, how to get different colors out of the instrument, phrasing, pacing,  and subtle variations in how the fingers can make contact with the strings. Denis had these one-on-one sessions videotaped on his cell phone, and each student was given a copy of his/her session to keep for future reference – all agreed that this was a great idea.  During the Q & A session, the class learned that technique is only important because it enables one to do the job of expressing fully what the music is saying, thus concentrating only on technique is not enough – one must understand the composer’s intent before starting a new piece.

Both Eugenia and Denis emphasized the paramount importance of listening: not just to music for one’s own instrument, but to all forms of music – instrumental, and vocal. Students were encouraged to attend as many concerts as they possibly can, and to never stop learning – “look to the masters for guidance and inspiration”. The masterclasses went on for almost three hours, and by the end there were only smiling faces.

Submitted by Pauline Glickman

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