By Sarah Freiberg | From the March-April 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Summer chamber-music programs abound for adult amateurs looking to hone their chops, expand their musical horizons, or just have fun. Here are four camps that do just that.
The Adult Chamber Music Institute (ACMI) at Kneisel Hall (August 16–23, 2022) is, says director Scott Woolweaver, “a week-long camp for passionate amateur string players and pianists.” It follows a summer young-artists chamber-music program, and some of the young artists stay on for ACMI. Nestled in the woods in the scenic coastal Maine town of Blue Hill, ACMI participants rehearse and receive coaching each morning on a preselected work, with the goal of presenting at least one movement of it for the “Final Play-Through” on the last day of the session. The rest of the days are filled with assigned and optional sight-reading sessions, master classes and recitals by faculty and guests, as well as evening read-throughs of chamber orchestra works.
Dormitory housing (shared bathrooms) and three meals daily are available on campus, and there are many off-campus room-and-board options available. Participant Celia Raia mentions that, “the overall campus is relatively small, with the dorms, dining hall, concert hall, and large studios all in a fairly compact grouping. Individual and small group practice studios are cabins in the woods—quite pretty. Participants can assemble their own sight-reading ensembles for the free time or go play tourist. A great many people come back year after year. The food is excellent, and dinner is usually preceded by a ‘cocktail hour,’ and it’s not a high-pressure atmosphere.”
There are no auditions, but applicants will be asked to discuss their musical experience to be fit into appropriate groups. Current ACMI faculty includes Scott Woolweaver (viola, director), Georgy Valtchev (violin), Jan Pfeiffer-Rios (cello), and Lora Tchekoratova (piano).
For an immersion in music from earlier eras, consider the Central Program at the Amherst Early Music Festival (August 7–14, 2022), which will be held this year on the campus of the suburban Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, about 90 minutes from New York City and Philadelphia. Participants will be housed in air-conditioned dorm rooms equipped with micro fridges and microwaves, with a dining hall in the dorm complex. Amateur string players can expect morning master classes on their instrument (shared with students from the auditioned Baroque Academy), early afternoon offerings of 17th-century string band music followed by Baroque ensemble coaching, and an orchestra of winds and strings. Evenings are filled with lectures, concerts (often preceded by madrigal singing), drop-in sessions, and a Baroque opera performance.
According to executive director Marilyn Boenau, there is nothing quite like it: “To be in the midst of this whole world of early music—seeing dance, often doing English country dancing, hearing Baroque opera, playing with like-minded people—it’s an amazing experience.” Students can play on modern or Baroque instruments, though there may be Baroque bows or a gut string to experiment with during the session. Most ensembles will be at 415 pitch, rather than the modern 440. There are also classes in beginning viola da gamba, Baroque dance, and singing in a vocal ensemble. While there are no auditions for the Central Program, participants will be asked about their background and current musical activities. There is ample opportunity for after-hours playing. Participants come from all over—and return year after year.
The SoCal Chamber Music Workshop (SCCMW) (July 24–30, 2022) is a weeklong camp for adult amateur and professional chamber musicians (strings, winds, and piano) age 18 and above, on the beautiful campus of Scripps College in Claremont, California, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. In existence for over 40 years, the workshop is entirely volunteer-run. This year, pre-formed groups are encouraged, although individuals may also apply. New applicants will need to send in a recording—and talk about their chamber-music experience as well. President Ingrid Burger, a violinist, explains that the program “is looking for folks who have some chamber-music experience and can sight-read. The tone for the week is ‘joyful stringing—working hard, growing, trying, but joyful.’”
Morning and afternoon sessions consist of working on a movement both as a group and with a coach. In the mid-afternoon, there are mini–master classes, where a few groups play for each other and get feedback from a different coach. Each summer, there is a resident professional string quartet—in 2022, there will be two: the Telegraph Quartet and the Catalyst Quartet. There are evening mix-and-match groups, including with the professional players. Says Burger, “You can play piano trios—but also the Mendelssohn octet. All meals are communal: catch up with old friends or meet new players.” SCCMW uses the wonderful campus chamber-music library. This year the workshop features women composers—there is a link to some of these works on the website. Violinist and secretary Carol Osborne mentions, “I love going back—it helps my chamber playing every year. Besides, the weather is wonderful, the landscaping is gorgeous, and the food is great.”
Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp (August 7–14, 2022) is a program for students aged 4–94, from beginners to professionals, set in the stunning Rocky Mountains of Colorado, two hours from Denver. It features many styles of fiddle playing, including Cape Breton, Irish, Scottish, bluegrass, swing, Klezmer, and old time, and, as the website proclaims: “It’s not just for fiddlers!” Instruction is also offered on cello, bass, mandolin, guitar, piano, and hammered dulcimer. Fiddles and cellos are available for rent by request. Founded by director Mark Luther in 1999, the camp is family run by Mark and his two fiddle-playing children, Cosima and Christopher, and features daily classes, concerts, and dances.
As Chris puts it: “Our secret sauce is the variety of styles and instruments we offer for classes, and the community we build. If someone wants to take guitar for the first time along with advanced fiddle along with a casual singing and dancing class, they can totally do that!” Campers may take up to six classes per day, though the staff suggests settling on the same three to four classes each day to get the most out of the program. Days run from 8:45 am to 5:00 pm, with organized jams, concerts, and dance in the evenings.
Accommodations through the Golden Bell Camp mountain resort include hotel-style rooms with capacity for six in the main lodge, larger sleeping rooms with five bunk beds to a room, as well as options for tents, campers, and RVs. Parties of three or fewer may request a private room for an additional fee. Chris Luther says, “We may only see each other at RMFC, but it feels like a family reunion when it begins every year—we’re just one big family. No-stress, but stimulating workshops during the day and concerts every night with world-class artists, with a dance, and great food. There’s so much to love!”