By Laurence Vittes | From the March-April 2023 issue of Strings magazine

As the pandemic has receded, there has been a surge of happy string-playing campers tuning up for the hundreds of available chamber-music camps and workshops. And while many are generally for students with professional aspirations, there is a growing number that welcomes amateur adults and some that are even for adults only. 

Experiences Vary

Stephanie Griffin, CEO of the Associated Chamber Music Players, an international network of amateurs and pros, describes a range of available offerings from intensive workshops “where you learn a lot of music really quickly” to longer-term ones “where you delve really deeply.” There are workshops that cater to advanced adult amateurs and others that are open to all levels.

Katherine Shields, founder of the Chaparral Chamber Music Workshop in Prescott, Arizona, explains the enthusiasm that surround these events. “It’s possible to get together with friends of different experience levels on different instruments and find pieces that work. There are Mozart quartets with challenging violin parts but more reasonable viola and cello parts. And if you have trouble finding a piece that works, find a composer and commission a piece! There’s also a whole new world of published music now for chamber groups in different styles. It’s not all Beethoven anymore.”

SoCal Chamber Music Workshop
SoCal Chamber Music Workshop. Photo: Ingrid Burger

When Ingrid Burger, a radiologist and amateur violinist, moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, she was looking for some chamber-music opportunities. Then she discovered the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop at Scripps College in Claremont, California, went, “and had a wonderful experience,” she says. “It was so immersive. We played from nine in the morning to 11 at night with people from all over California and all over the country.” Burger kept coming back, and now she is the president. “I’ve met so many chamber-music lovers in L.A., the Bay Area, and San Diego. We have a healthy contingent that comes every year from Colorado. It’s just a week of enjoying making music with other people.”

When Guylaine Lemaire joined the CAMMAC Music Centre team as its new artistic director six years ago, she discovered the beautiful setting of Lake McDonald in the Laurentians region of Québec. “CAMMAC is truly a magical place,” she says. “Heaven on earth for amateur music making. CAMMAC offers chamber-music programs for various levels of playing, from participants who wish to rekindle their passion and dedication for chamber music to the more advanced players who are looking to expand their knowledge of the repertoire and hone their skills.”

string players at CAMMAC
Players from CAMMAC Music Centre in Canada. Photo: Caroline Turbout

At the Vermont Music and Arts Center on the campus of Northern Vermont University in Lyndonville, the campers have complete control over what they play and with whom. “The first year I attended,” recalls registrar Judy Terwilliger, “my teacher helped me prepare three quartets—Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn. The faculty to camper ratio is about 1:3, and faculty members are available, and willing, to play along. Lyndonville is in the state’s Northeast Kingdom—beautiful country. We stay in the university dormitories and dine in the cafeteria. I’ve met many like-minded musicians, some of whom live near my home, so I have been able to keep playing chamber music all year round. It’s kind of like heaven to be able to play music away from the cares of daily life, to take a vacation with music.”


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The Manhattan String Quartet’s Amateur Players Workshops are more rigorous. According to cellist Chris Finckel, whether “a one-day wonder or an intensive week-long conference, all participants and staff study a single quartet. The approach stimulates an atmosphere of work that is intensive, communal, and focused. The camaraderie of this focus is palpable and celebratory. Frequent feelings of ownership of a particular work are expressed. The players are a wonderful group, real chamber-music fanatics who, looking to relax after a long day, sight-read the evenings away.”

For three decades, the quartet has also been offering European cultural excursions. This year, 48 quartet players and their guests will travel to Seville, Spain, to study the Ravel String Quartet. “We’ll explore the work through the lens of Spanish culture and flamenco. In Cadiz, we’ll play Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ in the church that commissioned the work.”

Vermont Music and Arts' Beth Lyon on violin, Gael Abbasi on cello
Vermont Music and Arts’ Beth Lyon on violin, Gael Abbasi on cello. Photo: Rosalind Ominsky

For more than 25 years, cellist Peter Lewy has been running workshops dedicated to helping amateur adult cello players improve their skills both at the Maplewood (New Jersey) Chamber-Music Workshop for adult amateurs and a workshop in beautiful Tuscany, Italy. “We welcome absolute beginners with no previous instruction to professionals and everything in between,” Lewy says. “We all learn from each other! And Cortona, where we’re doing it this year, is just spectacularly beautiful. We play in a converted convent that’s been modernized. And because it’s an old building, the soundproofing is excellent, so people can practice whenever they want, all day long, and not bother anybody.”

The Festival Academy Budapest 2023 will offer a week-long master class for amateur instrumentalists with an unusual twist. The three best ensembles will qualify for a master class with three-quarters of the newly formed Kelemen Quartet: Katalin Kokas, Barnabas Kelemen, and Vashti Mimosa Hunter.

Back in the US, the Appalachian Chamber Music Festival, in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in 2022, fielded a full 14-day festival that included 14 concerts, one bluegrass workshop, a five-day chamber-music camp for string students, and a three-day intensive adult chamber-music seminar. The estimated attendance was over 800 for all festival events. 

Vermont Music and Arts Center's Judy Terwilliger holds up music scores
Vermont Music and Arts Center’s Judy Terwilliger. Photo: David Terwilliger

Finding the Right Camp and Getting Ready

The best place to start looking for the camp or workshop of your choice is the Associated Chamber Music Players (ACMP), an international network of amateurs and professionals that supports chamber music for pleasure. It was founded in 1947 by Helen B. Rice and Leonard Strauss, amateur violinists who wanted to play chamber music wherever they traveled. ACMP maintains four searchable online directories and offers a deceptively powerful grants program uniquely focused on amateur chamber music, including starting up new workshops in underserved communities.


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“In addition to our grants for workshops,” Griffin tells me, “we have a home coaching program, where members of a ACMP can apply for little micro grants toward one-on-one coaching for their groups. The field is proliferating for sure,” she says. “I’m amazed by the number of new workshops. It’s a great time for classical music because there are so many people of all ages who want to play chamber music for pleasure.”

Appalachian Chamber Music Festival players on stage
Appalachian Chamber Music Festival. Photo: Brian Christopher

Naho and Alberto Parrini, directors of the Kinhaven Music School Adult Chamber Music Workshop in Weston, Vermont, suggest asking the following questions when looking for a camp or workshop: 

  1. Would you like to be sight-reading mostly, or would you prefer to be given parts to practice beforehand?
  2. How much playing would you like in a day?
  3. Would you like to have independent rehearsal time, or would you like to be coached the entire time?
  4. Will individual instruction be available if you’d like that option?
  5. What kinds of extra classes/activities do they offer that might interest you, musical and non-musical?
  6. If you would like to participate with your musical friends, would they accept a preformed group?

Once you’ve settled on a camp that seems to fit your requirements, make sure you’re ready to play! Kate Dillingham, the new artistic director at the ArtsAhimsa Chamber Music Festival near Tanglewood in western Massachusetts, lists the basics for getting ready for camp: 

  1. Practice scales and technical exercises with a metronome and tuner.
  2. Get bows rehaired and instruments adjusted by a professional luthier.
  3. Bring extra sets of strings and stand lights.

And for getting ready to make music, Dillingham emphasizes the responsibilities of the collaboration that is chamber music. “Learn your parts thoroughly, study the scores so you will know everyone’s part reasonably well, play for your teacher if possible, and find friends to play with in your community,” she says. “Be flexible and receptive to comments and constructive criticism. Be supportive of your colleagues. Enjoy the experience!”


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One of ArtsAhimsa’s many inspiring coaches, cellist Tyler James, seconds Dillingham when he says that the biggest tip he could give to campers would be “to come with an open mind. Don’t be afraid to engage in the rehearsal process! Coming to a festival of this kind is valuable for the myriad learning opportunities, which makes it important to share your own musical ideas and see how those ideas interpolate with the ideas of your colleagues. Love, curiosity, and instinct for the music eases technical woes and can translate into a confident, inspir-
ing performance.”

James gains “a lot of satisfaction working with participants who are there solely because they love the music and want to have a deeper understanding. Also, many participants are often experts in their own fields, and I find I learn just as much from them as they do from me.”

Violin teacher Elizabeth Knaub with a digital score on her iPad
Violin teacher Elizabeth Knaub with a digital score on her iPad. Photo: Harry Grossman

Going Digital

Thinking about ditching the sheet music and going digital for camp? Elizabeth Knaub, a violist and teacher who writes about her musical life in the blog Life from the Viola Section, admits that switching from physical sheet music to a tablet can seem like a daunting process, but finds that using a 12.9-inch iPad with the forScore app makes the switch “almost seamless. With the Apple Pencil, I can annotate my music endlessly in any color I’d like and with premade symbols in the app. The 12.9-inch size and aspect ratio are similar to a sheet of paper. Instead of carrying a big binder or multiple scores, I just bring my tablet. And with forScore, you can import a PDF directly or through your favorite cloud service, then crop it, annotate all over it, and export the clean or annotated PDF wherever you’d like, if needed.”

The Henle Library app, available for iOS or Android tablets, is another invaluable digital resource that allows you to buy digital files or hard copies from the Henle catalog of urtext editions. They don’t have as many pieces in their digital library as in the print library yet, but the editions are excellent and you can order single parts. Just set up Donner’s Wireless Page Turner pedal and you’re good to go.

Book cover for "A Practice Primer: make the most of your practice time" edited by Megan Westberg

Learn to perfect your practice through expert advice from top string players and educators with the insightful e-book A Practice Primer.