Attendance Increases for Student Chamber Concerts

Jeremy Reynolds, Staff Writer

Conservatory students participating in this semester’s chamber music program will perform a series of four concerts this Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. in Stull Recital Hall. “The way we do it now is two doubleheaders, kind of like baseball,” said Associate Professor of Viola and Chamber Music Michael Strauss in a recent interview with the Review about the upcoming Chamber Music Showcases.

Strauss took over the chamber music program two years ago from Visiting Teacher of Chamber Music Kirsten Docter, and has since made several adjustments to the program to suit the needs of students. “The first year I was here, there wasn’t really an accentuation on performing chamber music,” Strauss said. “This isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just that, in surveying and talking with a lot of the students, they felt insecure about playing their entire piece.”

In order to address these concerns, Strauss helped to organize the Chamber Music Showcases, which take place close to the end of each semester, ever since the fall of 2014. In addition to providing a space for students to perform for their coaches and peers, Strauss said “[the Showcases] give a higher profile to the program.”

Prior to the Showcases, many groups performed in the divisional recitals that take place throughout the semester, but that was often challenging because of scheduling difficulties. “It wasn’t really realistic to have people perform in the beginning or middle of the semester in the divisionals, because of course they weren’t ready yet,” Strauss said. “And then what would happen at the end of the semester — the very last divisional — would be that everybody would sign up at once, and it would turn into a six-hour concert. These were called chamber music marathons.”

Strauss said that he researched chamber music programs at other conservatories around the country before deciding to implement the Chamber Music Showcases last year. He borrowed the idea of the showcase from Chamber Music America. “Without making performance a requirement, it seemed like the best thing to do would be to do what they do at Chamber Music America, which is showcases,” he said.

Even though students are not required to perform in the Showcases to receive credit, Strauss encourages students to play. “I want people to perform because this is a Conservatory,” he said. “I think if you are getting a performance degree and you are studying chamber music, it’s good to get out there and perform.”

He urges students to perform entire works at their own shows, since there is often not room in the Showcases for complete pieces. “I encourage everybody to set up their own concerts as well. It gives the students an entrepreneurial try, which is great,” Strauss said.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to the “doubleheader” Showcases is their reduced length. “We never want these concerts to go over two hours,” he said. “And they don’t.” Arguably because of their shorter length, the concerts have enjoyed increased attendance. “There is a way to quantify success, and that’s with attendance. And instead of between four and eight people per concert, we’re getting between 40 and 80 people per concert,” Strauss said.

According to Strauss, “the chamber music program wasn’t really getting a fair shake as far as people being heard for honors recitals and opportunities. So this is another way for the faculty to hear everybody and to make an assessment of who would be a good representative of the chamber music program.” Those who play this weekend will be considered for both the Commencement recitals in May and the Orientation recital in August, though there is a final round of competition after the weekend.

This weekend, students will perform from a diverse repertoire, encompassing composers from Mozart to Muczynski, Bach to Brahms. All four concerts, though under two hours, will be full length. “I put programming thought into what flows the best,” Strauss said. “I think it’s gone from something that was a little bit of a surprise the first semester to something that students really look forward to.”