For young music students, performance typically means a large ensemble, dozens of different instruments all playing along under the guidance of a conductor. However, a local nonprofit, Off The Hook Arts, offers an alternative.
The Chamber Music Academy is a program put on by Off the Hook Arts where young musicians between the ages of 8 and 18 are able to hone their musical aptitude in a social environment.
Chamber music is a much different style to the concert recitals that one typically attends in the middle and high school years of musicians. It is the performance of compositions made for small ensembles, typically for a large room. There is no conductor, and so the players must communicate among themselves non-verbally in order to keep together and provide the best sound available.
“You have to have a very strong grasp of the music and you have to have a very cohesive interpretation,” said Ethan Sherman, a 17-year-old pianist who’s been in the CMA since its opening. Sherman is the son of Jephta Bernstein, the founder and executive director of Off the Hook Arts. “It has to be discussed and agreed upon by the group.”
For the students, mastering an instrument gives them a chance to experience something
that they can’t elsewhere.
“When you play something right and it actually sounds good, it’s just very satisfying,” said Ainhoa Flores, a 15-year-old violinist who’s joining the CMA for the first time next semester.
“(Music) is a really nice way to express yourself,” said Sherman. “It’s a lot more direct than other forms of communication.”
The CMA’s students have been playing well before they signed up for the academy. Flores has six years of violin experience and Ethan has been playing classical piano since the age of five.
Off the Hook Arts was founded in 2012 with the goal of providing access to the arts that
is not only low-cost but sets children and teenagers on a path to appreciate art for the rest of
“Honestly, my mom wanted me to start playing,” said Flores. “I wanted to drop it for a while, but then I started to like it again. I feel like it’s teaching me to stick to something even if you don’t like it at that moment, you’re really going to enjoy it sometimes.”
“I think it’s a great learning experience,” said Iris Li, a 15-year-old violinist who attended the academy over the 2018-2019 school year and will attend again during the upcoming semester. “You get to work with others who are also interested in music: to build skills together.”
Although none of the students planned on playing music as a profession in their adult lives, all of them expressed a desire to keep playing as a hobby and remain involved in music.
The CMA teaches piano, string, and woodwind instruments. However, the academy isn’t a beginner-level course: it’s intended for students who are already fluently reading sheet music.
Article written by Graham Shapley