My love/hate relationship with chamber music

Jan 31, 2020 | Chamber Music Academy, Intern's Perspective, Off the Hook Arts, WinterFest

by Serena Bettis 

As a young music student, chamber groups are equal parts terrifying and exciting. You are much more exposed than during a typical concert band piece, which means if you mess up or are out of tune, it’s very obvious, nerve-wracking and embarrassing. However, it is also really fun to have the opportunity to break apart from the rest of the band, spend some time with friends in your section and learn more about your instrument. 

My first exposure to chamber music was in sixth grade. I taught myself to play flute over winter break and about two months later had to perform with a small group in front of a judge on a Saturday. I think I blocked out that memory because it made me so nervous. All I know is when the annual event was canceled the next year due to snow, I was ecstatic. In eighth grade, I had more fun because I played with my best friend and we both enjoyed the piece. No matter the situation, however, a not very confident 13-year-old playing nearly alone in front of someone whose job is to critique? Not my idea of a good time. 

Every fall in high school I had to go through the same mixed emotions and learn to play in front of an even larger crowd. After marching band season, which was also good for unconfident flutes because no one can hear you anyway, our band director wanted us to practice listening and blending on much smaller scales. Our winter concerts would feature small chamber groups of every band member, dispersed throughout the auditorium, all eyes and one spotlight on them. 

Chamber music often requires more listening than thinking, which is tricky for young musicians. It’s also vital for them to learn how to blend, balance and tune their sounds, and make truly expressive music. You can no longer just blow into a tube and hope a good sound comes out. You must be simultaneously and consistently aware of what you’re doing, where your part is moving to and who needs to shine around you. 

I think making good music is difficult, which is what can make it so emotional. You need care and heart and dedication put into a performance for the audience to feel it too. It’s a long process, but that’s what makes it so important and special. 

Even now as a college student, I am not eager awaiting a chance to join a chamber group. I would, however, do it if I had the right opportunity and I am grateful for my (forced) experience. It’s made me a better, more aware, more confident musician. There’s not many feelings better than that. 

Join Off the Hook Arts’ students and faculty at the Feb. 1 Chamber Music Mixer to experience the unique intimacy of chamber music and celebrate our organization’s mission of providing low cost music education to students in the community. Tickets and other event details can be found on the event page.