Chamber Music Fest Brings Student Musicians to Bloomington

Reposted from The Pantagraph

Story and Photos by Connor Wood

BLOOMINGTON — Chamber music gives the performers something they are unlikely to find in larger groups, attendees of the Illinois Chamber Music Festival say.

“It’s so much more intimate, like jazz, for example, if you’re sitting there in a jazz trio, or quartet or quintet or something, and improvising, it’s a conversation and it’s the same thing for chamber music,” said Laura Hoesly, a cello player from Kansas City, Missouri.

From left, Mariah Williams, violinist from Longmont, Colorado, Yuwen Jin, violinist from Normal, Sophia Boyer, violinist from Bloomington, Renata Soares Caceras, faculty, and Joy Rattan, celloist from Normal, rehearse on stage in Presser Hall during the 2022 Illinois Chamber Music Festival.

The festival began July 11 and runs through July 31 at Illinois Wesleyan University. It gives students a chance to play their instruments in a different setting and learn from IWU faculty, along with guest faculty from across the country.

This is the festival’s 20th anniversary, executive director and IWU professor Lisa Nelson said. This year, it has around 40 students ranging in age from 13 to 22, coming to Bloomington from seven U.S. states, Mexico and Canada.

“For these two and a half weeks or so, they’re just immersed in learning music,” Nelson said.

Students audition to attend and there is tuition, listed on the website as $770, plus room and board, which varies on whether students are staying on campus. Grants and other funding help the program provide financial aid, Nelson said.

Chamber music features smaller groups than the bands and orchestras the students would more commonly find at their high schools. There is also just one person per part and no conductor. Instead, the players have to read each others’ breaths and body language to start and stay together, Nelson said. They also have to understand what the other players are doing musically.

Clockwise from left, Audrie Schuller, violin, Emma Wright, violin, Lydia Langston, viola, and Laura Hoesly, cello, rehearse in Presser Hall at Illinois Wesleyan University during the 2022 Illinois Chamber Music Festival.

“Basically, they’re having a conversation with their music,” she said.

The students who come tend to be serious about music, though not all end up studying it in college or going on to professional music careers, Nelson said. Some do not have opportunities even to play in an orchestra at their schools.

Lydia Langston, a viola player from Washington, in Tazewell County, is one of those students whose school does not have an orchestra. She has been coming to the Illinois Chamber Music Festival for four years now.

“You just breathe music, with all the other musicians,” she said.

She likes learning a broader repertoire through the program, including Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet in D Major,” which she played her first year at the festival and which was probably the most advanced piece of music she had played up to that point, she said.

A trio consisting of Elijah Noll, clarinetist from Bloomington, Shinjian Song, pianist from Champaign, and Joy Rattan, celloist from Normal, practices at Presser Hall during the 2022 Illinois Chamber Music Festival.

Along with rehearsals and practicing their pieces, the students have chances in the evening for group events and take classes like music theory, music history and hand bells. It is important to get the students away from their instruments to avoid injuries that can come from over playing, Nelson said.

Hoesly, the cello player from Kansas City, said the way the festival is organized makes sure students do more than just play, and that’s one of her favorite parts about it.

“We’re here as musicians, but in the evenings we can be friends, and be people first,” she said.

There are four faculty concerts and four student concerts held throughout the course of the festival. All of the concerts are free and open to the public in Westbrook Auditorium on IWU’s campus. Upcoming events include a student concert at 3 p.m. Saturday that will be followed by an alumni reception and a faculty concert at 3 p.m. Sunday.

A quintet of Ashley Kim, violin, from Edwardsville, Yingtong Wang, viola, an IWU student from Beijing, China, Daniel Rivera, cello, from Richmond, Virginia, Diego Martinez, double bass, from Normal, and Tycho Gormley (on piano, not shown) from Bethesda, Maryland, rehearses under the watchful eyes of past music professors in Presser Hall during the 2022 Illinois Chamber Music Festival.

To get the students ready for performance, each day some groups will play in front of the entire faculty while on stage. Other rehearsals have the students meeting in their groups with a faculty member to work on their pieces.

Most of the students come with their parts already learned, letting them focus on learning to play together and have that musical conversation that sets chamber music apart, Nelson said.

Hoesly and Langston said that beyond being a fun time, the festival makes them better musicians.

“When you leave, you’re at a whole different level,” Langston said.

Illinois Prairie Community Foundation awarded a 2022 Mirza/Arts & Culture Grant to Illinois Wesleyan University for the Illinois Chamber Music Festival 2022.

If you would like to help fund more programs like this in the community, donate online to IPCF’s Arts & Culture Endowment Fund which helps fund the Arts & Culture Grants.

Top Photo Caption: Viola player Lydia Langston watches her fellow players for cues while practicing during the 2022 Illinois Chamber Music Festival at Illinois Wesleyan University.