With six different student ensembles comprised of violins, flutes, cellos, a piano, various wind instruments and two tubas, Macalester’s Music Department put on a fantastic Chamber Ensemble Concert on Sunday, Dec. 2. Mairs Concert Hall was dimly lit in orange and brown for the performance. The audience was small — roughly 20 to 30 people — but there was a sense of excitement in the room.
The chamber ensembles performed works by Antonin Dvorak, Karl Stamitz, Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Tomas Luis de Victoria, W.C. Handy and Georges Bizet.
The rehearsal process is primarily student-run. They are assembled at the beginning of the year by the conductor and then meet with each other on their own throughout the week. This semester, there was a flute ensemble as well as wind and string ensembles. Every two weeks, the ensembles have scheduled rehearsals with the conductor, Mark Mandarano, and a music professor.
Professors suggest music for the ensembles, but the students have some say in what they perform. This negotiation between professors and student performers ensures that each ensemble is challenged appropriately and will enjoy performing their piece.
Most of the students are not music majors, and instead signed up for the class as a way to continue practicing music, not necessarily to gain credits. However, two semesters of the chamber ensemble class can count to a credit towards a fine arts major. Violinist Maya Lawnicki ’22, for example, participated in this semester’s ensemble but will focus on one-on-one coaching next semester. Lawnicki commented that “it was great to work with the conductor and also with the violin professor, James Garlick.” All of these opportunities are open to non-music majors with a musical background.
It was fascinating to see my peers demonstrate their incredible talents, which can go unnoticed by students who don’t participate in the music program. I was really blown away. What stood out to me was the ability of the musicians to communicate with each other throughout each piece. Frequent eye contact and extremely detailed coordination between the lift of an elbow or the movement of shoulders carried the cohesiveness and fluidity of the performances. The musicians thrived off one another’s energy and were able to manage the technicality of each piece with great artistry. The level of nuanced precision and care from each musician was amazing to watch, while the music itself was beautiful to listen to. The range of dynamics and pace within each piece and the performance overall had a powerful impact in exemplifying students’ strengths and talents.
At the end of the show, a little boy sitting behind me exclaimed to his sister, “Wow! That was so cool!” She then turned to her dad and said, “Dad, thanks so much for bringing us!”
This moment summed up the experience for me. I went in with the impression that this would be an amateur performance similar to what I had seen in high school. Instead, I was left impressed and fulfilled, having been in the presence of such amazing art.