A Blossoming Chamber Music Festival in East Tennessee

July 5, 2023, 12:58 PM · "It takes a village to create a great musician." So says violinist William Shaub, who has definitely created a village for training young string players in the art of playing chamber music. As Co-Director of the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Chamber Music Festival along with David Kovac, the fledging string festival has expanded into a blossoming program that hosted 43 young musicians last month.

ETSU participants and faculty
ETSU Participants and Faculty.

Housed on the beautiful East Tennessee State University campus in Johnson City, the festival can now boast its own state-of-the-art concert/recital hall in the Martin Center. Shaub and Kovac expect the festival to gain momentum moving forward as it offers an opportunity for students at a variety of ages and experience levels.

String players from school-age through college may apply as either a day student or a resident camper. Skill level is also wide, ranging from intermediate to advanced. "We have students working on easy string trios and those who are tackling Dvorak’s American String Quartet," said Shaub. "Some students are competition winners, but we’ve also got students that are super young and have never played chamber music before."

During the one-week festival, students are placed in quartets, trios, and sextets, with the goal of working on specific repertoire with faculty coaches. They also play in a string orchestra. Performances include a faculty recital, student orchestra concert, and a student chamber music marathon.

ETSU Chamber music faculty
ETSU Chamber Music Faculty (left to right): Sunnat Ibragimov Seattle Symphony Orchestra; William Shaub, Concertmaster: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Kelts, Missouri State University; David Kovac, ETSU; Tim Barrett, Academy of Strings ; Bergen Christensen, Listeso String Quartet; Patrick Hopkins, South Texas College; Yu-Fang Chen, Ball State University; Clarice Shaub, Chamber Music: Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra; and Joshua Ulrich, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

I had the opportunity to hear both the faculty and student recitals and was not only impressed, but truly heartened to see the energy and enthusiasm for chamber music. This is a festival that has the potential to jump start a lifelong love of delving into the chamber repertoire and playing simply for the joy of it. As Shaub puts it, "We want to stimulate a love of music and give our students the experience of playing with others – something they can do both on the amateur and professional levels."

I was also heartened to see that in addition to learning notes and tempi, these young people are taught how to take and exit the stage, acknowledge their audience, lead with body language, and communicate with each other while playing. It was clear the students had become comfortable with their own playing and cognizant of what it takes to perform with others.

And while the overall schedule was rigorous, it was equally apparent that a great deal of fun was had (and a tremendous amount of pizza was consumed). The marathon student performances gave me a glimpse of the tremendous support these students were giving each other, as well as the outstanding support they had received from the stellar faculty.

Here is where you can find more information about the festival:

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July 6, 2023 at 02:24 PM · Such wonderful work they are doing in Tennessee! I love chamber music camps like this. I have four sons learning string instruments and I have signed them up for chamber music camp in our area for the past two years. Learning to play with others while remaining independent on your own part is such an important skill! Thanks, Diane, for sharing the beautiful experience they are creating in Tennessee for both new and experienced musicians!

July 7, 2023 at 01:26 AM · Christina, I applaud what you're doing for your boys! Keep up the great work!

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