The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: UW-Madison’s VIBES chamber music program uses young people to teach younger people

February 8, 2010
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is commonplace these days to hear older adults lament about how classical music – especially chamber music — is losing its hold on young people and younger audiences.

But you wouldn’t know that from an event that will take place this week in Madison at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

I am speaking of the VIBES program — VIBES stands for Vital Instrumentation with a Big Ensemble Sound, an awkward sounding names to match a great acronym.

VIBES says its purpose is “to revitalize chamber music for younger audiences” as well as to allow UW students to learn to teach by acting as mentors and coaches. (Below: A woodwind quartet from New Glarus High School includes, from left, flutist Claire Burke,  grade 9; Lauren Dearth, bass clarinet, grade 9; and Savannah Bettin, clarinet, grade 9.)



It’s hard to argue with that lofty goal and you can hear the results for yourself

This coming Wednesday night, Feb. 10, at 7:30 in Mills Hall on the UW campus, the UW students who serve as coaches and the many participating students from area high schools will present a free concert to wrap up VIBES’ first season.

More than 20 chamber ensembles from Madison, Middleton, Sun Prairie, Oregon, Stoughton and New Glarus high schools will perform in this inaugural program.

Volunteer undergraduate and graduate students from the UW School of Music have served as coach/mentors of the ensembles for the last few months, and they travel to the schools to oversee rehearsals during the school day. UW students with cars are compensated for their mileage and those without cars are able to use Community Cars through a VIBES organizational membership. (Below: Peiyun Lee, coach (center) plays Dvorak with Karen McGregor, violin (left); and Emma Downing, cello.)

VIBES was the creation of undergraduate music majors Rachel Felton and Charles Workinger and won them first prize – of $2,000 from Arts Enterprise — in the first New Arts Venture Challenge last winter.

“We are an entirely student-run organization that volunteers our time to give coaching to chamber ensembles in Madison area schools,” says doctoral student and student cellist Andrea Kleesattel (below, talking with Oregon High School students (from left) Stephanie Copp, cello; Sarah Reukema, viola; Eva Meyer, violin; Emma Downing, cello; Brittany Musumeci, violin, at the UW School of Music).

Kleesattel, a Cincinnati native who plays in a graduate student string quartet at the UW and who received her bachelor’s from the University of Cincinnati and her master’s from the University of Kentucky,  is a coach this year and will be a co-director next year.

“We empower UW students with teaching experience, and we give high school students valuable individual musical instruction from experienced musicians,” she says, herself a very experienced chamber musician.

“Rachel and Charles have emphasized the importance of empowering university students by giving them responsibilities with coordinating their schedules with teachers and giving them the opportunity to be leaders as teachers,” Kleesattel explains. “The program also benefits the high school ensembles that receive coaching and helps to prepare them for the state solo and ensemble contests.”

According to VIBES, there are currently 32 groups or ensembles (10 string, 13 wind, 6 brass, and 3 percussion) coached by 24 coaches.

These coaches are both graduate and undergraduate students including both music education and performance majors.

The Kickoff Event, Kleesattel explains, occurred in the fall and oriented high school students to chamber music.  Then came the coaching when the students broke off into groups to learn some basics about chamber music and got to meet some of their coaches.

The Finale Concert this Wednesday night will give groups an opportunity to play for one another and for some groups to choose to receive adjudicated feedback in order to prepare them for their state solo and ensembles contests.

“Next year Brian Ellingboe and I will be taking over the directorship of the program from Charlie and Rachel,” says Kleesattel. “We are looking forward to maintaining the success of the program this year and will work to increase coaching times by attracting more coaches.”

“I believe this has been a wonderful experience for everyone,” she adds. “I have personally really enjoyed working my groups. I feel as though I have grown from the experience as much as they have. I’m very much excited to be continuing with the program next year. I think it is a really wonderful thing for the School of Music offer for its students and for area high schools.”

And lest the program seem like some throwback to Old Word, Eurocentric culture, VIBES notes the following statements and statistics: “Chamber music has the potential to create some of the most exciting, enlightening, inspiring, and intimate experiences in which an audience will ever partake; unfortunately, that audience continues to age and diminish. VIBES will introduce a new, younger audience to chamber music, hopefully engaging them for life. (Below: UW string coach Willie McLellan is working with (from left) violinist Eva Meyer, violist Kelly Hanson and cellist
Stephanie Copp from Oregon High School.)

The teen populations represented, VIBES notes, are as follows among area high school music students: Madison public schools are 45% minority and 40% low income; in Dane County, the figures are 21.5% minority, 24% free and reduced lunch.

That is diversity through culture in action, something worthy of “el sistema” in Venezuela that gets more poor students to perform classical music than to play in organized sports, the same system that produced the superstar phenom conductor Gustavo Dudamel, now head of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the before that of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.

Can we, the mighty U.S., learn from the Third World? It seems so, if the growth and success of VIBES and similar programs provide any measure.

And acknowledging community support, though often left out of mainstream stories, is important. Citizen and corporate involvement is key and vital. So I give the last word to VIBES:

“VIBES thanks the following people and organizations for their support: Arts Enterprise UW-Madison and the New Arts Venture Challenge’; UW flutist Stephanie Jutt, VIBES’ faculty advisor; the UW-Madison School of Music, and its director John Schaffer and assistant director Keith Hampton; the UW-Madison College of Letters and Science and dean Gary Sandefur; the VIBES Ad Hoc Board of Directors who include Brad Schnieder, Steve Kurr, Elizabeth Deger, Leyla Sanyer, Steve Sveum, Chad Whalley, Jason Mier, Geri Toole; Mini Agency and Sigma Alpha Iota–Rho Chapter; and Milio’s Sandwiches.

Do you have any comments or words of encouragement for these young musicians, both coaches and performers?

They want to hear.

And the Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,261 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,343,974 hits
%d bloggers like this: