Third Chair Chamber Players

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This essay is the third in a series on chamber music, begun in our January 2008 issue. By Becky Van de Bogart Labels have become a mainstay in our social conversations these days and resisting them is a full-time occupation. Due to the limited pool of funding, music has not escaped this need for definers. As the arts try to divvy up the shrinking pie of dollars, new definitions rise out of the quagmire to limit one slice and add or expand another. Last year there was a heated discussion at the Chamber Music America conference trying to fit jazz into their mission. This led to yet another effort to define chamber music (and, by default, jazz), when in the end it was all about which genre deserved funding with the available dollars. At the end of this discussion, Joel Harrison, a jazz musician, wrote a wonderful article for NewMusicBox.org. He had many insights pointing out the central flaw in even pursuing this discussion, but in the end he eloquently defined chamber music and jazz as one: “Chamber music implies art music and jazz is art music. CMA should advocate for small ensemble music played by marginalized people that is provocative, sophisticated, enlightened music that is not being fed by consumer society.” “Small ensemble music played by marginalized people that is provocative, sophisticated, enlightened music that is not being fed by consumer society” is a paraphrase of the mission statement for the Third Chair Chamber Players. If we had only been poetic enough to word it so! Our marginalized beginning was 11 years ago. In a wintry, cold high school parking lot after playing a run-out concert, Karen Sandene and I, bemoaning yet another symphony season in which we rarely played because of budget cuts, decided we wanted to play chamber music on a regular basis. After lunch, Karen came back with four programs and that was the beginning of the Third Chair Chamber Players. In hindsight we should have enlisted a marketing expert to help us with our name. Creating that perfect name for a new group is always a challenge. Knowing that most titles having to do with Lincoln or Nebraska were in use or would cause confusion, and after doing an Internet search and discovering that many of the other options had been taken, we landed on Third Chair Chamber Players (Karen was contrabassoon in the symphony and I played piccolo or the third chairs), only to find out that no one, even radio announcers, could pronounce it or remember it. Those first years we were called everything from Fourth Column to Third Chamber Orchestra. The name was quickly and mercifully condensed to TCCP and we were off and running. From the very beginning, programming unusual works for nontraditional instrumentation was a goal. We were not going to be a string quartet or a woodwind quintet and in the beginning very rarely used keyboard. The first couple of years TCCP programmed ensemble works for up to 12 instruments, including Dvorak and Strauss serenades and Schubert and Beethoven octets, along with several premieres. Yes, the composers sound mainstream, but the pieces chosen are rarely heard, especially in live performances. The “provocative and sophisticated” aspect of the programming really took some interesting jags after we found a permanent performance venue at the former 7th Street Loft. Our motto became Fear No Music. TCCP performed Bach cantatas, Terry Riley’s “in C,” John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscapes No. 4” for 12 radios with 24 players, and we even produced “The Beggar’s Opera” in a reduced version as a chamber opera. Each concert was a happening for the musicians and the audiences. Our pivotal year was 2003 as TCCP faced some growing pains. Karen decided to dedicate her time solely to new music and started The New Music Agency, and the 7th Street Loft closed, reopening as The Loft at the Mill in a new location. TCCP had just recruited its first nonmusician board of directors when TCCP and six other organization moved into the new space. The new black box space was incredible but came with a hefty bill shared among the seven organizations. As all of us involved in the arts know, 2003 was a stressful time for groups in terms of ticket sales and donor support. All of the groups involved with The Loft at the Mill were intimately aware of the situation, especially with the double charge of supporting our individual artistic endeavors and keeping the Loft solvent. The soul of chamber music is not defined by individuals but by the collective spirit of the musicians. TCCP became a core of 10 musicians. A chamber group has no leader; therefore, communication is the name of the game. The core group and our guests are involved in the program decisions, outreach activities and making business decisions hand-in-hand with our board. I would like to list some names at this point because they are so important to who we are: myself on flute, Chantry Nelson on oboe, Ed Love on clarinet, Jefferson Campbell on bassoon, Graham House on horn, Donna Carnes on violin, Clark Potter on viola, Tracy Sands on cello, Sheri Ericksen on piano and Joe Holmquist on percussion. Each of these musicians contributes a host of talents as musicians, teachers, designers and organizers. The board is equally as important: Vena Alesio, Lora Black, William Smith, Laura Franz, Loretta Love, Sheri Ericksen, Joan Reist, Kasia Bradley and myself. The year 2006–07 was a year for growth. TCCP launched a summer two-concert series in southwest Nebraska. The concerts were a great success, attracting folks from Kansas and even Lincoln! That same year TCCP was one of the three partners who produced “The Train.” It had been a dream for many years to find a joint artistic venture with The Angels Theatre Company. “The Train” was the perfect project. Charles Bethea and the Lied Center of Performing Arts was our third partner and that fabulous project ran the entire month of April in 2006. What does the future hold for TCCP? The possibilities are plentiful. There is so much enlightening music out there, old and new, and so little time to experience it all. Right in our own backyard there are works by Robert Beadell, Chris Ellenwood and Tristan Fuentes. The concerts with harpist Kathleen Wychulis have opened up another opus of works. The schools are in need of opportunities for students in the arts that are at the same time affordable and accessible. We are going to look for projects that can fill that need. Funding is going to be a challenge but so are taxes and successful marketing plans. Before I close, I would like to add that we have wonderful, supportive foundations in our city whose missions include keeping the arts vital. Many projects would have no life if it were not for their support. To paraphrase another great article: Chamber music is not dead. Long live chamber music.

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