I just wanted to share something I did last week, because it’s something that I think a lot of you might enjoy doing once you reach a certain level and if you can find the time for it.
I spent the last week of July at the CalCap chamber music workshop, which is hosted annually by Cal State Sacramento. CalCap is an intensive chamber music experience, aimed at both intermediate-to-advanced adult amateurs, and university-level music students. I saw a range of ability levels, from people who had been playing 3-4 years all the way to near-professional-level musicians. Each day of the week, we were assigned a new group (anywhere from 3 to 9 people, and they tried to match people of similar ability) and a new piece to learn. We had the morning and early afternoon to learn the piece as a group, with coaching from a music professor or a local professional musician, and then performed it in a late afternoon or early evening concert the same day.
After the concerts, they put up a sign-up board that people could use to form groups to play through whatever music they wanted, and had a big music library to check out music from. (I did it all five nights myself, as tired as I was, because it’s so much fun!)
I learned a lot about playing with a small ensemble. On such little preparation time, listening to and watching other musicians in the group is essential. I picked up a lot of little ways to cue others, too: head and body movement, breathing (which string players normally don’t think about much), slightly exaggerating bow movements, and such.
This was one of my performances from CalCap, which someone else put on YouTube. (Sorry, not the best audio or video quality.) I’m in the red shirt, playing the viola. Not anywhere near a perfect performance, but not bad considering that all five of us had never seen the music before the day we performed it!
Anyway, it’s an amazing experience that I’d highly recommend if you can get a week off to do it! There are many other similar chamber music workshops (I know of at least three others in California alone), so maybe try searching Google for chamber music workshops in your area. Or you can travel… people came to CalCap from as far away as Michigan and Texas.
You do need to be at a certain level, and decent at sight-reading. For violinists, if you can play the Haydn G major concerto reasonably well, you’ll at least be able to play Baroque and Classical era pieces at the workshop, though you might need to be at a higher level than that to get more interesting repertoire. I just wanted to mention this as something to work toward, if you think you’d enjoy this kind of thing.