Three Reasons to Give: #3 Community Matters

We do things a little differently, and we need your help to keep it going! Here is a little more information on why what we do matters, and why we need you to donate today to keep it happening.

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Three reasons to choose Chamber Project as deserving of your hard-earned money:

#1  Inclusive and Expansive Programming
#2  Local Focus
#3  Community Matters

#3: Community Matters.  Our founding principal is to create community through music making.  Creating events that bring people together. By focusing on #1, Inclusive and expansive programming and #2 Local Focus, we create community. A common ground and a shared experience where you can enjoy yourself, expand your horizons and meet someone new.

We need you to buy in. Make a donation to keep us going for the next 10 years of inclusive, expansive, locally focused community based music making. Every single dollar counts. 

Or send a check to:

Chamber Project St. Louis
PO Box 300008
University City, MO 63130


Thank you!

Three Reasons to Give: #2 Local Focus

We do things a little differently, and we need your help to keep it going! Here is a little more information on why what we do matters, and why we need you to donate today to keep it happening.

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Three reasons to choose Chamber Project as deserving of your hard-earned money:

#1  Inclusive and Expansive Programming
#2  Local Focus
#3  Community Matters

performing At 4 Hands Brewing co.

performing At 4 Hands Brewing co.

#2: Local! Local! Local! Core to our mission is the promotion of local musicians, composers and stories. This means your money stays right here in your community. We have a roster of 20+ amazing musicians who live locally. We serve locally brewed beer at our events. We use local, independently owned print companies for all of our printing needs.

We commission local composers (5 so far!) to write music, that often has a community inspiration. This year alone we have premiered works by local composers about the Gateway Arch and the Dred Scott case, which originated in St. Louis. We partner with local service organizations and host them at our events to give them a platform to share their work and an opportunity for you to learn more and give back to your community.

Staying local builds community, builds depth, builds relationships. Which leads us to reason #3 to give. Stay tuned.

Chamber Project St. Louis
PO Box 300008
University City, MO 63130

Three Reasons to Give: #1

Why give to Chamber Project St. Louis?

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We do things a little differently, and we need your help to keep it going! Here is a little more information on why what we do matters, and why we need you to donate today to keep it happening.

Three reasons to choose Chamber Project as deserving of your hard-earned money:

#1  Inclusive and Expansive Programming
#2  Local Focus
#3  Community Matters

#1: Inclusive and Expansive Programming. What do we mean? Classical music was born a long long time ago in Europe and it's primary practitioners for most of that time have been men of European decent. We love the history and the art these men created, but it's time for the art form to genuinely reflect the community. We strive to be inclusive of artist, composers and content from a diversity of backgrounds.

Kyle Lombard & Jane Price, violins. Robert McNichols Jr., baritone. Stephanie Hunt, cello. Amy Greenhalgh, viola. Performing at the Missouri History Museum in September 2017.

Kyle Lombard & Jane Price, violins. Robert McNichols Jr., baritone. Stephanie Hunt, cello. Amy Greenhalgh, viola. Performing at the Missouri History Museum in September 2017.

For example, this past September, we premiered a work by local composer Adam Maness at the Missouri History Museum as part of their #1 in Civil Rights, the African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis exhibit (if you haven't been to it - go now!). Adam was charged to write a work for baritone voice about the Dred Scott decision.  He delivered a moving and timely work titled "The Devil and the Law" in which he used text from the case and from Frederick Douglass.

Expanding the stories we tell to include themes and experiences that are relevant to our city and our times keeps this art form relevant and helps to bring our community together.

Katherine Bodor, composer

Katherine Bodor, composer

Katherine Jolly, soprano

Katherine Jolly, soprano

In April, soprano Katherine Jolly performs a new work by a young composer Katherine Bodor. Women composers are extremely underrepresented in classical music, and we strive to integrate music written by women in every concert.

We are a women driven organization and are proud to to work towards genuine integration and equal "play time" in our art form.

Stay tuned for reasons #2 and #3!

Or write a check to

Chamber Project St. Louis
PO Box 300008
St. Louis, Mo 63130

Meet Composer Zac Cairns

Zac has written a brand new piece of music for us inspired by the Gateway Arch, for saxophone and string trio. Learn about how he translated the physical structure of the Arch into a musical structure that the melody could "pass through" and why he doesn't see any conflict in rooting for both the Red Sox and the Cardinals. (!!)

Tell us a little about the path to lead you to be a classical composer, and how that path lead you to St. Louis? 

Well, my compositional path didn't lead me to St. Louis, but it found me in St. Louis after I had tried to abandon it years ago.  I'm primarily a music theorist, but my undergraduate degree was in music education.  I wrote a lot of music in high school:  "classical" pieces, arrangements for school ensembles, and lots and LOTS of rock music.  My goal was to be a high school band director, and I was going to write pieces for my band to play at every concert...that is, unless my career as a shredding rock guitarist didn't take off first.  (It didn't.)  When I went to college at Penn State, I was so busy with my classes and practicing (I was a percussion major, and I could spend DAYS practicing marimba) that I didn't have any time to write at all, and composing just sort of slipped out of my life.  I took one general composition class for non-composition majors, but that was it.  

But while I was doing my undergrad, I realized that I really had a love for music theory, and it became clear that I could actually make teaching music theory my career, and that sounded fantastic.  And it is.  

So, I eventually DID get a job teaching high school band, and I loved it, but it wasn't for me long term.  I went back to Penn State and got my master's in music theory, got married, and then the two of us moved to Rochester, NY to start our respective graduate programs at Eastman (Whitney did an MM in choral conducting, I did a PhD in music theory).  Rochester was an amazing place -- there was so much great music around every corner.  When I was finishing my dissertation, I applied for every full-time theory job in the country, and was lucky enough to land one -- here at University of Missouri-St. Louis.  That was in 2010.  

Zac's first trip to the Arch! He was impressed. 

Zac's first trip to the Arch! He was impressed. 

I guess it wasn't really true to say that I wasn't writing music all that time.  Every summer since 2001, I've been writing and arranging competitive marching band music for a number of bands back in Pennsylvania.  It's a really fun process -- lots of collaboration with other musicians and visual designers...and since they're all student musicians, there are constant compositional challenges.  Like, , "Whoops, that phrase needs 4 more counts, because there's no way our clarinets can get to their new spot on the field...and we need a score and parts for that revision by tomorrow morning," and, "We only have 6 trumpet players this season, and none of them can play above a G at the top of the staff." It's really a lot of fun to write within restrictions like that.  

Anyway, in 2013, I had been spending a lot of time with Debussy's Clair de lune -- doing a lot of analysis in preparation for an arrangement for marching band.  Yup, that's right.  Sorry, to the pianists of the world.  (And no, I'm not even remotely the first person to arrange that piece for marching band.)  The band director I was writing for wanted me to create a sort of dark fantasy on Clair de lune, also, so I whipped together this two minute piece that twisted Debussy in all sort of uncomfortable ways.  It was great fun...but I left so many ideas in a sketchbook.  And then I talked to Gary Brandes, the director of bands at UMSL, and I told him I had this idea for a concert band piece, and I asked him, "Will you play this with your band if I write it?"  He said, yes, so I spent the next couple of months converting that two-minute piece into a 10-minute piece for wind ensemble, called Refracted Moonlight. I was extremely happy with that piece, and it was so much fun to be back working in a performance setting again. 

Anyway, I guess that project is what I mean when I say that my compositional path "found me" again in St. Louis.  I don't know if it was a matter of building some confidence in my writing or something else, but I've been enjoying composing immensely ever since then.  


What do you like most about being a composer? What are some of the challenges you face? 

"Being a composer" is a challenge in itself for me, really.  I still consider myself "a music theorist who also composes," and I probably always will.  Probably the biggest challenge for me is just finding time to compose regularly.  

What was your process in writing Passing Through? What were some challenges? 

"Passing Through" was a really exciting piece to compose. When we talked about this commission back in the spring, the idea was to write a piece that was inspired in some way by the Gateway Arch.  Now, of course, like any good people who move to St. Louis, my wife and I made a trip up to the top of the Arch almost immediately after moving in.  It's a really impressive structure.  I remember standing underneath it and taking a picture of the Arch from below -- it looks all twisty, and it's hard to tell what exactly you're looking at.  The experience of viewing the Arch from underneath is completely different than viewing it from a distance.  

This commission was a good fit for me, because from a compositional perspective, I tend to be most inspired by abstractions.  It's much harder for me to try to "tell a story" when writing than it is for me to get ideas from something less concrete or narrative-based, and then to see where those ideas take me.  

Zac did his research - and a serious amount of math while writing Passing Through. 

Zac did his research - and a serious amount of math while writing Passing Through

My idea with "Passing Through" was to create a musical structure that would be analogous to the architectural structure of the Arch.  The Arch is 630 feet from end to end, and it's also 630 feet tall at its highest point.  It's close to a shape called a catenary curve, which is the shape a chain makes when you let it hang, supporting only the ends.  These dimensions and this shape gave me a general idea of the "shape" of the piece.  I decided to make the 630-foot baseline into the chronological timeline of the piece -- the piece would be 630 seconds long (10 1/2 minutes).  And likewise, I decided to make the height of the piece (which starts at 0, grows to 630 feet, and shrinks back to 0) into the expanding and contracting pitch space.  A height of 0 translates to a unison -- there is no distance between the notes.  So, the piece begins and ends on a unison D.  I realized I couldn't make each foot of height a half step, because 630 half steps is a range of over 52 octaves, and I didn't want dogs to be the only audience capable of hearing the piece.  So, I divided by 10, and that became 63 half steps, which is 5 octaves and a minor 3rd.  So, at the registral climax of the piece (halfway through, at 5 minutes and 15 seconds), the pitch space is at its widest -- the cello is down on it's low C, and the violin plays an Eb more than five octaves above that.  Throughout the course of the piece, the distance between the lowest and highest notes starts at 0 (that unison D), expands to 63 half steps, and then contracts again to that same unison D.  That space is my "Arch," and the title comes from the idea that the piece's melodic material "passes through" that space -- the saxophone, primarily, always fits inside this Arch.  (Until the very, very end, where it ends up above...but that's another story.)

Zac's outline for translating the physical structure of the Gateway Arch into a music expression of that structure. 

Zac's outline for translating the physical structure of the Gateway Arch into a music expression of that structure. 

So, that was the basic limitation I placed on myself.  But what I wasn't expecting was how this would force me to compose in a manner entirely different than how I normally approach writing a piece.  I tend to think in a very non-linear manner:  I'll get an idea for the beginning of a piece, and then another idea for the same piece, but I can tell it's going to be much later in the piece.  I can develop those ideas separately, but eventually, I have to figure out how to connect Idea #1 to Idea #2.  I often draw big form charts as I'm writing -- I like to keep track of the overall pacing of the music:  there's going to be some sort of crescendo over here, and a big arrival after that, and then Idea #2 will happen.  I might not know what happens at that arrival for quite some time, but I can leave space for it and come back to it later.

But with "Passing Through," I wasn't able to generate ideas for "sometime later in the piece," because the time when those ideas would occur would determine the range of the passage.  I did have some ideas I could save ("This idea spans 26 half steps -- how far into the piece is my Arch at 26 half steps?"), but for much of the piece, I had to write from left-to-right in order to let the predetermined shape of the piece control the melodic and harmonic material.  

What is your favorite instrument to write for? 

That's a difficult question -- I'm not sure that I've got a real preference.  I really like writing for wind instruments, because the color contrasts can be so pronounced.  Even within a single instrument -- the bottom of the clarinet's range, for example, is almost a completely different instrument than the top.  Because of my background as a percussionist, I guess I feel most at home writing for marimba (or percussion, in general).  But I mostly like writing for musicians that I know will be passionate about and committed to performing it, regardless of instrument.  A good friend of mine from college programmed a piece of mine with her middle school band, and the kids apparently went nuts over it, and they've ended up playing it at three separate concerts, because the students won't put it away.  So, she commissioned me to write a new piece specifically for them.  I'm finishing that up now -- and it's really gonna be neat, because those students are all pumped up over this new piece.  (Isn't it great to see passionate music-making in our schools?)

Anyway, that's part of the reason "Passing Through" is so exciting for me -- the members of Chamber Project are always so deeply involved in the music they're performing, and, maybe it's selfish, but I'm thrilled to be part of that.

What is your favorite thing about St. Louis? 

I should have a musical answer to this, but really, my favorite thing about St. Louis is baseball.  I've been a baseball fan all my life.  I don't know if I should admit this, but I started to watch and play baseball when I lived in Rhode Island.  And every good 5 year old New Englander loves the Red Sox.  So I've been a Sox fan since I was kid...which means I rooted against the Cards in 2004 and 2013.  But really, apart from meeting in the World Series, I don't see any conflict of interest in rooting for both the Sox and the Cards.  But St. Louis is a real baseball town -- this place is no joke.  I love going to Busch Stadium to see games -- people here KNOW this sport.  I remember listening to 101.1 shortly after we moved here.  It was right around the All-Star break, and the Cards were something like 2 games out of first place.  And to listen to the callers, you would have thought the sky was falling.  I'm listening and thinking, "It's July -- there's a lot of baseball left."  But wow, there's some passion.  I remember walking around the neighborhood when we lived in U City and seeing a picture in the window of some random house.  It was something that was obviously drawn by a young elementary school kid -- it had a red bird, and a scrawled STL logo.  And it just made me smile to see that, not only had that kid drawn her or his little tribute to the Cardinals, but that the parents loved it enough to put it right in their front-room window!  I like that.

What's next for you? 

Many things!  The composer side of me has a couple of cool projects going on. I mentioned earlier that I'm finishing up a middle school band piece right now, and I have another commission from a high school band to write a piece for them -- I'm just starting to do some sketches for that. UMSL's choir is going to be performing a "grown up" version of a piece I originally wrote for the choir my wife directs at the St. Louis Children's Choirs.  I get to come to some rehearsals next week, I think, so that'll be fun to get to work with the students I see in theory class in a completely different context.  And Adrianne and I had been talking about doing a duo for saxophone and bass clarinet for her and her husband Derek to play.  We'll talk about that next week when she gets into town -- I hope she's still interested!

This is actually the second piece of yours that Adrianne premiered, tell us more about the first. 

Adrianne and Jeff perform zac's duo for baritone sax and percussion in france.

Adrianne and Jeff perform zac's duo for baritone sax and percussion in france.

In 2014, I found out that the Percussive Arts Society was running a composition contest, and that year's category for for percussion and woodwind duo.  I had written a three-movement piece for marimba and alto saxophone several years earlier, and I thought, "I wonder how that would work."  I pulled that piece out and looked at it, and it was terrible.  But there were some good things in the third movement.  So, I scrapped the first two movements, swapped out the alto saxophone for a bari sax, and expanded the percussion part so that it was a marimba surrounded by a whole bunch of toys (bongos, temple blocks, a kick drum, and some toms).  I rewrote the original third movement, and added a brand new movement to play before it...and I put the score and a MIDI mock-up in the mail.  Months later, after I had virtually forgotten about the contest, I found out that my little duo had won!  

That piece was my first time collaborating with Adrianne -- I was definitely in need of some assistance in writing (really writing) for baritone saxophone [the lowest saxophone].  I'm sure she regrets giving me the green light on those altissimo A's...  [altissimo is means the very highest range of a woodwind instrument, generally very difficult to perform]  Adrianne and Jeff Barudin (a good friend of mine from Penn State, who now, coincidentally teaches percussion at Lindenwood and also performs with Chamber Project) premiered the piece here, and then played it again at PASIC, [An international percussion conference] and then at the SaxOpen conference in France (with a new middle movement -- it was kind of a "re-premiere").  

Anyway, writing for Adrianne is really fun -- she's very honest about what's appropriate writing for the instrument and what isn't.  We spent a lot of time sending Facebook messages back and forth for Passing Through. I'd write to her and say, "Hey, there's this thing I want to do," or "Can you play this?" and attach a clip of the score in progress.  Luckily for me, she's an amazing player, so the answer was almost always, "Sure -- sounds cool!" 

From Nothing

A throwback blog post from 2012!
Saxquest handed us our first opportunity for a performance and they have been steady supporters every year since.

by Dana

Recently an audience member said, "So, you really started this from nothing?"

Yup, I said, from nothing.

It started from nothing, nothing of Chamber Project existed in any from.  And then there was that fateful night. A few friends, some old, some new, got together to hang out and enjoy a nice glass or two of wine. Being new to each other and all being musicians, the conversation naturally turned to music. We got excited about some music we wanted to play, and decided to have A MEETING. (Just so you know, musicians have rehearsals...not MEETINGS.)

So we had our first meeting, we brainstormed, we got excited about all of the possibilities, and we drank more wine. We created a group email account, we sent dozens of ideas over email. We had another meeting (and more wine).

We got lucky when Mark Overton at Saxquest asked us to put together something for a little mini-festival he put on in a tent behind his shop. We had our first gig! We decided to put together a whole season. We found a venue that would provide a space for us to set up a series of concerts, which was amazing. We celebrated, with just a little more wine.


Our first ever performance.

At Saxquest.

It was hot. Really hot.

We fought about programming, we stressed about money, we experimented with concert formats.  We struggled with the website, learned how to use social media. We were educated on the difference between PR and Marketing.  We performed some great concerts, and maybe some not so great concerts.  We built a board, we became a non-profit. We had our first fundraiser, created our first spreadsheet, and wrote and received our first grant!

We've learned we have hidden talents that don't involve our instruments. We've learned we have limits and we've pushed them.  We've learned the challenges and rewards of working with your friends. (How do you tell a close friend that she's out of tune or that you think her big idea isn't so big - how do you take it when you're on the receiving end?) We've learned to be vulnerable and to be tough.  I think the most valuable thing we've all learned is to trust each other, both on and off stage.

And we've also learned to stop drinking wine at meetings. Well, most meetings.


After a concert at The Wine Press, 2011?

Caption this.

Most importantly we've met so many wonderful people at our concerts, building a common ground for all people to come together.

A deeper look at FAITH

We are honored to begin our 10th Season with a partnership with the Missouri History Museum as part of the "#1 in Civil Rights, the African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis" exhibit.

Dred Scott

Dred Scott

As we developed this program we were looking for a way to connect the theme of "FAITH" to St. Louis. Inspired by the work we commissioned last year by Adam Maness, "The Delmar Wall", we wanted to find a way to explore the history of race in St. Louis, and felt the story of the landmark Dred Scott case, which began in St. Louis would be an interesting topic. As we researched, we found the perfect link.  After the case was decided against Dred Scott, plummeting the hopes for freedom for African Americans and abolitionists working to end slavery, Frederick Douglass encouraged the freedom fighters by saying:


"We must walk on Faith, not on sight."

We look forward to what Adam Maness will will come up with for this work for baritone and small ensemble. We will also be performing "The Delmar Wall" as well as other works by Americans that explore FAITH from different perspectives. Samuel Barber questions faith in "Dover Beach" and Christopher Rouse examines the practice of faith in Compline for harp, flute, clarinet and strings.

September 8, 7:30pm
The Missouri History Museum Auditorium
Free, no reservations required.

More about the Dred Scott case.
Sourced from "This Far by Faith . Journey 2" by PBS

The Dred Scott Case: Polarization of the Nation

“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical…If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.” —Frederick Douglass, 1857

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, a decision that galvanized a budding Republican Party, polarized a young nation, and set the stage for the Civil War. For black Americans, the decision radically undermined their legal rights and their faith that God was leading the country toward a true interpretation of American democracy.

The questions raised in the Dred Scott case spoke to a nation divided - divided religiously, geographically, economically, politically, and racially. At the center of that division stood Dred Scott, a slave who sued for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived in two states that had outlawed slavery: Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory.

America had become a patchwork of free and slave lands. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had established Missouri as a slave state, but otherwise limited the extension of slavery in the west; no territories above the southern border of Missouri could be admitted to the Union as slave states. That meant that from Illinois to Iowa, each new state that joined the Union sparked a debate about preserving the balance between free and slave states.

Born into slavery in 1799, Scott was illiterate and nearly penniless when he and his wife Harriet first brought their case to the St. Louis Circuit Court in 1846. Like his parents, Scott had been the property of Peter Blow, a prominent Virginian. Scott moved from Virginia to Missouri with the Blow family. There he was sold to a military surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, in 1830. For the next twelve years, Scott traveled the mid-west with Dr. Emerson, moving between Missouri, Illinois, and the Wisconsin Territory. During that time, Dred Scott, his wife Harriet, and daughters Lizzie and Eliza, lived enslaved in a land that outlawed slavery.

In 1846, three years after the death of Dr. Emerson and the transfer of ownership to Emerson's widow Irene, Dred and Harriet Scott filed what would become the first of several landmark suits seeking their freedom. The Scotts lost their first trial, held in 1847, on a technicality - Scott could not prove Emerson's widow was their official owner. The Missouri Supreme Court called for a retrial. In 1850, a jury found in Scott's favor, based on the time he and Harriet had spent living in free territories. It seemed that Dred and Harriet Scott were freed. But their freedom was short-lived.

Two years later, the Missouri State Supreme Court overruled the decision and enslaved them again. The legal wrangling continued when, in 1853, Scott filed suit in the U.S. Federal Court, this time naming John Sanford, Mrs. Emerson's brother - and executor of Dr. Emerson's estate - as the defendant. Once more Scott's request for freedom was turned down. With nowhere else to turn, Scott and his lawyers appealed to the highest court in the land: the U.S. Supreme Court.

The opinion handed down on March 6, 1857, by Chief Justice Roger Taney was sweeping in its pro-slavery findings. Seven of the nine justices found that Dred Scott should remain enslaved. Taney's opinion argued that Scott, as an enslaved person, was not a citizen and thereby had no grounds to bring suit in federal court. As he put it, blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it."

In the end, Dred Scott and his family did win their freedom. Emerson's widow remarried to a northerner, Calvin Chaffee, who was staunchly anti-slavery. In deference to her new husband's wishes, Mrs. Emerson sold the Scotts to the Blow family, their original masters. The Blow family had supported Scott both emotionally and financially throughout the lengthy ordeal, and in May 1857 they gave Scott and his family their freedom. A scant sixteen months later, Dred Scott died of tuberculosis. His epitaph reads: "Dred Scott: Subject of the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1857 which denied citizenship to the Negro, voided the Missouri Compromise, became one of the events that resulted in Civil War."

DID YOU KNOW Walk on Faith, not by Sight.

After the Dred Scott Decision

"Walk on Faith, not by Sight." Those were Frederick Douglass' words to black audiences in the wake of the Dred Scott decision. The Civil War was five years away. Black Americans saw themselves without hope, and slavery seemed to be spreading into the West. Northern black leaders, increasingly desperate, struggled with how to proceed: to immigrate (to Africa? To Mexico? To Haiti? To Canada?); to stay in America; to join the Republican Party; or even to organize some kind of third political party movement.

In the South, slave owners were told to keep their slaves away from political meetings, to keep them ignorant of the widening debate. There is not much evidence that that worked, and much to indicate that the enslaved were aware of the debate heating up over their futures.

Meet composer Kareem Roustom

We are honored to be giving the mid-west premiere of Kareem's work Abu Jmeel's Daughter. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his work.

"I have decided that my music must serve as a vehicle for some kind of message, be that advocating for cross-cultural understanding, compassion for the 'other', or to raise a fist against injustice and tyranny, or another cause that, even in a very small way, tries to make our world a little better."

Share a little of your background story as a Syrian-American and the path you have traveled to becoming an established award-winning composer, commissioned by some of the biggest names in classical music.

Well, I'm not sure that I'd use the word "established" but I'll try to give a brief synopsis of how it came to be that I am replying to your e-mail. I was born in Damascus, Syria to an American mother and a Syrian father and was raised there until about the age of 13. At that point it was decided that we should move permanently to the USA. In hindsight, the decision was very wise but it breaks my heart to have to admit this. The move was difficult in many different ways but I suppose you could compare it to uprooting a tree and replanting it somewhere else. However, this sense of uprootedness, and current events, has played and still plays a very important role in my creative work.  Also, because of this uprootedness I found music. At first it was through the guitar and jazz, as a way to run away from my conflicted identity, and then through the oud and "classical" and traditional Arabic music as a way to run towards my conflicted identity and to embrace it.  That process took years. However, I always knew that composition was at the deepest core of my efforts and since I've always had much more confidence as a composer than as a performer my path became clear.

How I came to be "established" is a bit of a circuitous story and not at all conventional. With the exception of few lessons with Michael Gandolfi, I am a self taught composer. I don't have a PhD in composition and I don't hold a tenured position anywhere so I've always had to rely on my intuition. I've always tried to hone my craft, to study the music that I love and to learn from the music that I don't love. Sometimes professional opportunities came when I wasn't ready and sometimes they came when I thought I wasn't ready but I was. The disaster that has been unfolding in Syria has certainly created an interest in its culture. I realize that in some ways that has opened the door, and this is not something that I want to take advantage of, but I hope that the 'door' will stay open because my music has a certain quality to it. So far, that seems to be the case, and I am grateful for that. If I can use this opening to help others then I do and will continue to do so.

Over the years, I've been active in performing, teaching, and transcribing Arab music from the near east in addition to composing. So my work is rooted in both worlds. I am equally comfortable writing in a completely "western" language as well as a completely "near eastern" language as well, or somewhere in between. It is a spectrum that shifts according to the project that I am working on. 

You play the oud, can you tell us a little about the oud and how how the traditional music (classical Arabic) you study and perform on the oud differs from and/or is similar to traditional European music?

The oud  

The oud


The oud is the most central instrument in Arab music. It is the instrument of choice for composers, and on which all the theory is based. The oud is also the typical instrument of choice to accompany vocalists. It is often referred to as the "king" of instruments. It is found throughout the Arab world, in Iran, Turkey, Greece, Armenia, the Balkans and further east. It is the ancestor of the guitar but it still continues to inspire. The new generation of oud players have achieved tremendous technical proficiency on par with high level flamenco guitarists. There are as many styles as there are countries that use the oud, but in the Arab world you can make a broad distinction between North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf countries and Iraq. The latter has its own distinct musical style than the other regions. When I was performing a good deal of early music [European music predating c. 1650) with Boston Camerata, I realized that long ago European and Arab music were not so far apart. At a certain point the differences outweighed the commonalities. However, performers on the oud now perform in all kinds of cross-over settings so it really has become a global instrument. [Click here to enjoy a groovy tune performed on the oud]

What inspired you to set Abu Jmeel's Daughter to music? What is it about this tale that inspired you?  What were some of the challenges you faced when composing this piece?
This morality tale has a decidedly different flavor than European morality tales, do you have any insight about the tale to share with our audience?

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This was co-commission from the Alba Ensemble in France and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture in Philadelphia. It has been performed in English and French but not yet in Arabic. I don't recall whose idea it was but the commission called for a setting of a folk tale. I did a good deal of research to find a suitable story, and chose this one because I felt its structure lent itself well to a musical setting. Also the elements of magic and the supernatural, as well the difficulties and challenges faced by the heroine, inspired my imagination.

The only challenges in the commission were the reaction to some of the text: In France they asked me to remove the word "God" from the text as the story ends with "...and God blessed them with a happy life" or something of the sort. The French are almost religious about their secularism. In the USA it was decided to hold a panel after the concert about misogyny as some people felt that the tale leaned that way. Both instances were baffling to me. As far as the element of misogyny, of course the Arab world has been and continues to be male dominated. This tale, I believe, was told by mothers and grandmothers to daughters and granddaughters. I believe that the point of passing such stories down was to tell young girls that as a female member of this society 'the cards are stacked you' and to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Each story probably had a nugget of knowledge it. But they were also told as a form of entertainment as well.

For a contemporary society to say that we no longer need such tales or that they send the wrong message is more than a little disingenuous. We don't have to search further than our American borders to find proof of this. Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man" deals with similar themes. Also, for people to want to keep such tales hidden is a denial of part of history.

As far as the 'otherness' of these tales, I don't feel that they are so far off from European folk tales. In my research, I found an old Arab/Persian folk tale that was very similar to Snow White. As for difficulties in European folk tales, what lesson can one take away from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl? That is a very dark, sad, and upsetting story but I believe that this was how children were taught that the world can be a very uncaring and dangerous place. That is the function and purpose of such tales. I feel that it is a mistake for us to shelter our children from these tales by Disneyfying them (the original Little Mermaid did not have a happy ending).  Abu Jmeel's Daughter is a tale about paying a price for seeking material gains; physical beauty and greed for wealth, in this instance. It is also a story about patience and perseverance through difficult times as well as a warning to recognize our limits. To look for facile moral lessons in such stories is kind of the easy way out.I prefer things that force you to scratch your head a little and to have to think. As a composer, a little darkness is also inspiring as it offers opportunities for the use of color inspired by dark humor. That said, audiences of all ages have enjoyed this story and it was a pleasure to see young children enthralled by the performances.

A lot of your music blends the two traditions of classical Arabic and classical European music. What are some of the natural ways the traditions overlap and what are some of the challenges? What can we listen for in Abu Jmeel's Daughter to hear this?
Is all of the music you compose a blend of Arabic and European traditions, or do you sometimes intentionally set one tradition aside to focus on another?

I suppose that I've been trying to master two languages. As a result any given piece can have a style that is somewhere on a spectrum between 'pure' Arab or 'pure' Western 'classical' or somewhere that blurs the line between both.  In Abu Jmeel, you might hear the influence of Ravel and some Elliot Carter as well as a traditional folk song (it is used right after the wedding of Ridda and prince Alwan - see video below).

The reason I used this melody is because it is based on a rhythm called Zaffa which happens to be a rhythm that is often performed at weddings in the near east. While most listeners won't get this, I try to bring this kind of depth to all my work.  As far as when to use one language or another, or a combination, it depends on the project. However, I've arrived at the point where my overriding focus is on the emotional intent of the composition, not so much the surface features.

What are your current projects?

I am in the final stages of producing/composing/arranging an album project that features female vocalists from a number of world traditions and orchestra. We recorded the fabulous Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road in London this past August and I will be mastering the album in Los Angeles later this month. For concert music commissions I am very excited about the three commissions I have this year. The first is a work for clarinetist Kinan Azmeh [who just won a Grammy Award with the Silk Road Ensemble] and the Deutches Symphony Orchestra in Berlin. I'm working on this piece currently and it will be recorded in Berlin later in 2017. Following that I will begin a 25 minute work for Boston choir based choir Coro Allegro and string orchestra. The text, which is still being compiled, deals with 'current events.' The third work is my second commission from maestro Daniel Barenboim and it is a work for clarinet (Kinan Azmeh) and the newly founded Pierre Boulez Ensemble. This work will be premiered in Berlin at the Pierre Boulez Saal in 2018. I am deeply humbled and grateful that maestro D.B. has asked me for another work. Incidentally, Kinan and I have been struggling to find funding for a work for clarinet and large ensemble since 2008 and now we are blessed with two amazing opportunities.

What do you believe the role of music, especially "art music", plays in today's society?

This might sound too lofty but I believe art music can and should comment on the human condition and the condition of and our relation to nature.  At this point in time both the human condition and nature, our planet, are in a very difficult place. I have decided that my music must serve as a vehicle for some kind of message, be that advocating for cross-cultural understanding, compassion for the 'other', or to raise a fist against injustice and tyranny, or another cause that, even in a very small way, tries to make our world a little better.  I believe that this can be achieved through subtlety, sincerity, the highest craftsmanship possible and passion.

You can hear Abu Jmeel's Daughter by Kareem Roustom, along with works by Valerie Coleman, Andre Previn and Igor Stravinsky on March 10 at the 560 Music Center.

"My Mom, the Composer"

For years, our friend George Yeh has been suggesting (or even pestering) us to focus a program on what he believes may be the only Mother-Daughter composer relationship in history (can you believe that!?) Lo and behold his persistence paid off. We are thrilled to be presenting these two very fine composers on our upcoming concert set. George graciously agreed to write their story up for us to share with you, complete with links to recordings and really great research.

We are so grateful to George for bringing these two artists to our attention, and for his faithful support of our mission. We also thank him for sponsoring the piano rental for this concert! THANK YOU GEORGE!

On the upcoming “Family Affair” concert by Chamber Project Saint Louis on February 11, many of the family relationships involve familiar names and conventional connections.  The Bach family is the most obvious example, with Johann Sebastian the illustrious father, and distinguished sons like Carl Philipp Emanuel (also featured on the program), Johann Christian, and Wilhelm Friedemann.  With respect to husbands and wives, the best-known classical music composer couple (not that there are many) is Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann, at least for those who remember that Clara was both a composer and a celebrated pianist.  A famous family name attends to the siblings Fanny Mendelssohn and Felix Mendelssohn, although families with composer siblings seem to be quite rare in general, regardless of gender.

NIcola and Elizabeth. Courtesy of Nicola LeFanu's website.

However, the outlier family relationship on this program, in just about all demographic senses, is the pairing of Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) and her younger daughter Nicola LeFanu (born 1947).  The one mother-daughter pairing on this concert, this may well be the only such composer pairing in the history of classical music to date.  In 2007, Maconchy’s centenary and LeFanu’s 60th birthday year, concerts with music from mother and daughter took place in London, Belfast, and Dublin.  10 years later, in honor of Maconchy’s 110th anniversary year and LeFanu’s 70th birthday, one concert with music of both composers is scheduled for this May at the University of York, where LeFanu was formerly on the music faculty.  This CPSTL concert thus marks a rare event anywhere this year, and also might be the sole event in the US with both composers on one concert.

Given that classical music has historically been a man’s world, to state the very obvious, it would be easy to assume various struggles against sexism in their respective lives, at the very least for Maconchy, in earlier, “less enlightened” times.  A closer look at Maconchy’s life reveals a more nuanced picture, certainly with unpleasant incidents of sexist attitudes, but also with much support for Maconchy to pursue her vocation as a composer.

Elizabeth Maconchy

Elizabeth Maconchy

Maconchy showed talent for music at an early age, even though her own parents were not musical.  Her parents thus secured their daughter her fair share of music lessons during her childhood in Dublin.  She also began to compose, and progressed as a teenager to the point that she received lessons in harmony and counterpoint from the Irish composer John Larchet.  According to LeFanu, in her on-line biography of her mother, one of Maconchy’s Dublin teachers was so impressed as to advise the family that “she must go to the Royal College of Music”1 (RCM) in London.  After the death of her father in 1922 from tuberculosis, Violet, her mother, moved the family to her native England, to allow Maconchy to fulfill that advice.

Maconchy began her studies at the RCM in London in September 1923, where she wasn’t quite prepared for the faster pace of London life compared to Dublin.  As well, at age 16, she was younger than most of the RCM students, and still in grief over her father’s death,2 apart from any considerations about being female in a male-dominated environment.  Once acclimatized on campus, however, she progressed well as a pianist and as a composer.  Off-campus, she secured lessons in composition from Ralph Vaughan Williams, starting in 1925.  She became introduced to the music of Bartok about a year later, whose music would prove a great influence on her own voice.  Vaughan Williams reportedly said of Maconchy, once she completed studies with him, that he was:

“…very sorry to lose her, but I can teach her no more, she will work for her own salvation, she will go far.”3

Granted, it wasn’t all completely smooth sailing.  The single most notorious documented incident of sexist attitudes that Maconchy encountered at the RCM involved her application for the Mendelssohn Scholarship for overseas study, the RCM’s prize honor.  She applied after Vaughan Williams suggested that she continue her studies in Prague.  The adjudicators included the RCM’s director, Hugh Allen, who congratulated Maconchy the day after the interview on her winning the scholarship.  However, Maconchy had not won the award, which Allen apparently hadn’t realized.  According to Rhiannon Mathias (daughter of the Welsh composer William Mathias, and a flutist and writer on music), the ensuing conversation included a cringe-inducing, gratuitous comment that contradicted Allen’s nominal commiseration at her not winning:4

“…[Allen] replied that the adjudicators must have changed their minds after he had left the room.  He then added, ‘but anyway, if we’d given it to you, you’d only have gotten married and never written another note!’”4,5

This is obviously a very tacky comment, to put it mildly, if a commonplace reflection of earlier social attitudes.  However, it must be noted that during her time at the RCM, Maconchy never faced barriers, from Allen or anyone, to tackling any courses or subjects, or studying with whomever she wanted.  Remember also that Allen had assumed that Maconchy had won, which conveys Allen’s subliminal knowledge that she was a quality student, regardless of gender.  Ultimately, this story ended happily.  Maconchy won a different RCM award in 1928, the Octavia Traveling Scholarship, which allowed her to travel to Prague after all.  

    If anything, a much bigger life challenge for Maconchy resulted not from gender bias, but health.  Full-blown tuberculosis struck her around 1932, presumably the result of latent infection from her father that only blew up on her years later.  She and her husband William LeFanu adopted an English countryside lifestyle of “fresh air and sheer willpower”6, as she did not want to move to Switzerland for recuperation.  Over the rest of her life, while she still encountered general instances of prejudice against female composers, she and her music received praise and championing from such influential British musical figures of the time as Sir Henry Wood and Donald Tovey, as well as Vaughan Williams.  Maconchy became friends with composers of her generation like Michael Tippett (a classmate at the RCM) and Benjamin Britten.  She also formed great friendships with fellow composer Grace Williams and violinist Anne Macnaughten, who became a strong champion of Maconchy’s music.  Maconchy was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1977, and named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1987, the second woman composer in UK history to be made DBE. 

    Perhaps the heart of Maconchy’s achievements as a composer is her series of 14 string quartets.  This writer recalls that the Mid-County branch of the St. Louis County Library had at least one CD of Maconchy’s quartets (if some enterprising reader who happens to be in the library’s neighborhood can confirm if they’re still there, that would be nice to know).  You can check out one of her string quartets, No. 13, from a 2013 concert at London’s Cadogan Hall, as part of that summer’s Proms, at the following video:

By comparison, LeFanu didn’t have to concern herself with overtly sexist attitudes the way her mother did.  Of course, it helped to have an extraordinary and unique mother as a role model.  Growing up, LeFanu attended concerts with her mother, and listened a great deal to the BBC’s Third Programme. Originally, she thought of becoming a playwright rather than a composer.  She sometimes wrote songs to go with the plays, and gradually realized that she was better at writing music than plays.  One obvious question here is how present the mother’s work was in the daughter’s work.  On this question, and regarding her own early efforts, LeFanu recollected:

“She was always extraordinarily supportive but she didn’t help directly; I think she was very nervous of pushing it….My mother didn’t formally teach either my sister or myself because she thought it was not a good idea for parents to teach their children, but she was very supportive.”7

LeFanu also stated this interesting perspective about artists in general:

“I don’t see composers or writers or anyone as on a pedestal; I don’t have a nineteenth-century view of them like Wagner did; maybe that is the advantage of having had a mother who was a composer.”7

LeFanu studied music at Oxford, and soon after at the RCM, following in her mother’s footsteps.  Ironically, at the RCM, LeFanu won the Mendelssohn Scholarship.  After graduation, she spent several years as a freelance composer, and did graduate studies at Harvard.  In 1979, she married a fellow composer, David Lumsdaine.  Their son, Peter, was born in 1982.  She and Lumsdaine held a joint post at King’s College London from 1981 to 1992.8  She then became a professor on the music faculty of the University of York in 1994, and was department head from 1994 to 2001.  She retired from York in 2008.

Regarding her own life, LeFanu recalled that a bigger challenge of being a composer was the classic career-family balance, rather than any sort of gender prejudice:

“I didn’t have a full-time job until I came to York in 1994, so I could always put composition first.  During the years at King’s College London, David and I had a job-share, which was ideal.  I would compose at home in the mornings and teach in the afternoon, and inevitably I lived an incredibly hectic life because I also enjoyed being a wife and mother.”7

In retrospect, LeFanu realized that she was very lucky to come of age as a composer when opportunities for female composers were particularly strong, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s:

“I came to London’s concert halls as a young woman and heard The Fires of London playing Gillian Whitehead, the Allegri Quartet playing Jennifer Fowler, Jane Manning singing Erika Fox, the CBSO [City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra] playing a new orchestral work of mine... I believed, in my naivety, that this was the beginning of the good times; that all that Elisabeth Lutyens, Priaulx Rainier, my mother Elizabeth Maconchy and the other women composers in that generation had stood for and struggled for was finally bearing fruit.”9

Nicola LeFanu

Nicola LeFanu

However, by the mid-1980’s, this environment had distinctly retreated for women in British classical music.  LeFanu addressed entrenched and unconscious gender bias in the field in a public lecture titled “Master Musician: An Impregnable Taboo?”, which she delivered almost exactly 30 years ago, at the “Women in Music” weekend in London over February 6-8, 1987.  (The immediately previous quote from LeFanu is from this lecture.)  In an interview published in 2006, she recalled how she was motivated to research the issue in detail:

“I felt that I had had terrific opportunities and so I was somebody who could speak up without being accused of having a chip on my shoulder.  It was obvious to me that you cannot combat sexism with sexism, which is a mistake that is often made.  If you take one group who are suffering and show up prejudices then you’re probably helping all the groups who are suffering, which was not easily understood by those men who criticized us and said that we were creating ghettos and so on.  They didn’t realize that what we were pointing out was a certain very territorial and self-regarding oligarchy in the English musical establishment, which ironically is still there.”7

In a 2008 interview with the MUSE Choir of Cincinnati, LeFanu acknowledged that she was quite fortunate in her own life as a composer:

“Prejudice is seldom overt these days, but it exists, nevertheless. I'd like to think, since UK has such a number of fine women composers, that things were getting better; but then, things were very good for women composers when I began, in the nineteen sixties.  So I don't take for granted that all the old prejudices have completely gone away.  But for myself, I have not been discriminated against as far as I know.”10

One can see that LeFanu has advocated for the greater presence of women composers on general principle, rather than out of self-interest, since by her own admission, she knew that had it good personally in her own professional life.  It thus only makes sense that she would advocate that other female composers should enjoy similar barrier-free careers.

    We can ask, of course, how much things have changed in the last decade in the UK for female composers.  Such a question is well beyond the remit of this blog post, of course.  The single most visible positive sign is the 2014 appointment of Judith Weir as Master of the Queen’s Music, the first woman in the post’s nearly 400-year history.  In London, at The Proms, the world’s largest classical music festival, composers like Weir and Sally Beamish, and Charlotte Bray, Tansy Davies, and Anna Meredith from the next generation, have become regular featured composers. 

LeFanu herself continues to compose, where her recent works include a chamber opera, Tokaido Road (2014), which you can sample on-line from a February 2015 performance at the Guildhall School in London:

Her other recent compositions include Threnody for orchestra (2015), and “A Birthday Card for Jane O’Leary” for solo piano (2016).  Her very newest opus is scheduled to premiere on February 17 in London, The Crimson Bird for soprano and orchestra, a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society.

It remains to hope to see you at this concert at The Chapel on February 11, and to send early happy 70th birthday greetings to Nicola LeFanu from St. Louis, Missouri, USA.


  1. LeFanu, Nicola, “Elizabeth Maconchy DBE (1907-1994)”.  ‘MusicWeb International’ website, October 7, 2007.

  2. Mathias, Rhiannon, Lutyens, Maconchy, Williams and Twentieth-Century British Music.  Ashgate Publishing Limited (Farnham, England), p. 16 (2012).

  3. Anderson, Martin, “Our finest lost composer”.  The Independent, April 13, 2001.

  4. Mathias, p. 28.

  5. Interestingly, LeFanu reverses the attributed sentiments, in her 2007 on-line bio of her mother, that the adjudicators were in favor, but Allen was against, quoting the same comment.  However, Mathias had cited Maconchy’s own reminiscences in a 1985 TV documentary for the UK’s Channel 4, Elizabeth Maconchy: A Video Portrait.  Maconchy quipped that the adjudicators were “aged about ninety”.  So, with all due respect to LeFanu, this writer leans more to Mathias’ recounting of the story.

  6. Mathias, pp. 51-52.

  7. Haddon, Elizabeth, Making Music in Britain.  Ashgate Publishing Limited (Aldershot, England), pp. 119-135 (2006).

  8. LeFanu, Nicola, “David Lumsdaine: A biographical appreciation”.  ‘The music of David Lumsdaine’ website, 2012.

  9. LeFanu, Nicola, “Master Musician: An Impregnable Taboo?”  Lecture given at “Women in Music”, February 6-8, 1987, South Bank Centre, London.

  10. A Conversation with Composer Nicola LeFanu”.  MUSE News, Fall 2008.

Meet composer Adam Maness

We commissioned composer Adam Maness to write a piece for us for our concert themed ESSENCE, which explores how composers express what is essential to them about their home through their music.

His piece for clarinet, violin, viola and cello is call The Delmar Wall.
We asked him a few questions about himself and his music.

Q: Your formal training and performing is not as a classical musician, but now you are performing with and writing for classically trained musicians. Can you share a little about what your training in music was and how it has evolved? What are some of the challenges and some of the rewards of working with musicians from different backgrounds?

I started playing the piano when I was ten. Mostly classical (nothing too serious) until I discovered jazz when I was around fourteen. In high school, I played in the jazz band and eventually started playing jazz and pop gigs around St. Louis. After high school, I moved to New York to attend the New School University as a jazz performance major. Before I could graduate, I got a call from a vocalist back in St. Louis named Erin Bode asking if I would write some music for a record she was working on. Her career was starting to flourish and she wanted a regular band so I moved back to St. Louis where I spent 11 years playing and writing songs with Erin. 

Around 2008, Erin was starting to play more and more concerts with St. Louis Symphony concertmaster David Halen and asked if I might be interested in writing some string arrangements of our original music. I leapt at the opportunity despite the fact that I had no experience writing for strings or orchestrating anything, really. David Halen was extremely gracious - we met a few times to discuss the basics of writing for the string section. After that, I was hooked on orchestration, composition, and arranging. Eventually, with the help of some new-found classical musician friends, I formed The 442s, a band in which I could really dig in to composition with great players on a regular basis. 

After years of being a jazz musician, it's been a complete thrill to learn these new skills and grow in ways I could never have imagined. The tools that it takes to improvise on the piano - knowledge of harmony, voicings, voice leading, counterpoint, bass movements, melody - all translate easily into composition and orchestration. The challenge has been learning the history of the music itself. I know so much about obscure jazz artists, but am still just hitting the broad strokes of Beethoven and Brahms. However, it is thrilling to discover such amazing art as I go.

Q: What inspired you to write about The Delmar Wall?

I love St. Louis, but there's this strange physical and mental divide in our city. Delmar Avenue between downtown and the loop is cartoonishly divided between the very rich and very poor - almost exclusively white and black. I'm not an overtly political person; I don't usually engage in political discussions on social media or have bumper stickers on my car, but I think an important duty of the artist, and something we're well-equipped to do, is to hold up a mirror to our environment for everyone to see. With "The Delmar Wall", I used as broad of strokes as I could to invoke what I hope are the most basic human qualities of tribalism, frustration, and ultimately, decency. 

 Q: What is your favorite thing about living in St. Louis?

I love being a part of such a rich and thriving arts scene! I am doubly lucky to have a foot in the jazz community and a foot in the classical community, both of which (with the help of great organizations like Chamber Project St. Louis!) are pushing the art-music scene here to grow in new directions. And the Cardinals.

Q: What's next for you this fall?

Right now, I'm putting the finishing touches on an album of Christmas music featuring The 442s, Peter Martin, Jeremy Davenport, Erin Bode, Brian Owens, and Montez Coleman that should be ready for this holiday season. I'm also working on a new piece commissioned for the Webster Groves High School concert band honoring on of their alumnus and former St. Louis Symphony contrabassoonist, Drew Thompson, who tragically passed away in 2013 at the age of 27.

Adam and Dana were interviewed on KWMU 90.7 about Adam's piece. Learn even more about it here>

You've got two chances to hear Adam's new piece in two intimate venues!



15/16 Season Preview

We are excited to present our EIGHTH SEASON! We have new venues (you requested we find some bigger spaces!), new collaborators and our first commission! But we're keeping all your favorites too. We'll be back at The Chapel Venue and our ON TAP series will continue to partner with local service charities and taverns for unique community events. 


We open the season with an energetic program featuring harp, flute and strings bringing to life the spark that ignites when something new is created. This is our first event at Crave Coffee House which resides in a beautifully renovated church adjacent to the SLU South campus. Crave has become a vibrant community space and we look forward to filing it with music! 


We are thrilled to be collaborating with Cortango Orquesta to present a truly unique evening! Be ready to dance, or at least tap your toes, during this three part event. FREE beginner Tango lessons, followed by a concert of tango music when Chamber Project and Cortango join forces, followed by a traditional milonga (dance) with a DJ. Come to some, come to all, you don't want to miss this! 


We can't wait to hear what composer Christopher Stark creates for us for our first ever commissioned piece! This world premiere will be partnered with music for winds and piano by two of the most playful composers in history: Mozart and Poulenc. 


We collaborate for the first time with local favorite, Stella Markou, soprano, on this beautiful and haunting program. This program will be presented ON TAP at the Tavern of Fine Arts, and we make our first appearance on the beautiful stage at The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts at McKendree University. 


Heaven and earth intersect with this program highlighting Schubert's String Quintet, often regarded as the pinnacle of chamber music, composed to express the universality of the human condition. Stabat Mater for soprano and string quartet by Virgil Thomson compliments and rounds out the program. We return to The Chapel for this intimate and beautiful program. 



We close our season of original programing with a feisty program for flute, clarinet, harp and strings playing music from around the world. From the haunting beauty of French Impressionism, to Celtic sounds and a wild spin of gypsy music arranged by local composer Christian Woehr, this concert will lead you down a satisfying path! You have two chances to hear this program at The Chapel Venue and ON TAP at the Schlafly Tap Room.



Of course we finish it all off with our always popular CHOICE concert at The Chapel Venue! 

Meet composer Christopher Stark

We love playing music by living composers. Living, breathing, walking, talking humans that we can connect with. We are even more excited when they can come to our concerts! 


On October 17, composer Christopher Stark will be joining us for our performances of his work Borrowed Chords. Christopher is newly appointed as Assistant Professor of Composition at Washington University, and recently won a significant commissioning grant from Chamber Music America.  Read more about it here > 

Chris graciously agreed to an brief interview for us to all get to know him better. Find out about his creative process, and his thoughts on gooey butter cake. 

What was your path to becoming a composer?

My path to becoming a composer was long and slow. I grew up in a very remote part of the United States (western Montana) where access to diverse styles of live music weren't abundant. I sought out all of the local happenings that I could, which involved a lot of pep band, playing in garage bands, and going to shows of regionally touring acts of primarily folk music. With rock and folk music as my background, I started studying classical music in college--I almost became a math major because I love numbers. It took me quite a while to understand classical music, but I knew it would be a lifelong source of interest due to its complexity and massive history, which has proven to be true; I love it more everyday.

 What is the most challenging thing about composing? What is the most rewarding thing about composing? 

The most challenging thing about composing is the sheer amount of time it takes to compose a piece and constantly having to move between macro concepts and micro details--it's very easy to get lost in one or the other. Also, maintaining the attention span to sit and work for hours on a piece everyday over the course of a few months has become increasingly difficult with the prevalence of all the bizarre technology we have to distract us. The most rewarding part of composing is completing pieces, which can seem at times impossible along the way. As a composer friend of mine put it, "I don't like composing, but I like having composed."

What is the story behind Borrowed Chords? 

Borrowed Chords is an interesting piece in my output because it marks the first time I felt like I was able to tightly control my language and certain musical techniques (primarily harmony).* A lot of my composing was highly intuitive before writing this piece, which can sound great at times, but can also feel very random. In Borrowed Chords, I felt like I was able to stick with certain ideas and fully work through their potential to create something satisfying formally and harmonically. The piece was written as part of an assignment in which I was given 48 hours to compose a piece using two four-note chords. These two chords were favorites of my teacher, Roberto Sierra, so I called the piece Borrowed Chords as an homage to him. Since writing this piece, I have focused more on developing a harmonic language which has consistency over the course of an entire movement, and I am increasingly fascinated by musical theories about how to develop harmony over time. All this aside, it's a fun and short piece, and I hope that you'll hear elements of my rock, folk, and jazz background in its driving rhythm and folky melodies.

*(Harmony is 2 or more notes sounding at the same time. There are millions of possible combinations and sequences and learning to be selective and creative about those options is one of the key steps in writing music that is successful. In his situation Christopher is using 2 sets of 4 notes to control the harmony in Borrowed Chords) - Dana

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about composers?

That we are as crazy as advertised. ;)

You just moved to St. Louis.  What is your favorite thing about St. Louis so far?

Hailing from the north, I love the weather here. I'm so happy to be away from the biting cold. I also love the ease of livability, the low cost of living, friendly people, and working at Wash U, which is a fantastic school. There are also really great coffee shops here (Sump, Blueprint, Kaldi's) and, of course, gooey butter cake.

Is there anything about St. Louis that has surprised you or was unexpected?

Two things: the first and most obvious surprise was the events in Ferguson. My latest piece for Piano Quartet has a short commentary at the end of one of the movements where I felt I couldn't continue without dealing with the emotions I felt while watching and reading the news about Mike Brown's death. Second, I was awestruck by Saarinen's Gateway Arch, which I had never seen in person. How many cities have a modernist sculpture as their defining feature? That's very cool, in my opinion.

 Any other performances of your works coming up?

The aforementioned Piano Quartet will be premiered on October 19th in Louisville. I also have an orchestral song being premiered in New York on November 14th. In the spring I'll have some events here in St. Louis, which people can find by checking my website.

Thank you for programming my work and welcoming me to St. Louis. I'm very excited to be here.

ON TAP concerts support local charities.

Our ON TAP series continues to highlight local charities that do good work in our community. This week we are featuring Card Care Connection at our concert at The Schlafly Tap Room.

Card Care Connection is a local non profit that provides supportive handmade cards and Bundles of Cheer to those facing cancer. Have you every been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness that made a difference to you? Now is your chance to be on the giving end of a gift of kindness. 

You can bring and donate small items for their Bundles of Cheer packages such as:

  • lip balm
  • nail polish 
  • lotion 
  • socks
  • new pillow cases
  • small toys 

You can support their handmade card projects by donating postage. 

A representative from Card Care Connection will be on hand to share what they do with us. Visit their website to learn more.>

Giving More

Building community has always been a core value for Chamber Project, so when Tony Saputo offered to help us make our final ON TAP concert double as a collection opportunity for Operation Food Search, we were thrilled! Operation Food Search is a local organization that distributes over 2.75 million pounds (!!!) of food and necessities to community partners every MONTH!  150,000 people in the region, about a third of them children, are fed monthly. We are honored to spread the word about their good work and give you the opportunity to connect with them. 

Our friend Tony is the leader of the local chapter of the United States Bartender's Guild. He thought our concert would be a great opportunity to join forces to support a cause that the Guild is involved with. (You may remember that our last ON TAP concert at The Schlafly Tap Room doubled as a collection even for Connections to Success) 

Tony worked with 4 Hands Brewing Co. to arrange everything and invited two of St. Louis' best bartenders to join him to serve you great brews during our concert. Not only are these bartenders donating their services for the evening, they will be giving 100% of their tips to Operation Food Search as well as. Additionally we will be accepting non-perishable items (no glass please) for donation - so grab a can from your pantry and tip big as you enjoy an evening of fantastic music by some of the best musician's in St. Louis at a fantastic brewery! 

Take a moment to get to know these three generous guys and come out and say "hi" on Wednesday night! get tickets now >

Introducing our Celebrity Bartenders! 

Matt Sorrell, the Guild's secretary, is an experienced mixologist and freelance writer based in St. Louis, MO. He has been writing professionally for thirteen years and has contributed to a variety of local and national publications, such as USA Today, Draft Magazine, ALIVE Magazine, Ladue News, and FEAST Magazine. He also co-authored a book with Chef Clara Moore, "Shop Like A Chef: A Food Lover's Guide To St. Louis Neighborhoods."  Also, after creating a traveling bartending service named Cocktails Are Go to deliver in-home tastings and educational sessions at house parties and social gatherings, Matt Sorrell has become a core bartender at some of St. Louis' best cocktail vendors, the former Salt and recently established Planter's House.

Seth Wahlman is a long time member of the United States Bartender's Guild and is the Bar Manager of Eclipse Restaurant of the Moonrise Hotel.  His drinks have been published in ALIVE Magazine, Sauce, and Feast. Mr.Wahlman was named Sauce Magazine's 2012 mixologist of the year and also placed in various cocktail competitions throughout the region for Bombay Sapphire, Don Julio, and others.  With a love and extensive knowledge of culinary practice, beer, wine, and liquor, Seth is truly a force that keeps St. Louis' bar scene consistently interesting and fresh!

Tony Saputo works alongside Seth Wahlman at the Eclipse Restaurant as the Assistant Bar Manager. Mr. Saputo is the social supervisor of the St. Louis Chapter of the USBG and cofounder of the popular city wide cocktail club, Drink Up, St.Louis.  Much like the other volunteers, Tony has placed in various local magazines featuring original cocktails and creations.  He often travels to different Bartender's Guild events throughout the country, proudly acting as an ambassador of the St.Louis bar culture.  Tony will be celebrating his tenth year behind a bar this year.


MAY 7, 7PM*
4 Hands Brewing Co. 

$12.50 in advance
$15.00 door
$5 students

A modern American quintet for Saxophone and Strings, a jazzy duet for clarinet and bass and the famous String Quintet by Dvorak.

*There is no Cardinals baseball on Wednesday - there is ample free parking across the street from 4 Hands. 

What's going on

We are busy! Here's what we're up to right now. 

THANK YOU to everyone who attended and donated clothing at our ON TAP concert last month. Dress for Success took home an enormous haul of professional attire and the evening was a definitive success!

*This week we are coaching young musicians from the Ladue High School Bands to prepare them for their upcoming concert at a local retirement community. Conversations and demonstrations about how to stay together as an ensemble and how to most effectively communicate with each other and with the audience have been a lot of fun!

*In March, Chamber Project will perform at NASA - no, we're not going to the moon -  it's the largest ever North American Saxophone Alliance biannual conference, held this year at The University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana.  We are honored to have been accepted to perform. Jen, Adrianne and pianist Rachel Aubuchon (from Columbia MO) will be highlighting our commitment to women in the arts as we perform works of Jennifer Higdon and Adrienne Albert. We perform on March 22.  learn more here>


*We are gearing up for our final three concerts of the year.  EVOLUTION promises to be a fantastic program. Visit the CONCERT page for details and tickets. 

For our final ON TAP concert at 4 Hands Brewing Co. will be co-sponsoring a donation drive for Operation Food Search with the local chapter of the National Bartenders Guild Association. Stay tuned for details. Tickets for this go on sale March 1. 

*Many of your favorite Chamber Project musician's are performing next week in Winter Opera's production of Lucia di Lammermoor, including Megan Stout who performed the big harp solo from this work last year in a Chamber Project concert. get tickets here>


Meet Jeff

We are excited to be presenting our first concert with a percussionist! Over a year ago we got an email from this guy introducing himself. We checked out his youtube channel and were impressed, so we working him into this really fantastic program. In fact, he has a piece all to himself!  

Jeff's story -

The way my mom tells it, my musical career started when I was 2 years old.  We'd be visiting my grandparents, and I would climb up to the piano and plunk out melodies that I had heard on the stereo or just make up my own melodies.  I got started on piano lessons a couple of years later, but was always looking forward to the 4th grade, when we got to start participating in band.  I always knew I wanted to play percussion - in fact, it was completely amazing to me that some people DIDN'T want to play percussion.  Once I started, there was no looking back.  When it came time to start thinking of careers and college majors, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything other than music.  Nothing else seemed right.

Jeff with some of his "toys".

Jeff with some of his "toys".

I got my degree in music education from Penn State University, but didn't quite feel ready to enter the work force - I wanted to really hone my skills as a performer.  So I resumed my studies at the University of Michigan, earning my master's degree in percussion performance.  After graduating, I returned to my home state of New Jersey to start my teaching career.  For three years, I worked as an elementary school band director and district percussion specialist.  I had a great time doing it, but rather quickly realized that this was not my life's calling - I wanted to work with college students, those who have made the decision to dedicate their lives to music.  So I returned to Ann Arbor and graduated with my DMA, also in percussion performance.  Upon graduating, I was fortunate enough to find employment at Lindenwood University.

Just one of the instruments Jeff will be performing on with us. This is a marimba. 

Just one of the instruments Jeff will be performing on with us. This is a marimba. 


Working at LU has been fantastic - my students and colleagues are great, and I am totally justified in choosing this career path.  I am currently the Director of Percussion Studies at the St. Charles campus, and the Director of Bands at the Belleville campus.  I am thrilled to be playing with Chamber Project STL - chamber music has always been a very important part of my musical education and career, and being able to continue that with this group means a lot to me.  The 'Weave' program features great music (although I am partial to Reich's Vermont Counterpoint, my solo debut with the group!), and I'm sure you'll love it as much as we do.  Thanks for supporting Chamber Project STL and the arts!  Please visit my website at and my YouTube channel at to see my videos and learn more about me.  

Meet Jeff at our Very Open Rehearsal on Jan 9 and hear him perform Jan 17 and 29th. Check out our concerts page for details.

What in the world is AUGENMUSIK?

Last week, we showcased a piece of music by composer Kenji Bunch that we'll be playing this month. He uses non-traditional notation to convey his musical ideas. You can read all about it here >.  

Augenmusik, or "eye music" is not at all a modern invention. Bob Chamberlin, Professor and Director of Music Theory and Musicianship at Webster Universtiy generously wrote up a little history of Augenmusik. It's amazing how different music through the ages sounds. You'll have to come to one of our three concerts next week to see how Kenji's Augenmusik sounds (it's very different from any of the examples here!)

Augenmusik: a brief introduction

The term “augenmusik”  is a German work that means literally, “eye music” or music to be appreciated visually.  Composers have been notating visually intriguing musical scores for many centuries.

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples is the chanson, “Belle, Bonne, Sage” by Baude Cordier (ca. 1380 – ca. 1440).  The musical score is shaped like a heart and has red notes to indicate rhythmic alterations.  A smaller heart made of musical notes hangs like a pendant within the musical score. See and here it here >  Baude Cordier also composed a round, “Tout par compass suy corposis” or “With a compass I was composed."   Listen to it here >

Cordier - "With a Compass I was composed."

Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

In the 16th century, Italian madrigalists (song writers) often used different note values to indicate specific words that were either dark or light words.  For example, black notes might be used for the words “death” or “night” and whole notes and half notes to express words like “light” and pale”.  In composer Luca Marenzio’s work, “senza il mia sole” (1588), black notes are used for the phrase, “chiuser le luci” (close their eyes).”

During the Baroque period, Telemann’s “Gulliver Suite” uses meter and note values to distinguish between “Lilliputian” and “Brobdingnagian.” (The two islands in the book the music is based on.) Listen to it here >

Many recent composers (20th and 21st centuries) have composed augenmusik.  George Crumb’s composition, “Makrokosmos, Vol. I” for amplified piano, includes pieces depicting a cross, a circle and a spiral galaxy.  These shapes were chosen to indicate different signs of the zodiac.  Listen to it here >

George Crumb

George Crumb

Interview with Kenji Bunch

We're excited to be playing the music of American composer Kenji Bunch this month. We got his CD Boiling Point and fell in love with the piece Drift and decided it fit perfectly on our DREAM program  Much to our surprise, when we got the music, it was not written out in traditional notation! We thought you might like to know more about how this works, so we've put together two blog posts about AUGENMUSIK (Eye Music).

Bob Chamberlin from Webster University is going to share a short history of Augenmusik, including links to recordings in our second post, but first, we're going to hear from Kenji Bunch himself. We contacted Kenji on Facebook and asked him a few questions about his creative process with Drift.       

Drift by Kenji Bunch. All images used with permission.  

What inspired you to write a graphic score?       As a performer, I've worked with a lot of graphic notation, from my years as violist in the Flux Quartet to my time as part of the performing composer collective Ne(x)tworks, a group that specialized in music of the New York School, the avant garde movement of John Cage and his contemporaries.  Writing graphic scores seemed a natural extension of this work.

What came first, the musical ideas or the desire to use this type of notation? What's the story behind this composition? 
I was commissioned by the Spoleto USA Festival to write a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano.  For whatever reason, at the time I was working on the project, my schedule only allowed me to sit down at my desk and get to work rather late at night.  After taking the necessary time to settle down and focus, so that I was actually ready to get good work done, I would be so tired that I'd literally be falling asleep while composing the piece.  I realized that some quality musical ideas were drifting away into my subconscious mind, and if I was able to recall any of them later that night or the next day, they wouldn't be exactly the same.  

Then it occurred to me that there was potential for some interesting exploration about this notion of memory and transformation.  In essence, the material in this piece develops not through the traditional compositional tools, but through the performer's ability to recall what he or she heard earlier in the work.  Any "mistakes" in this recollection would be embraced as development of the material.  And ultimately, the piece serves as a metaphor for the process of grief, which is really a confrontation and reconciliation with the idea that memories are inherently ephemeral, and can't be preserved without some kind of inevitable alteration.

The music literally Drifts away sometimes. 

 Did you experiment with and discard different ways of writing the same material? Did you rearrange the order of the material or movements?    I actually tried valiantly to write this piece using traditional notation.  This was a commission for very accomplished performers, but not necessarily for people who would be accustomed to performing off of drawings.  I was concerned the graphic score would be a distraction that could keep the piece from being taken seriously.  Ultimately, though, I realized it was really restricting me to write the necessary bar lines and rhythms, and it ended up looking way more complicated than it sounded.

Do you use this type of notation often?      I think my first graphic scores were back in 2002, when I was writing for a band called Nurse Kaya that I had with some friends.  I've used non traditional notations a number of times since then, but probably about 85% of my music is written the normal way.

What challenges does this type of notation present to you as the composer? What rewards does it offer you as the creator of this music that traditional notation doesn't offer?      First of all, we need to recognize that every form of notation, including the standard one in use for hundreds of years, is a graphic score.  Music written down in any fashion is a graph, depicting sound frequencies (pitch) over time.  There are other variables (dynamics, articulation, etc.), but all scores are expressions of a graph.  

With this in mind, it becomes possible to see that for certain techniques, traditional notation may not always be the best choice.  What I've found with pieces like "Drift" is that the notation, while at first kind of bewildering, actually makes it a lot easier for the performers to make music.  It enables listening rather than counting, and connecting and responding with each other, rather than trying to anticipate someone else's rhythms or assert your own.  It can be very freeing.  Especially in the case of this piece, which makes room for some gently guided improvisation for the three musicians. 

Check out Kenji's website >     (and buy some of his music!)

Isn't it interesting to learn about the process behind creating music? Which of the images are you most excited to hear? Do you think you'll be able to tell what we're playing in the concert? 


We discussed how long this passage should last in rehearsal a few times. In the end, it just happens the way it happens! 

Initially this page probably scared us the most. The first time we played it it was a disaster, but it's amazing how it always works out.

We'll be performing Drift three times in November: 

We've been selling out at The Chapel Series - don't wait to get your tickets! Advance pricing and online sales end at noon on day of concert.  buy tickets now > 

You asked for a matinee concert, and you got it! Join us in this beautiful sanctuary. Free will donation suggested.  view details >

A cozy venue for a great concert.  view details >


Chamber Project ON TAP

Artistic Director and flutist Jennifer Gartley introduces our new series:


Before I moved to Saint Louis, I am going to have to admit I did not like beer. I just didn't. I mean, I was over my horrible amaretto sour stage, but beer was not at the top of my list.  But when you move to Saint Louis, you better saddle up because beer is KING.  STL is the home of Budweiser, you can walk out of your house in the city in the morning and smell the hops/seeds/barley, or whatever it is they are brewing, and know you are in the Lou.



There is a craft beer revolution going on in Saint Louis too, and it is exciting, and good for the city, and really really tasty.   Personally, I've been able to explore my tastes with my local brew masters over at the Civil Life, Urban Chestnut, Six Row, 4Hands, Schlafly... and I know I don't like the beers that taste like perfumed flowers, but I do like the stouts, and a good black ale.  And it can be a little less intimidating than wine (which is also pretty darn good, but if I'm being honest, I can't tell the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot, but I pretend to).  You can learn a little but  more about the viewpoint of some of these craft breweries in the trailer for their movie here:  - but if you don't have time, it really comes down to community, and making people happy, and locally supported businesses.  What can that do for a city? A community?


Well, obviously, this sounds SO up the Chamber Project alley - all about people, connecting with our community, making St. Louis a better place to live...  But beer and classical music in a bar? Does that work?

It's happening all over the country, and our experiments with it have show a demand for it! Check out this piece on the Cleveland Orchestra in a local Cleveland bar, breaking down barriers and finding new audiences. Pretty cool, huh?

We want to bring together all that St. Louis has to offer - great music, great beer and great people, all ON TAP just for you. We are proud to partner with Schlafly Beer and 4 Hands Brewing Co. along with the Tavern of the Fine Arts to try this out this season - come and raise a glass with us,  it's going to be fun. Cheers!

Tavern of Fine Arts - OCT 23, 7:30pm
Schlafly Tap Room - JAN 29, 7:00pm
4 Hands Brewing Co. - MAY 6, 7:00pm   


This series is partly funded by The Missouri Arts Council and the Regional Arts Commission.

Season Six has a Theme!

From the get go, we've enjoyed pulling together our concerts with a theme. We could just plop together any old music we like, but where's the challenge in that? This season we've taken it to the next level, and have a theme uniting our entire concert series.

Each of our five programs this year connects in some way to theater. This idea originated when we discovered the newly discovered original score to a work by the famous Aaron Copland and built a program around it. From there we kept building our season and bit by bit realized that with we could work out a theme for our entire series! We're really excited to present our first concert in just two weeks. Rehearsals began this past weekend, and were a blast. 

Our first concert is titled DANCE, and includes the "new" work by Copland, as well as 4 tangos in some form or another!  Here's a little bit about this concert. 

Copland wrote some incidental music to a play in 1940. Quiet City was a flop as a play, so Mr. Copland took his score for quartet and arranged it for string orchestra, trumpet and English horn. You can read more about how the original scoring was recently published here in last weeks blog post. 


Keep an eye out around town for this poster! 

We built this program around Quiet City, which has the unique instrumentation of trumpet, saxophone, clarinets and piano. We added a few instruments to that ensemble to build out the program. 

The concert  begins with a short piece titled "Breakdown Tango" by American composer John Mackey which was composed to be danced to, although not as a traditional tango! It's a wild and raunchy affair that will spice up the kick off to our sixth season! 

We finish the program with another ballet score by an early 20th Century composer, Martinu. (He's Czech, but the music is all French.) La Revue de Cuisine  is about a love triangle between kitchen utensils. Yes, you read that right, kitchen utensils. Want to read more about how "Dishcloth makes eyes at Lid but is challenge to a duel by Broom?" (click here)  As you might imagine the music is delightful, playful and full of dance numbers. there's a Tango, a Charleston and a March for seven instruments. We're excited to have Dawn Weber playing trumpet with us on this piece and the Copland! Check out her website, she's got about one million cool things going on. 

At this point in the program development process, we figured we'd better add a few more dance numbers to the program to keep the theme going. Pulling in the suite of dances from Stravinsky's trio arrangement of his famous L'historie du Soldat was an easy fit (or not so easy for Kyle who has to play maybe the most difficult Tango ever written for violin), and we get to Dance with the Devil for a minute or so, which should be fun. We also threw in a slow tango by the tango master, Piazzolla, and wham, we've got a program all about theater and dance! 

So put your dancin' shoes on and join us on Sept. 6 at The Chapel for a great time! Tickets are on sale here.  

Program details are available here >