The faculty ensemble gives musicians a place to showcase their talents and the community a chance to enjoy fantastic music for free.
“I remember playing a duet with Paul Evoskevich on a Camerata recital – a jazz sonata for saxophone and piano by Ramon ‘Ray’ Ricker,” said Clifford Brucker, G’89, an adjunct music faculty member from 2000 to 2014. “It was a bear of a piece, and we nailed it. That was one of the high points of my time at Saint Rose.”
The year was 2009, and Brucker, a jazz pianist and percussionist who has played with Aretha Franklin as well as the Albany Symphony, was performing with the Saint Rose Camerata, which this year celebrates its 15th anniversary.
The faculty ensemble at Saint Rose, the Camerata features the College’s talented musicians playing in a wide variety of ensembles. The group has developed a strong reputation in the area and has been featured on radio station WMHT’s prestigious “No Ticket Required” series.
The Camerata provides a vital, regular outlet where faculty can perform in a small, intimate group. “Many Saint Rose faculty play in local symphony orchestras but don’t have much opportunity to play chamber music,” explained Brucker, now an adjunct faculty member at Schenectady County Community College. “It’s a chance for virtuosos to play together at a high level.”
“If it weren’t for the Camerata, I wouldn’t have a venue to perform great chamber music on our campus,” said Dr. David Bebe, an assistant professor of music and longtime Camerata member. “I’ve had faculty tell me that, without the Camerata, they probably wouldn’t be performing at all,” added Camerata founder and director, Dr. Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough.
Coming Out to Play
Hansbrough, a professor of flute, started the group simply because she wanted to play chamber music and recognized the Saint Rose faculty as a superb resource just waiting to be tapped. “We all wanted to perform, and saw this as a great opportunity to perform on campus and collaborate,” she said.
Performing together, added Bebe, makes players bond in ways that do not happen in faculty meetings. “Any time you perform great music with someone, you feel closer,” said Bebe. “And it’s very nice to share that with your colleagues.”
The ensemble started small, without any funding, and at first performed in whatever space was available. “For the first couple of years, we were traveling here and there, to churches and to the Saint Joseph Hall Auditorium, which is not designed for concerts and doesn’t have the best acoustics,” added Dr. Young Kim, an associate professor of piano and Camerata founding member.
In subsequent years, the Camerata began to receive funding from the School of Arts & Humanities and the music department, which allowed the group to grow.
“We started doing more larger groups, even chamber orchestras, which allowed us to invite guest artists,” explained Hansbrough. (The largest group to date is 17 players, which will perform Darius Milhaud’s La Création du Monde in March 2018.)
In 2008, the ensemble very happily began performing in its brand-new permanent space, the Kathleen McManus Picotte Recital Hall in the Massry Center for the Arts.
“Having this recital hall has really boosted the whole series,” said Kim. “It’s a great venue for chamber music. And it’s our home.”
Bringing Music Appreciation to the Community
An important function of the Camerata is to provide high-quality music for the community, free of charge and in a family-friendly venue. Kim and Hansbrough remembered one of the Camerata’s first concerts in Saint Joseph Hall, when their spouses had to walk the couples’ young children up and down the hall to keep them amused and quiet during the performance.
“Our kids grew up with Camerata, and we have memories of the Camerata like we have of our kids – with ups and downs, and growing pains,” added Kim.
The Camerata welcomes listeners of all ages and levels of music knowledge. The musicians educate as well as entertain, providing comprehensive program notes and sometimes even performance-practice demonstrations. For instance, for a performance of Vox Balaenae (“Voice of the Whale”) by George Crumb on a recent recital, the performers gave the audience a presentation on the “extended techniques” required by the piece before playing.
Seeking to represent the songs of whales, the piece calls for electrically amplified flute, cello, and piano, and requires the flautist to sing while playing, and the pianist to play on the piano strings with a chisel (Kim downgraded the chisel to a less-destructive shot glass).
“This way, when the audience hears the piece, they’ll understand and not wonder, ‘Why is she moaning into her flute?’” said Hansbrough.
Students, of course, learn a lot at Camerata concerts. “They hear a wealth of chamber music from all different style periods, from Baroque to contemporary,” Hansbrough said.
“I love the repertoire we’re able to do – lots of premieres, lots of lesser-known but very beautiful, powerful pieces,” added Bebe.
Past concerts, for instance, have included compositions by Saint Rose faculty Dr. Bruce Roter, Dr. Andrew McKenna Lee, and Dr. Sean McClowry; area composer Persis Vehar; and Juilliard professor Michael White. The wackiest piece, said Hansbrough, was most likely Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis for solo bassoon and chamber ensemble, for which faculty member Dr. Sherwood Wise played bassoon wearing a wig, big dark glasses, and spangled jumpsuit.
Teaching by Example
Seeing their professors perform offers students a valuable learning experience outside of lessons and classes. “It’s very important for our students to see us up on stage because we’re teaching them how to play their instruments, but we’re also teaching them stage presence and talking to them about how to handle performance anxiety,” said Hansbrough.
“My teaching influences my playing, and my playing influences my teaching,” said Bebe. “And I think our students grow to trust us more. They see their instructors truly know what it takes to perform and can execute the skills they talk about in class.”
When she’s learning a new piece for the Camerata, Kim added, she’ll often show her students what she’s playing. “Sometimes I think that seeing me work on – and sometimes struggle with – practicing a piece will motivate them even more than the actual lesson.
“Sometimes music is something that we can’t explain in words in class,” said Kim. “But when students watch our performance, it can inspire them. Even if they plan to become teachers in elementary or secondary schools, they have to know how to perform well, play with heart, and make their kids love music.”