I spent the last two weeks teaching at the Sequoia Chamber Music Festival at Humboldt State University. This was the Workshop’s fortieth year, but only my first. It was an exhilarating, inspiring — and thoroughly exhausting — experience.
In a typical day at Sequoia, students (ages 12–20) are assigned to new chamber groups in the morning, read and select music, spend the day rehearsing and practicing, and give a public performance of the chosen piece in the evening. With four concerts (plus a Friday Forum which the students program entirely themselves) in five and a half days, the players make their way through quite a bit of repertoire in each session. The coaches also work hard to ensure that everyone gets experience in a variety of ensembles: large, small, winds/strings only, mixed instrumentation, with piano, etc. The assignments are also designed to have students working with as many different colleagues and coaches as possible throughout the week.
I coached a total of eight groups/pieces during Sequoia, ranging from Gwyneth Walker’s Concerto for Bassoon and Strings to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Quintet in B-flat Major for piano and winds to the Grand Nonetto by Louis Spohr. Every day I had the great pleasure of watching my already talented young players grow, becoming better at their instruments, more sensitive as ensemble members, and just generally more experienced musicians. Some combinations of players and pieces took longer to gel, but I was proud of each and every performance by my groups.
This fast-paced schedule certainly has its purely musical benefits, but I saw other positive effects on the students. For one, playing with different people every day (and rotating between parts) seems to create a truly collegial and inclusive atmosphere. This group of students was far less cliquey than at other summer music programs I’ve experienced. Also, between this supportive atmosphere and the daily musical improvement, I saw students’ confidence levels grow through the week. At the beginning of a session, I could often tell who’d been to Sequoia before — returning students were more likely to want to rip into hard repertoire. But by the end of each session, most everyone was game for a real challenge.
Besides getting to work with so many enthusiastic young musicians, Sequoia offered me the opportunity to work, hang out, and perform with the seventeen other great coaches. In the course of the two faculty concerts, I played woodwind quintets by Jean Françaix and Elliott Carter; Carl Nielsen’s Serenata in Vano for clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello, and bass; and Albert Roussel’s Duo for bassoon and bass. The Nielsen was the only one I’d actually performed before, so it was nice to be able to add some things to my own chamber repertoire.
I could go on and on about how great my Sequoia experience was — my wonderful host family, the silliness of the Friday Forums, the various birthday celebrations, etc., etc. — but I think I’ll just leave you with some photos. There are a few pictures in the gallery below that don’t seem to fit with the others. Between the two sessions, a few of us coaches had a really fun gig: playing the national anthem at a Humboldt Crabs minor league baseball game! Charles DeRamus, who loves both bass and baseball, set that up for us.
Photos taken by Sequoia Associate Director Ethan Filner, Sequoia Counselor/Theory Teacher Darryl Tolliver, and Humboldt Crabs Photographer Erik Fraser.