Summer Chamber Music Workshop Inspires Students

BERKELEY HEIGHTS–It started in a one-room schoolhouse — actually the choir room of a church in Summit. This was the humble beginning of the New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestra’s Introduction to Chamber Music Workshop in the summer of 2006.  With one coach, cellist Martin Steinberg and a dozen string players met every Thursday night for eight weeks and tried their hand at early Mozart string quartets.

With extremely limited funding and low fees, the program continued for the summer of 2007. Then, with the help of a grant from the Amateur Chamber Music Players Association, the workshop grew in 2008 — more coaches were added and enrollment more than doubled. One challenge remained – the lack of a home base – for the workshop had sessions in three different locations, Maplewood, Westfield and Cranford.


“Musically, with great coaches like Misha Kuchuk, Ruth Brons and Vincent Novellino, our students learned quite a bit, but naturally, there was some confusion about where we would meet each week,” said Steinberg, who would bring five fans with him every week to create breezes in the non-air conditioned spaces.

Fortunately, the nomadic experience ended in 2009 when the NJIO moved to the air-conditioned Judith G. Wharton Music Center in Berkeley Heights and added two more outstanding coaches — Elzbieta Winnicka and Elizabeth Nowik. A total of 60 workshop participants attended the two chamber music sessions that summer, as they did this June and July 2010.

Designed for beginning and intermediate players, most of the participants have been string players until this year, when the accomplished flutist Diana Charos Reilly joined the faculty to lead a woodwind group. The workshop’s goal is for players to learn about and play chamber music in a noncompetitive atmosphere. Coaching by professional musicians is a strong component.

As a non-profit organization, the NJIO keeps its prices affordable to encourage participation. Coach and workshop leader Martin Steinberg said, “the cost of the program is a bargain at $25 for each class with two hours of coaching.”

This summer seven coaches, an increase from five in previous summers, were hired to coach students as young as 10 and as old as 70. NJIO’s motto is “Bridging the Generations Through Music.” “Nurturing the talents of people of all ages typifies the type of coaches we have,” said Steinberg.

Playing in a chamber ensemble can be daunting for students who have taken only a few private lessons or have never played in a small group like a quartet. To ease the anxiety of less experienced players, 30 student musicians begin by playing a Mozart string quartet together as an orchestra, with the coaches also playing. After the icebreaker, the players are assigned to smaller ensembles to work with their coach.

South Orange student, Bryce Tempest, a cellist in 10th grade, said of the workshop, “I really liked the coaches, especially Misha, who was passionate about the music and taught musicality; he was big on dynamic changes to make the music more memorable.”

Misha, a nickname for Mikhail Kuchuk, is a professional violinist and coach who graduated from the Academy of Music in Odessa and earned a doctorate in Freiburg, Germany. Teaching at the Wharton Center throughout the year he plays in numerous groups, including the Romanza Music ensemble of New Jersey, which performs at weddings and private parties.

Carolyn Wong of Morristown, and a viola player in 6th grade also liked her coach, Misha, and said, “He paid a lot of attention to the things that I need to work on, and he’s also pretty funny when he makes jokes about dynamics.” Wong, who attended both workshop sessions for the past two summers played viola in the string quartet with Bryce Tempest on cello, and Rebecca Slater and Samantha Silverstein on violin.

“If you’re in a small group, you get to play a bigger part than when you play in an orchestra,” said Wong. “Sometimes I played harmony and other times I had a small solo. I like playing music together with others for fun.”

Woodwind students playing flute and oboe rehearsed with coach Diana Charos Reilly. Accompanied by cello workshop students, they practiced and performed the Trio Sonata in G Major by Johann Joachim Quantz, who Reilly said was the flute teacher of Frederick the Great of Prussia.

Basking Ridge resident, Juliet Benjamin, a flutist in 9th grade and member of the NJIO Symphony said, “The chamber music workshop is a great way to learn how other people feel passionate about music because of the small group size.” Joining this summer’s workshop gave her the experience of the chamber ensemble with one instrument per part as contrasted to playing in the flute section of the NJIO symphony.

Westfield resident, Marcie Horowitz, an oboist with the woodwind group who began studying the oboe four years ago at age 50 said, “Little passages can be intimidating, but the chamber music workshop gave me a lot of confidence to play solo.” Horowitz met oboist Joan McArthur at the NJIO Symphony and oboist Sandee Kahn at the summer chamber music workshop. The three decided to get together to have fun playing trios just for themselves. “You never know where it’s going to lead,” says Horowitz. “Personal connections you make with other musicians lead you to other musical opportunities.”

Horowitz’s own words sum up the sentiments of other chamber music workshop participants when she said, “For a person like me at my skill level, I still have a long way to go, but I was able to feel comfortable. It’s an encouraging environment, and I will definitely take the workshop next year. Music never ends, and the experiences one can have are ever expanding.”

The Summer Introduction to Chamber Music Workshop has been made possible though the generosity of ACMP – The Chamber Music Network.

The New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestras was born in 1994. It has performed at the United Nations, Lincoln Center, the U.S. Capitol, and in many locations in its home state, including schools and senior citizen centers.

This season, NJIO has added a third ensemble, the Prelude String Orchestra for beginners, which meets Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:30 PM. The Intermezzo String Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Davies, meets Thursdays from 5:45 to 7:00 PM, and the NJIO Symphony, conducted by NJIO Music Director Joe Gluck, meets on Thursdays from 7:15 PM to 9:45 PM. Auditions are required only for the Symphony 1st violin players. Musicians should bring a music stand and their instrument to the Wharton Music Center, 60 Locust Avenue, Berkeley Heights.

All three ensembles are open to players of all ages. The Fall Open House is on Sept. 16 and 23 and the Judith G. Wharton Music Center in Berkeley Heights.

For more information, visit, email or call 1-908-603-7691.

Felicia Guo, Andrew Fantina, Annie Wu, Vincent Neill, Danielle Amari

Robert Murray, Elizabeth Hanscom, Sandra Kahn, Marcie Horowitz, of Westfield

Gavin Davies, Lorie Foster, John Hatchard, Gene Ehrlich, Innes Borstel, Len Avdey

Marc Pressel, Elizabeth Nowik, Kenneth Kalmanson, Alan Du (foreground)

Maya Sheinfeld, Ruth Brons, Melissa Niebylski, Beth Sheinfeld

Diana Charos Reilly, Vera Peterson, Monica Nowik

All photos courtesy of NJIO

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