celebrates 20 years of chamber music in town
White, Jane Baker and Ruth Bent
In the spring of 1983,
several Yellow Springs music lovers got together in Ruth Bents kitchen
and imagined what seemed to them an unreachable dream to make Yellow
Springs the home of world-class concerts of chamber music.
We spent about five minutes saying, Were too small,
we cant do that, said Bent. Then we said, Well,
the least we can do is try.
Try they did, and they succeeded. A combination of hard work and a supportive
community has turned Yellow Springs into a little town with a big heart
for chamber music, the home of a world-renowned concert series and competition.
This Sunday, Nov. 3, Chamber Music Yellow Springs will celebrate its 20th
season with a concert by the Artis String Quartet. The performance will
take place at the First Presbyterian Church, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Everyone
is invited to come early to celebrate the groups 20th season with
desserts and appetizers at 6 p.m. at the church.
From the get-go, what seemed a foolish dream turned out to be remarkably
doable, said a group of past and current CMYS volunteers in a recent interview.
Two hundred people showed up at the first concert, Bent said.
It was obviously something people wanted. We never looked back.
These days, chamber music groups come to Yellow Springs from all over
the world, and at least one the Vienna Piano Trio performed
here a day after playing Carnegie Hall in New York. And while CMYS cant
offer the fees these groups usually command, the group lures top-notch
musicians by offering something rare a large, passionate, knowledgeable
The musicians invariably say, This is a great audience,
said CMYS organizer Jane Baker, who links the CMYS audiences
passion to the large number of local musicians. Our audience acts
like its having a good time, said Bent. They communicate
Performers also appreciate the lovely acoustics at the concerts
location at the Presbyterian Church, organizers said. And the church sanctuary
enhances the intimacy between audience members and musicians, CMYS members
The musicians enter through the audience, and the first thing they
see is the packed house, said Bent. That gets them excited.
Just as unusual for the performers as the concert itself is what happens
afterwards, organizers said. Unlike most concert organizers, who may offer
musicians wine and cheese following the performance, or just take them
back to their hotel, the CMYS group honors performers with a gourmet dinner
in a private home, after which they stay with a family.
In Yellow Springs, the musicians eat with us, they talk with us
and they lodge with us, said Jeff Huntington.
The CMYS approach clearly works. While the group still needs to convince
performers who have never been to Yellow Springs to give it a try, they
dont have to convince past performers to return. In fact, Sundays
performers, the Artis Quartet, have played in Yellow Springs twice. The
group first performed here in 1985, winning the first CMYS competition.
If theyve been here more than once, they know its fun,
The enthusiasm musicians have for Yellow Springs audiences is what first
spurred CMYS organizers into pursuing their dream. That first informal
meeting in Ruth Bents kitchen took place after the final concert
in a chamber music series organized by former villager Bob Turoff and
sponsored by Antioch College. The musicians, from the Cincinnati Symphony,
lamented not coming back to Yellow Springs, saying they enjoyed the audience
so much theyd play for free.
Serious music lovers, such as Baker, Bent, Huntington, Barbara and David
Case, George Rike, and Louise and Frank Betcher, took note. They considered
possible venues for a concert series before settling on the Presbyterian
Church, which Jane Baker suggested. Char Schiff sent out fundraising letters,
and applied for a $500 grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.
The foundation didnt come through with the requested amount, however
instead, it offered $2,000, if CMYS could match the amount. The
group did, with its first fundraising letter.
Still, said organizers, at first they seemed to be flying by the seats
of their pants.
We floundered around, said Bent. Jane [Baker] did everything.
After the concerts initial success, CMYS relied on local and regional
musicians, especially those from Cincinnati. But after two years, organizers
sought more variety. To seek out new and promising performers, the group
decided to pursue an idea offered by George Rike: to sponsor a competition
for new young chamber music groups.
The response was astonishing, said Huntington, who chaired
the groups first competition, in 1985. We had applications
from Texas, from California and New York. We didnt realize how few
competitions there were at this level. There was a niche.
While the group still sponsors the yearly Chamber Music Yellow Springs
competition for young (under 30) musicians each spring and still eagerly
showcases young groups, it also attracts to its four regular-season concerts
musicians of a higher caliber than the series attracted when it began,
Were moving up on the scale, said former CMYS president
Bruce Brandtmiller. We like to get the groups that are going to
become really famous but before they become famous.
While groups at the highest levels of the chamber music eschelon
such as the Julliard Quartet remain out of reach, CMYS does book
groups not far below, and over the years has included in its schedule
well-known ensembles such as the Colorado Quartet and the Vienna Piano
Trio, and often features the winners of prestigious competitions. Performances
by the Swiss-based Carmina Quartet, with homegrown musician Wendy Champney,
are always well attended.
To pay for musicians, equipment and advertising, the group now has a yearly
budget of $30,000, say organizers. While grants contribute to the total,
by far the largest segment of the budget comes from individual contributors.
And unlike most chamber music series, Chamber Music Yellow Springs relies
on many small contributors rather than a few well-heeled benefactors.
Its one of our strengths, said Baker. Many people
are giving modest amounts. That means more people feel ownership of the
That sense of community ownership of Chamber Music Yellow Springs shows
itself in various ways, say organizers, especially the many volunteers
who offer their talents, ranging from cooking for the soup suppers preceding
the concerts to building the stage to selling tickets. Its a spirit
of community involvement thats exactly what the CMYS organizers
had in mind.
In fact, after 20 years of sponsoring chamber music concerts, Chamber
Music Yellow Springs organizers dont really want to change anything.
They would be happy to keep doing more of the same, said Ruth
Bent, which is, of course, attracting some of the worlds best musicians
to play for the enthusiastic audience in a tiny town in Ohio.