Chamber Music as Practice for Life

NEC alumni share reflections in honor of National Chamber Music Month.

How has playing chamber music made you a better leader, collaborator, citizen, partner, or friend?

In honor of National Chamber Music Month in May, we share reflections from NEC alumni:

Composer Lauren Bernofsky ’92 MM on listening, empathy, and citizenship:

Lauren Bernofsky

“Playing chamber music has helped me become a better citizen, because I’ve learned to listen, really listen, to others. Everyone has something unique to contribute, and while it may or may not reflect the way I think myself, it is just as important. And, sometimes, when I try someone else’s way, I like it.

“This attitude has served me well not only in playing chamber music, but it has translated into how I see, and interact with, the world. When I hear news of people from other cultures and their challenging experiences either in the U.S. or in their own countries, I am quicker to empathize with them, less quick to judge and disregard their challenges. And I respond, through raising awareness among my friends and contacts, donations to needy causes, and my voting for political candidates who strive to help people other than themselves.”

Pianist Isabelle David ’16 MM on collaboration and connection:

“Playing chamber music has definitely helped me become a better collaborator. You have to develop a sensitivity, a special connection, in order to feel each other, and you have to constantly deepen your understanding of the chemistry of the sounds. It is a fascinating process, and the possibilities are endless! Playing with others also allow a kind of spontaneity that is quite unique.

“To me, it is the most inspiring way of making music. It pushes me to give my very best, because in the end, I want my colleagues to feel my complete support and know that they can always rely on me.”

Cellist and Contemporary Improvisation alumna Valerie Thompson ’13 MM on interdependence:

Black and white photo of Valerie Thompson playing the cello

“Everything we’re trying to get better at in life is everywhere, it’s in every aspect of how we exist in the world.

“Figuring out how your artistry aligns with someone else’s artistry, and figuring out how to not change who you are, but maybe shift the way you approach certain things so you can serve a situation better—that’s life. And that’s chamber music.

“Sometimes having our voice heard is the most important thing we can do, but sometimes using our voice to life up someone else’s voice is actually our greatest power.

“Some of my favorite ensemble playing is getting to hear where two voices make one, but then also getting to hear how in other moments, those two voices separate again. It’s that constant back and forth of interdependence. And the structure for that interdependence is the piece, and whatever the piece requires.

“But at other times in our lives, that interdependence is maybe a romantic relationship, or a relationship with a family member, or a friend, or a colleague, where we have to figure out how we work together and what our own individual voices are.”

Collaborative pianist Diane Katzenberg Braun ’01 MM on serving the listener by serving the music:

Danny Koo, Amy Advocat, Diane Katzenberg Braun,  and Steven Laraia

“Founding Music Street has increased my great respect for the musicians with whom I am privileged to work.

“What's motivated me always, is the music. It's about the music. Finding wonderful pieces, and wanting to share them with the audience. Particularly an audience that can't necessarily get out to a concert hall and pay for a concert.

“At one of the shelter concerts at Rosie's Place in Boston, one woman came up to me, and said, "You brought my mother back to me." Those concerts are very, very moving to me. To get a response from the women like that.”

Happy National Chamber Music Month to all!

How has chamber music practice made you stronger in other areas of your life? Share your reflections and stories