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Meet Bree Ahern, Faculty Chair and the new FWYO Chamber program

Woman holding cello
Bree Ahern, FWYO Faculty Chair

FWYO Chamber launched a pilot program in Spring 2023. This unique program gathers small groups of students at similar ability levels to play works without the aid of a conductor. Once the most common form of music performed around the world, chamber music is a staple of college music programs and a beloved art form by professional musicians for its flexibility, individual challenge, and collaboration.

Cellist Bree Ahern is the faculty chair for FWYO Chamber and leads the talented group of chamber coaches who guide students on their way to performing on stage without the support of a conductor or pianist. Her experience as a chamber musician is extensive, performing with KINETIC, Monarch Chamber Players, and here in Fort Worth with the innovative Candlelight series.

We asked her a few questions about chamber music:

How did you get into chamber music?

a small group of student musicians playing together

As a professional cellist, I primarily perform solo and chamber music. Before relocating to Fort Worth in 2023, I built my career playing in various chamber ensembles in Houston, TX, and I continue to perform with these ensembles even now. I also have extensive experience coaching pre-college and collegiate chamber groups. I’ve been playing cello since I was five and I would often perform chamber music at Suzuki recitals, camps, and at home with my musical family. Once I was in high school, this was pursued more deliberately at summer festivals, and at the collegiate level, I often doubled up on chamber ensembles to gain more experience.

What is the value of chamber music to students?

The art of small ensemble playing is invaluable for elevating our students’ musicianship. It combines the virtuosity of solo playing with the complexity of playing effectively in an ensemble, honing both skills at the same time. Students have an opportunity to improve their listening skills, ensemble skills (playing together synchronously), and experience some of the greatest repertoire in the classical music canon. They experience the challenge and satisfaction of preparing an individual part to a high level while working toward a collective goal of making beautiful music with friends and colleagues.

woman playing a cello on a bench

What can students expect in a chamber class?

Students can expect to perform in a small group ranging in size from 2 - 8 members. They will prepare an individual part and come together to rehearse on a weekly basis. The biggest adjustment in a chamber group is working without a conductor! Chamber music is a collaborative art form, and it provokes the students to think for themselves and learn how to communicate with each other about how to prep repertoire for a polished performance. It demands higher listening skills and the ability to analyze and problem-solve. Students will work with the aid of a coach, whose job it is to help them learn how to listen, play together, and make musical decisions.

What do you love most about teaching chamber music?

Chamber music offers one of the most challenging and gratifying forms of music-making - it is like having a musical conversation between different instruments. When prepared to a high level, it is highly enjoyable and can feel spontaneous and fun! Helping students discover the joy of working toward a collective goal and getting into the music is a fantastic feeling. Beyond that, chamber music offers some of the best repertoire in the classical canon, which presents a great learning opportunity for our students.

Why should someone looking to do music include chamber music? Is it valuable to others as well?

Any student who wishes to improve his or her ensemble skills and who enjoys the challenge of preparing a solo part should partake in chamber music. Learning and performing chamber music demands all the same skills as orchestral playing, but it takes the challenge to the next level in terms of listening and ensemble skills. Above all, I find that its collaborative, conductor-free environment is essential for fostering independence, leadership skills, and the ability to communicate effectively.

Is there any age that is best to learn chamber music?

I’ve been fortunate to work with many fantastic young ensembles over the years, including competitive high school quartets prepping for Coltman and Fischoff, 6-7-year-old students embarking on their very first chamber experience, cello ensembles of all sizes, and collegiate groups preparing for degree recitals. Helping each group find their unique voice as an ensemble is a wonderfully satisfying experience as a pedagogue.

FWYO Chamber is open to current members of the FWYO and will have their first performance this year in December. For information about joining the Spring semester, please email or call the FWYO 817-923-3121.

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