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WIU Shifts Summer String Program to Quartets

Jonathan Ahl

Many universities and music festivals attract young musicians to spend part of their summer playing in a big orchestra. But Western Illinois University’s School of Music is trying something different and going small.

Ramses Cid is one of seventeen young string players spending this week at Western Illinois University’s String Quartet Camp. He came all the way from the Dominican Republic for the opportunity to focus on chamber music and receive coaching from WIU’s string faculty.

“To play in a big orchestra is much easier,” Cid said during a break in rehearsal.  “You find some things are really helpful to play in chamber music.”

Constantine Janello agrees. The 17 year-old high school student from Morton, Illinois said he was looking for something different this summer. “I have dealt with a ton of orchestral stuff in the past, and in order to develop my musicianship as whole, I needed to experience more quartet,” Janello said.  “It’s very important to have both to really develop as a musician as whole.”

Credit Jonathan Ahl
Constantine Janello (cello, background) and Carlos Cid (violin, foreground) rehearse at WIU.

That’s exactly the sentiment WIU hoped to tap into among advanced string players looking for a summer enrichment opportunity. WIU Cello Professor Moises Molina heads the string quartet camp. “Students spend a lot of time with their high school orchestra and their youth orchestras throughout the year,” Molina said.

“It’s very difficult to focus on chamber music. So for us, to offer a string quartet camp and specialize in that, it gives them an opportunity to focus on what they don’t have a chance to do during the year.”

Giving players a different opportunity came somewhat out of necessity for Western. For years, WIU did what most comparable music camps did and fielded an orchestra. But, last year fewer than a dozen campers signing up. So, Western decided to go in a different direction.

Credit courtesy Western Illinois University
The Julstrom String Quartet, the faculty string quartet at WIU

Western Illinois University’s School of Music is somewhat unique in its chamber music ensembles in residence.  The Camerata Woodwind Quintet and the LaMoine Brass Quintet are made up of the wind faculty. The Julstrom String Quartet is comprised by the string faculty. 

On the student front, Western Illinois University is also home to the President’s International String Quartet, a group made up of undergraduate students. They placed 2nd in at the Music Teachers National Association national competition in March in Baltimore. On the state front, they were chosen to perform with the Honors All-State Choir at the annual Illinois Music Education Conference in January in Peoria.

Tammie Walker, Director of the School of Music at WIU, says the department needs to build on those assets. “Frankly, it’s one of the highlights that I don’t think we have marketed enough in the past and that’s part of the driving force behind this new direction with the string quartet camp is to highlight that fact and assist in the recruitment of string players,” Walker said.

And recruiting more students to WIU is the ultimate goal as the university struggles  with declining enrollment. The responsibility of recruiting doesn't just fall on the office of admissions. Each department is asked to pitch in on efforts to attract more students. And for Western's School of Music, that means attracting students one quartet at a time.

The final concert for the String Quartet Camp at WIU is Friday, June 23rd at 4 p.m. at the COFAC Recital Hall on the Macomb campus. It’s free and open to the public.