When the pandemic began, the performing arts were among the hardest-hit industries in the country. With more people getting out there, there’s no better time to think about supporting chamber music groups across Jacksonville.
Several groups in the area started out simply because they loved performing in more intimate settings, rather than just big symphonies.
One of these is the Florida Chamber Music Project, which opens its 10th season on September 18th at the Beaches Museum Chapel in Jacksonville Beach.
Susan Pardue, a violist and a member of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, said she started a chamber music organization because chamber music is different than in a symphony, where there is a conductor and several people playing the same instrument in a large group of musicians. Chamber groups generally range from as few as two to 10 people. She loves both ways.
The Florida Chamber Music Project is comprised of five women who provide live classical music in intimate settings to residents of St. Johns County, St. Augustine, Clay County and the surrounding areas of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida.
Classic: Chamber music that goes well with the Ponte Vedra concert hall
Susan Pardue: Symphony violist keeps fit by playing in the mountains
“I am so happy to be celebrating 10 years this year. We were able to keep playing during the pandemic,” Pardue said. “It’s a reminder of how important music is and how it helps people.”
She said the biggest difference in her role with the symphony is that chamber music is interactive in many ways and there is a special connection not only with composers and other musicians but also with the audience. “We see it as an opportunity for friends to play music for friends.”
As the world opens up but doesn’t return to pre-pandemic conditions, Pardue believes musicians like her are feeling an increased appreciation for the ability to play together and bring the joy of live music back into audiences’ lives .
Society for Chamber Music of San Marco
Eric and Ellen Olson agree. For the last 16 years they have run a non-profit organization called the San Marco Chamber Music Society.
But for the first time, the pandemic has forced her to stream music live. Last year they were able to perform half of the year in person and half of the year online. This year, all of their performances are in front of an audience.
When their season kicks off in September, they’re hoping to catch up on the drop in attendance. They’re used to about 120 people, but the crowd has dropped to about 80 people or fewer.
About half of their performances will be at their home base, San Marco Lutheran Church. They occasionally play at venues in Live Oak, Amelia Island, Atlantic Beach, Crescent Beach and Dowling Park.
“Part of our mission statement is that our concerts are free to the public because we believe great classical music should be accessible to everyone,” said Ellen Olson.
Foreign travel: The musicians of the San Marco Chamber Music Society enjoy performing and touring in England
Questions and Answers with Ellen Olson: Chamber music is more diverse than many people think
Each of the chamber organizations is different. For example, as opposed to a set group of musicians, the San Marco group uses diverse musicians from the Jacksonville Symphony and area universities. They perform all kinds of chamber music, using strings, wind, brass, piano and sometimes percussion.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of classical music,” said Eric Olson. “It’s very accessible and can be fun. It’s very rewarding. Some of our compositions might be 300 years old while others were written in the last year.”
Members of chamber music organizations are passionate musicians who perform not only in large concert halls with large audiences. They also play in rooms because they enjoy interacting with backers and looking for ways to support the community.
For years, the San Marco Group has organized benefit concerts for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. To date they have raised more than $30,000 for diabetes research. And while the Florida Chamber Music Project played at senior centers for several years before performing at paid events, last year they began volunteering at the North Florida School of Special Education.
Everyone likes different kinds of music. But most people will agree that music offers a way to process feelings, to get rid of anger or sadness, or to enjoy good times.
Amy Rankin, a retired PR professional who also worked for the Jacksonville Symphony for a few years, wishes more people would be open to trying classical music, even if they were skeptical.
“I think people will be surprised,” Rankin said. “Music can transport you to different places in your head and in your heart.”
At a time of so many challenges brought on by the pandemic, what better time to remember that music can play a part in getting you through difficulties. And there’s no better time to support local chamber music groups in Jacksonville.
Marcia Pledger is Opinion and Engagement Editor at The Florida Times-Union. She can be reached at [email protected]