Red Cedar Chamber Music

Summer Festival

Musings of a Festival-Goer


by Bret Heim, guitarist
Associate Professor
Spring Hill College

A few years ago in the wee morning hours after the final show of a student production of Kurt Weill's Happy End, its director and I sat on the porch sipping whiskey, puffing cigars, and musing. What were we happiest doing? Would we ever find our niche? Perhaps it was age (more likely the whiskey), but after years of rigorous training --he in French theatre, I in classical guitar --we found ourselves disappointed that we weren't doing what we were about --we hadn't found our niche.

"Niche" comes from the French nicher (to nest). In an ecological sense, the role an organism plays in the larger ecological community (especially with respect to the food chain) is its niche. When a person has found his or her niche, the person is doing that activity for which she or he is best fitted. This "nesting" implies security, contentment, emotional, creative, and intellectual satisfaction.

So what does this all mean? It's been nearly two months since we bade fond farewell to Jan and John and to the four other fine duos who participated in Red Cedar Chamber Music Summer Festival 2000. Yet, our memories are still vivid. Our niche is coming into focus. I described my Red Cedar experience as being "transforming." Here are my post-festival comments:

"There aren't enough superlatives to express our good feelings about you and Red Cedar Chamber Music."

"You have given us focus that we never had before and doors are already opening up for us. Suddenly people are paying attention! Thank you"

"This is the single finest musical festival I've ever attended. Your personal care, interest, and generosity at every phase of the festival is unequaled in my experience. You both have gone so far beyond the "extra mile" to help every single duo!!"

We knew that we were in for something extraordinary the moment we took our seats at the Festival opening concert. That evening we experienced what many in Cedar Rapids and the United States already know --that Jan and John are a wonderful artistic and personal treasure. They play with finesse and control, and are keenly attuned to their community, its people, and its goings on. That didn't happen over night. For me, the festival was a firsthand glimpse of the path(s) that led to them finding their niche.

The wonderful week that followed was spent immersed in performing chamber music. Each duo received daily private coaching from Jan and John as well as public coaching in evening master class. I liked the cross-pollination of being alternately coached by a flutist and guitarist. We also concentrated on ways to promote the view that chamber music is an asset to our community and on ways to develop partnerships to create new outlets for chamber music making. From Bunnie Tomes we learned the importance of cultivating a loyal network of volunteers to help achieve our artistic goals. Amber Hunt of the Gazette led an enlightening roundtable conversation on working with the media. We had the privilege of hearing first hand the process of commissioning with composer Jerry Owen, one of the composers represented in the newly published Red Cedar Collection (Theodore Presser). Duane Woods of WDG Communications made a superb presentation on developing marketing and promotional materials.

The Festival culminated with performances by the participants in venues around Cedar Rapids. All of the duos performed in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (amidst paintings of Marvin Cone and Grant Woods with his wonderful fisheye view of the Iowa countryside). Additional performances were given in the Museum of Art, the National Czech and Slovak Museum, and the History Center. Tris Dows graciously hosted a concert in her home, and one bleary-eyed duo appeared the final morning on a local 6:00 a.m. television program before the trek home to Tennessee. By the end of the festival we all had already taken steps and had tangible experiences to help us find and define our own niche.

The week was not without free time or levity. It's a very good thing that no cameras were present during spontaneous outbreaks of dancing and singing during master classes and other general silliness. Did someone keep track of how many waffles John ate while he was cooking? Several participants found the time to be tourists, experiencing the "gemutlichkeit" of the Amana Colony. Incidentally, the battaglia depicted on the Red Cedar web site is somewhat misleading. While we guitarists fought valiantly, the flutists had a distinctly unfair advantage. Modern metallurgy is what gave them the upper hand. How could we hope to prevail doing battle with only our primitive wooden instruments?

The duos left the Festival minds fertile, filled with creative ideas for projects, people to call, contacts to make, repertoire to resurrect, archives to search, and themes for new programs. During the trip home we filled two notebooks with ideas for projects and things to do. We arrived home in Mobile with a warm glow from our experience at Red Cedar Chamber Music (and a very warm house --the air conditioner had expired while we were away).

With the words "you've got to ask" ringing in our ears, we've had weekly business meetings, dozens of coffees and lunches, sent piles of mail and email, and made daily telephone calls. We've made a mailing list, and have a list of local and regional media contacts to whom we can send press releases with the press of a button. We are awaiting word on two grant applications and are working on commissioning and other grants. We've had discussions with graphics artists, and printers; we have a photo session scheduled, we'll be hearing the first edits of a compact disc recording project any day now. Our community will soon be celebrating its tri-centennial, and we plan to be a part of it our niche will be Mobile's recital halls, its historic antebellum homes, its art museums, public radio stations, schools, hospitals, civic gardens, and . . . ?

used by permission.










Bret Heim

Bret Heim, guitarist.
Photo by Forrest Tomes.

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