As one of the only youth summer camps in Hawaiʻi that offers a comprehensive chamber music program, we strive to provide all participating students with a rewarding experience. Chamber music provides a unique educational experience for young musicians: Its collaborative and intimate environment allows musicians to develop special skills that differ from those needed for solo or orchestra performances.

What is Chamber Music?

Chamber music is a form of classical music written for a small ensemble of musicians, each with their own part to play, performing without a conductor. Imagine a group of musicians small enough to fit into a chamber—that’s where the name comes from! String quartets, quintets, or small wind ensembles are all popular examples of chamber music. 

Why Chamber Music?

Typically, chamber music participation is only offered at schools with robust programs and is limited to a select few advanced students. PMI’s chamber music program was started with a simple goal in mind: to offer the opportunity of playing in small ensembles to all interested children. Since then, the initiative has blossomed into an inclusive Strings Program where every student gets to experience the joys of chamber music! One PMI 2023 Strings student shared that participating in the string quartet was the highlight of their time at PMI, “It has always been a highlight for me, and it was quite honestly the only reason I have continued to participate in PMI for as long as I have. It was a very enjoyable experience,” she says, “PMI made it possible for me to experience chamber music, which I am usually unable to in a school setting.” 

Stepping into the world of chamber music can feel daunting for students who are accustomed to larger ensembles. But the right instructors can make the transition an enjoyable and enriching one! That’s where we come in. On top of being world-class educators, many of our faculty are seasoned chamber musicians, using their expertise to equip our students with the skills and confidence to explore the intricacies of chamber music.

PMI violin faculty Dr. Helen Liu is a member of the Gaillard String Quartet with Chamber Music Hawaiʻi (CMH), the state’s largest presenter of local, professional chamber musicians. “CMH’s mission is to expose and enrich as many keiki as possible to the joy and love of classical music through the chamber music art form,” she says. According to Helen, the intimate setting of chamber music captures audiences of all ages, “When one listens to chamber music, they may feel a sense of closeness to the musicians, creating a personal and immediate emotional connection to the music.”

A Collaboration of Individual Strengths

“Chamber music is rewarding and challenging at the same time because it encourages us to listen, communicate and collaborate with each other, and to create textural harmonies to bring music to life through individual nuances. Magic happens when individual styles become unified…”

Improving as an Individual

Due to the one musician to one part arrangement, chamber music allows each musician’s personal voice to shine through in a way that’s often not possible in large ensembles. For many orchestra performers who are used to blending into their sections, playing chamber music will be one of the few times they can be heard as an individual. As one of the appeals of chamber music is the ability to showcase your voice while still being able to rely on the strengths of your teammates, reliability is a key trait for all chamber music performers. Knowing they’re solely responsible for their part, and how vital each part is to the whole, pushes them to try their absolute best! And with a team that small, being punctual to and present at each rehearsal is extra important—every member of a chamber ensemble has to be equally dedicated in order to be able to perform as a cohesive unit. 

Communicating as a Team

Unlike in solo performances, playing chamber music requires that ensemble members work together and communicate regularly to bring their individual strengths into one piece. They’ll learn to listen to their fellow members, anticipate each other’s phrasing, and adjust their own playing accordingly. That means chamber students will not only learn to contribute fully as a musician, they’ll learn to work with like-minded musicians to determine things like whose voice should be spotlighted at any given time depending on their desired sound. 

The smaller setting of a chamber ensemble also provides a safe environment for each student to share their thoughts and brainstorm problems they may encounter. And rehearsals are the perfect place for students to practice providing and receiving constructive feedback from their peers, a social skill that’s essential to their success as musicians and as people. “Chamber music is a really important part of a musical education because it really helps students work on communication,” says PMI 2023 cello faculty Brady Anderson, “and communication is so important in the modern world.”

Chamber music isn’t just for strings!

The string quartet may be the most well-known, but did you know small wind ensembles, featuring flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, and horns, are part of the chamber music family too? 

“PMI is the only camp I've taught at that has a specific clinic for the instrument you're playing. You get to work with professional musicians, be in a group environment, and do ensemble music for the instrument you play. It's a really cool experience and positive environment.”

Students in our Winds, Brass, and Percussion Program get to experience chamber music while collaborating in the small ensembles comprising fellow participants in their respective clinics. They even have the chance to showcase their skills at the chamber performances in their student-led ensembles at the annual PMI concerts!

Forming Life-long Friendships

“For so many years, PMI has been creating friendships and unforgettable memories for students from all walks of life. With the Solo & String Quartet Program, one learns to become independent and develop a unique musical voice. By the end of the program, I sense a very strong sense of ownership, of pride in the craft. This accomplishment is very rewarding to all, from students to coaches to families, and friends.”

One of the greatest joys of chamber music is overcoming challenges to create beautiful music together. Every rehearsal and performance are wonderful opportunities for students with a shared passion for chamber music to bond and form meaningful friendships. If you’d like to experience chamber music this summer, make sure to register for the PMI 2024 Strings Program or Winds, Brass, and Percussion Program