Archive for the ‘Chamber Music’ Category

A Conversation with George Papich, Director of the Center for Chamber Music at UNT, by Ruben Balboa

IMG_3162 (1)I have had the distinct privilege during my graduate degree to be a part of the Bancroft String Quartet. Every week , we meet with two professors to go over our progress. One professor, in particular, is Dr. George Papich. He has been a teacher here for nearly 50 years and has taught classes such as Music History, Music Appreciation, Opera, Performance Practice, and Chamber Music. Dr. Susan Dubois and I sat down with Dr. Papich to speak with him about his life and time here at UNT.

Before becoming a professor at UNT, Dr. Papich was called upon to serve in the United States Army whilst in the middle of completing his doctoral degree. During his service, he was the principal violist of the Seventh Army Symphony, with whom he performed throughout Europe; completing 20 concerts in 20 days. Upon returning from his tour of service, he became an elementary music teacher, since the need was there and his course of study had previously been interrupted. He taught there for a year, but was not satisfied with the administration, though he thoroughly loved teaching and the students alike. By happy coincidence, it was then that Northern Michigan University requested that he continue his course of study for his doctorate at their school, which would later lead to Dr. Papich becoming faculty there.

Around the year of 1967, Sandy, his wife, wanted to live somewhere new as she wasn’t fond of Michigan, or the cold weather that accompanies the state. So, Dr. Papich then gave her a list of five universities, and promised if one those universities had an open position, and if they were interested in him, then they would leave Michigan. Shortly after this compromise, he would fulfill his promise to her. Just two days after making this promise, the University of North Texas called offering him a job. At Northern Michigan University, he was making $9,200 a year; UNT offered him $13,000 without even blinking, and even allowed his brother to attend UNT tuition free as a part of his contract.

He then arrived at UNT to teach two viola students, nineteen chamber groups, and several university courses. As a musician he went on to maintain a thriving teaching studio, and performance career. Many of his students have gone on to win orchestral auditions, perform in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Ft. worth Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, and many prestigious chamber groups and quartets. Not only has teaching at UNT for 48 years afforded him to meet and touch many lives, but it has proven that Mrs. Papich’s request to move is one that brought upon a decision they have both been happy with throughout the years.

In the year 2000, Dr. George Papich decided to retire from the University of North Texas, only to return three years later. When asked why he returned to teaching, he said that there were three things most important in his life: family, music, and the people he would interact with and teach. During his brief retirement, he made furniture, played golf, and found that it didn’t bring him as much joy as teaching. “Training young people is something really special,” Papich said, “It’s never perfect but there are times when it is just so good. “  The joy of coaching for Dr. Papich is seeing his students take the next step forward, not being afraid of the challenges, and to hit them head on.

During his time here at UNT, he developed the Center for Chamber Music supported by the Dean of the College of Music, Dr. James Scott. Dr. Papich believed that Chamber Music needed to be more of a priority at UNT. The program started with a piano trio that turned out to be very successful. The trio competed for, and won the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, Colbourn Chamber Competition, and Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

This primary success has evolved into what chamber music at the University of North Texas is today. Chamber music at UNT currently enrolls over 200 students every semester. Out of those students, 17 musicians are chosen for the Center for Chamber Music Studies. The Center for Chamber Music Studies is comprised of a woodwind quintet, piano trio, brass quintet, and a string quartet. Every week, coaches listen to these groups and there is a final performance every semester. The goals for these ensembles are that when the musicians graduate and leave to go on in the professional world of music, they are capable of being in a chamber group, and know how to efficiently work as a musician and person. They do this by not only teaching students how to play certain pieces, but why we play the pieces the way we do and how to appropriately give our own interpretation.

As we drew closer to the end of the interview, we asked what his thoughts were on the past 48 years of teaching. “It’s been a good job for me”, he said. “The whole concept of growing from two students to thirty students is just amazing. I’m so proud.” He then said, “I feel like I’ve established a good thing, and whoever took over for me would benefit from it. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this enormously talented young lady (Dr. Dubois) follow me, and do a better job than I ever could have.”

When asked what were some of his favorite memories, the amount far surpassed the appropriate length of this article and I have been hard pressed to choose just one to give you insight into the personality of this amazing teacher, man, and musician. It was very clear that he has had a great time here, and true to his humorous personality, has proved to be quite a jokester. He said, “There are plenty of musical memories and then there are some that are just plain fun.” One time at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, in between the two acts, Phil Lewis (one of UNT’s Violin Professors) chained and locked up Dr. Papich’s viola. When Dr. Papich asked Mr. Lewis to unlock it, he said that he didn’t have a key. So, Dr. Papich had to find a janitor to cut the chain. In return, Dr. Papich grabbed Mr. Lewis’s violin, and hung it up on Lewis’ dartboard. Dr. Papich then proceeded to put darts all around the violin. He remarked that it was very pleasant to have their offices next to each other because he heard a big scream when Mr. Lewis returned to his office. “We lived in a different time. Everyone wasn’t so serious back then. It was a special time”, Papich said.

Dr. Papich has clearly done a multitude of wonderful things in his lifetime for UNT, and more importantly his students. He has touched so many people with his humor, dedication, knowledge, and love. I am so honored to have met him and thankful to him for passing his knowledge onto me and many others.


Until next time,

Ruben Balboa III

El primer “Post” de Ruben, en Español

unnamedHemos pensado que para nuestros lectores hispanohablantes seria interesante ofrecer traducciones de algunos de nuestros “posts.” Gracias a Jorge Zapata Marin tenemos hoy el primer aquí. Buen provecho, y dejen sus comentarios!

Dra. Gerling


“Ser parte de un cuarteto de cuerdas es una de las experiencias mas gratificantes que cualquier músico de cuerdas puede tener.

Hay algo muy especial en ser un músico de cámara y es que se debe compartir y transmitir. No es solo transmitir tus ideas personales, sino también combinarlas con las ideas de los otros tres miembros de el cuarteto y así crear un solo discurso o expresión musical.

Tengo la maravillosa oportunidad de hacer música de cámara en La Universidad de North Texas con el cuarteto de cuerdas Bancroft (Bancroft String Quartet). Ser parte de este cuarteto es una de las becas remuneradas que ofrece UNT para los estudiantes en el nivel de maestría. Ver la carta de aceptación junto con la beca fue como un sueño hecho realidad. Finalmente conseguí lo que siempre había querido: tocar en un Cuarteto de Cuerdas, aprender nuevo repertorio y tener un salario por hacerlo. VIVIENDO UN SUEÑO. Sin embargo, esto no es y a sido sencillo. Aprendí rápidamente que hay muchos factores que pueden hacer de este trabajo algo complicado, como: limitaciones de tiempo, aprender diferentes estilos, diferencias personales, comunicación, y algo tan simples como la vida en general!.

El año pasado fue mi primer año en el cuarteto y definitivamente fue un aprendizaje. En los cuartetos que hice parte anteriormente fueron formados con amigos como una forma de esparcimiento y diversión, pero ser parte de un cuarteto como este es una sensación diferente, es como ser parte de un matrimonio arreglado; no conocía ha nadie en el cuarteto, yo era el mas joven, era el único estudiante de maestría (los otros eran estudiantes de doctorado) y claro…, era el chico nuevo. Ésta también fue mi primera vez experimentando las barreras de el idioma ya que cada integrante hablaba una lengua diferente. En fin hubo algunos obstáculos para nosotros y no solo por el idioma, también por la dinámica de el cuarteto, en el cual un integrante puede cambiar en cualquier momento. Como dije antes, esto afecta un ensamble. Para nosotros, no es solo nuestra evolución como grupo, sino también nuestro desarrollo individual. El año pasado en mi opinión, fue un exitoso año de aprendizaje, crecimiento y de hacer música con nuevos amigos y colegas.

Este es mi segundo año en el cuarteto y ya no soy el mas joven, el único haciendo maestría y no soy el nuevo chico. Este año, hay dos integrantes nuevos en el Bancroft y la dinámica de el grupo ha cambiado. Podremos tener algunos de los mismos problemas que el año pasado, pero también habrán nuevas y diferentes situaciones para experimentar ya que la mitad de el grupo es nuevo. Los ensayos ya empezaron y cada uno esta encontrando su única voz en la música, a la vez como la de el cuarteto. Estoy ansioso por aprender de cada uno de ellos, hacer increíble música, y compartir con ustedes nuestro diario vivir como el Cuarteto de cuerdas Bancroft durante este año.

Hasta la próxima.



Exploring Viola Duets with Ethan Rouse

IMG_0923Ethan Rouse
This semester I have the wonderful opportunity to play viola duets for my chamber music course. This is my seventh semester of chamber music at UNT, and in my previous semesters I have performed in a trio, a quartet, and a number of viola and cello quintets. It has been a great experience to explore music from the 18th-20th centuries in these more traditional chamber music groups, but it has been a particular joy and challenge to work on music from the 21st century as a duet. The very nature of a duet implies a certain intimacy beyond even what is found in many trios and quartets, and exploring that aspect of playing has been very enjoyable. I have the pleasure of performing with my good friend Cameron Rehberg, whom you will meet through this blog at a later date. Cameron and I both have a great appreciation for the music of the violist/composer Kenji Bunch, so it seemed logical to perform one of his works together. UNT’s chamber music course requires us to perform twice a semester, so for the first concert we performed Bunch’s “Three American Folk Hymn Settings”, which is also available in a version for two violins. This work makes the most of its two players through the frequent, almost constant use of double-stops in one or both parts. This writing provides a beautifully rich texture, displaying the depth and complexity of the violas’ interwoven sounds. The nature of this texture presents a number of challenges with regard to balance and tuning, so we often had to find the proper balance between the two voices in our own parts, something not so common in typical chamber music repertoire.
While much of our rehearsal was spent on what a chamber music group would typically do, we also enjoyed exploring the folk-like elements of this duet. The style of the duet is a reflection of Bunch’s own experience with folk and bluegrass music, resulting in music that is very different from what we as “classical” performers are accustomed to playing. I love playing music from the common practice period,   but this duet was particularly fun to play, as we were able to really bring out our inner fiddlers. I find great excitement in exploring new works, and this duet is something I am very glad to have added to my repertoire.
Keeping with the theme of living violist/composers, our next performance will feature two short works by Scott Slapin. “Nocturne In Memory of Richard Lane” is one of my favorite pieces by Slapin, and it is also the first piece of his that I learned. I first performed this piece about six years ago with my high school viola teacher, and it is an enjoyable challenge to now learn the other part of the duet. In addition to the Nocturne, we are also performing the third movement of Slapin’s 2007 Suite for two violas. This movement, titled “Lullaby” is a serenely light-hearted counterpoint to the dark nature of the Nocturne, exploring much of the tonal and color ranges of the viola.
Playing music written by violists has proven to be a great joy and challenge, as the music is written from a certain point of understanding of the viola. Though the viola certainly plays a vital role in traditional chamber ensembles, it is a nice change to play chamber music with the viola as the leading role. I know I have only begun to scratch the surface of music for multiple violas, so please let me know if there are any other duets you find particularly enjoyable to play. I know it would be of great value to many of us to explore this genre even further.


Ruben Balboa and the Bancroft String Quartet

IMG_3001Being in a string quartet is one of the most rewarding experiences any musician can have. There is something very personal that a chamber musician must share and convey. Not only do you have to share your personal ideas and feelings about the music, but there are, in this case, three other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and messages that must be combined with yours and then communicated as one musical expression. I have the wonderful opportunity to do such a thing at the University of North Texas with the Bancroft String Quartet.

Being in the Bancroft String Quartet is one of the graduate assistantships offered at UNT. Seeing that acceptance letter, along with a scholarship offer was such a dream come true for me. I mean, I finally get to do what I’ve always wanted to do: perform in a string quartet, learn great repertoire, AND get paid for it – living the dream! However, it is and was not quite that simple. I learned very quickly there are many factors that can make or break any ensemble like time constraints, learning styles, personality differences, communication, and just life in general!

Last year was my first year in the quartet and it was definitely a learning experience. In the previous quartets I have been in, the quartets were formed through late-night jam sessions amongst friends. Being selected for this quartet almost felt like an arranged marriage; I knew no one in the quartet, I was the youngest, the only master student (the others being doctoral students), and I was also the new guy. This would also be my first time to experience overcoming the communication barriers that arise with a majority of members each speaking a different language. That being said there were some hurdles for us to overcome not only due to those issues, but also because the dynamic of a quartet can completely change with the exchange of one person. Like I said before, it can make or break an ensemble. For us, it not only enhanced our musicianship as a group, but also made us grow as individuals.   It was, in my opinion, a successful year of learning, growing, and making fantastic music with new friends.

This will be my second year in the quartet and I am no longer the youngest, I am no longer the only master student, and I am no longer the new guy. This year, there are two new additions to Bancroft, and the dynamics of the group have now changed. While we may have some of the same issues as last year, there will be new and different situations to experience now that half of the group is new. Rehearsals have already begun and everyone is finding their unique voice in the music, as well as in the quartet. I’m looking forward to learning about one another, making wonderful music and lasting memories and sharing our musical journey with you all this year.

Until next time,