At 50, Grosse Pointe Chamber Music has noteworthy history

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 2, 2013

 During a June 2012 Grosse Pointe Chamber Music concert, cellist Sylvelin Bouman, pianist Mary Holmes and clarinetist Norma Keil Shaw perform as part of a concert at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms. GPCM is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2012-13 season, which started in fall 2012.

During a June 2012 Grosse Pointe Chamber Music concert, cellist Sylvelin Bouman, pianist Mary Holmes and clarinetist Norma Keil Shaw perform as part of a concert at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms. GPCM is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2012-13 season, which started in fall 2012.

Photo courtesy of Grosse Pointe Chamber Music

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Classical music may have a relatively small audience nationwide, but in the Pointes, it has wider appeal. And that may explain, at least in part, why Grosse Pointe Chamber Music has thrived for the last 50 years.

GPCM will celebrate this milestone during a concert at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 13 in the lakefront Crystal Ballroom of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, which has been their concert site for years. Wayne State University Music Department members will perform, including violinist Laura Roelofs, cellist Judith Vander Weg, baritone Emery Stephens and pianist Gail Gebhart. The program includes art songs by Leonard Bernstein, spirituals by Margaret Bonds, the Barber Sonata for cello and piano, and the Haydn Trio in E-flat Major for violin, cello and piano. Cake will also be served for the anniversary performance.

“(GPCM) was conceived of as a place for amateur musicians to perform and get their pieces together,” explained current GPCM President Sylvelin Bouwman, of Eastpointe, a cellist who has been performing GPCM concerts for the last 25 years and has been president since 2004.

Chamber music is something the musicians tend to be passionate about, she said.

“Chamber musicians tend to like to play together,” Bouwman said. “When they perform together, they get beautiful harmonies. Some of us also like to play that music for other people.”

Although some of the performers are professional musicians, in the sense that they make a living from music, Bouwman said the performers, like the board members, are all unpaid volunteers.

“It’s just part of our commitment to do chamber music,” said Vander Weg, of Grosse Pointe Woods, GPCM’s vice president and program chair, and a member for about the last decade.

Each eight-concert season is sponsored by the War Memorial, and funds raised from ticket sales are used to cover chair setup, coffee service, ballroom and piano rental, as well as mailings. Concerts consist of classical and contemporary chamber pieces.

According to GPCM’s own archives, the group was organized in December 1962 and held its first concert in January 1963. The first board consisted of President Dr. Aaron Farbman, Vice President Naomi Donaldson, Secretary Kay Fuller and Treasurer Alex Suczek, who helmed Pro Musica in Detroit for decades. At that time, annual dues were $3.

In 1966, it became the Chamber Music Workshop, and the group offered two full workshops annually, along with having a chamber string orchestra and smaller ensembles with piano and wind instruments. Records indicate that the group soon changed its name again, this time to Chamber Music Players of Grosse Pointe. The members at that time released a mission statement that reads: “This organization shall be devoted to the performance and appreciation of chamber music in its broadest aspect.”

The workshops continued for several more years, but by 1968, the group had established a tradition of monthly concerts that continues to this day. According to GPCM’s bylaws, at least one person in each performing ensemble must be a GPCM member; a specific group of musicians can only perform once annually, but individuals from the group can perform additional concerts as part of different ensembles; and all works must be played in their entirety.

There are now hundreds of chamber music workshops around the country, including one each summer in Interlochen that many local musicians attend, and Bouwman said that contributed to the shift in GPCM’s focus.

“I think it’s very hard to organize day-long workshops, and I think it got to be too difficult,” Bouwman said. “The performance is basically what drives the organization now.”

The desire by musicians to play this kind of music is also a significant factor.

“There isn’t enough room in every orchestra for chamber musicians to play, and people who are playing chamber music are playing for different reasons,” Vander Weg said. “There’s not a conductor. … When you’re in an orchestra, you have to relinquish your individuality to the group. … There’s a lot of freedom and camaraderie and creativity playing chamber music.”

Today, GPCM has a membership of more than 130, and concert attendance averages between 75 and 125 people, many of whom are current or former musicians, themselves. The intimate, casual nature of the concerts lends itself to newcomers, as well as classical music buffs, Bouwman said.

“It’s a very popular Sunday afternoon activity in Grosse Pointe,” she said.

Of course, concert organizers are always hoping to attract more concertgoers and GPCM members, and anyone is welcome to join the organization, including non-musicians.

“The (January) program is really wonderful,” Vander Weg said. “I’m excited about it. All of the programs are a lot of fun.”

Bouwman said she considers herself “a very good amateur,” but Vander Weg laughingly said she makes “a meager living as a musician,” teaching at WSU and out of her home studio, as well as serving as the principal cellist for the Flint Symphony Orchestra. Being a member of GPCM, said Vander Weg, is “very satisfying.”

“It’s just an organization of friendly people with a common purpose,” she continued. “Everyone’s heart is in the same place — to make beautiful music together. I think we make every effort to break down the barrier between amateur and professional. … I think that sharing chamber music is an essential component. You can play in your living room (indefinitely), but when you love it enough to give it away, it becomes more special.”

Other concerts this season take place Feb. 17, March 10, April 7, May 5 and June 2, all at 2:30 p.m. at the War Memorial, located at 32 Lake Shore. Tickets, which can be purchased at the door, are $12 for adults; admission is free to those ages 18 and younger. An annual membership, for $40, can also be purchased at the door and includes admission to all remaining concerts this season.

For more information, visit GPCM’s Facebook page, call (586) 945-6830 or email