Over 80 musicians gather for a Play-In at the 92nd Street Y

Dvorak Piano Quintet at the 92nd Street Y, Left to right: Gabrielle Hemlick, Joe Hwang, Susan Alexander, Rachel Lulseged, and Stephanie Griffin

On June 2, 2024, over 80 adult amateur chamber musicians gathered for a Play-In co-produced by ACMP and the 92nd Street Y at the 92nd Street Y School of Music. With 11 rooms at our disposal, all but one with a grand piano, this was a dream Play-In venue – not to mention the full complement of chairs and stands, and the comprehensive chamber music library on site!

Even more important than the venue, was the opportunity to work with the 92nd Street Y School of Music’s fabulous staff. The whole initiative came about through ACMP’s existing relationship with Ruth Spencer, who runs the 92nd Street Y’s Friday Morning Chamber Music program. It’s basically a Play-In every Friday morning, and there’s even a $20 discount for members of ACMP. Through Ruth, I met the 92nd Street Y School of Music Executive Director Yana Stotland, Director Kyle Landry and Program Manager Lindsay Cabaniss. All three of them were highly involved in the various planning phases of this ambitious Play-In, and joined the entire ACMP staff – me, Joseph and Rachel – in managing the check-in procedure for 80 musicians all arriving at once in the half hour before the event.

None of us anticipated the response to this event, with over 100 players signing up within the first couple days of registration. How does one even organize a Play-In of this scope? We started with a literal “spread” sheet – see below.

A literal “spread” sheet: an easy hands-on way to organize a Play-In

If you feel like trying this yourself – make a page for each room and divide it into time slots. Then make multiple sets of cards for each musician with their names on one side and instrument and playing level on the other. Ruth and I spent about 5 hours throwing those cards around and putting people in groups. (The next step was entering all the information into excel, which took almost as long.) We tried to give each player at least 2 playing slots, but this was not possible for pianists (with 18 of them registered) or winds and brass. Sadly, there were a few players we were not able to place at all – but there’s always next time.

The next step was finding groups for the more unusual instruments. I enjoyed discovering repertoire I did not yet know, such as the Poulenc trio for trumpet, trombone and French horn, and Camille Saint-Saëns septet for trumpet, piano, string quartet and double bass. Then, of course, how does one accommodate nine flutists? There are, of course, the Mozart flute quartets and other lesser-known classical period works for flute and strings. Then there’s always Brandenburg 4 and a wide array of pieces for flute, cello and piano and flute, viola and piano. It’s luck of the draw, and we had no oboists, so wind quintets were not in the cards.

After finding repertoire for those players, we built other groups around our pianists – piano trios, quartets and quintets – and filled out the rest of the groups with various duos and string trios and quartets. We tried our very best to form groups according to playing level. In many cases we were successful, but this was also a reminder of how subjective the ACMP Playing Level Guide really is.

Once everything was all set, of course, there were the inevitable cancelations – illness, other commitments, etc. which necessitated a second wave of organization. I was nervous at the beginning of the event that some key players would not show up; we were, indeed, dangerously short on cellists. Nobody let us down, however, and the event went more smoothly than I had ever imagined.

Although there is some guesswork involved (especially in matching people by playing level), the spirit of ACMP is all about people of all backgrounds, ages and playing levels getting together, making new friends and playing chamber music for pure fun. That, we did accomplish!

I hope this Play-In will be the beginning of a deeper collaboration between ACMP and the 92nd Street Y, and I highly recommend that you all check out their regular adult chamber music programs:

Chamber Music: Coaching and Performance – Summer

Friday Morning Chamber Music Reading

Chamber Music: Coaching and Performance – Fall

Meanwhile, ACMP would also love to organize similar Play-Ins in collaboration with community music schools with adult amateur chamber music programs outside New York City. It that describes you, please drop me a line at sgriffin@acmp.net.

Here’s to many more great Play-Ins ahead…As the Worldwide Play-In slogan goes, let’s circle the globe with chamber music!

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