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Inaugural season for South Dakota Chamber Winds

Chamber Winds

A group of woodwind-focused musicians descended on South Dakota State University's campus for a week-long, music-making endeavor that culminated with a series of concerts in late May. The unique musical opportunity — called South Dakota Chamber Winds — was organized by Elizabeth Robinson, assistant professor of music in SDSU's School of Performing Arts.

"Every summer, professional musicians get together at a variety of different festivals where they spend a week in residency doing rehearsals and culminating in a couple of concerts," Robinson explained. "I wanted to get something started here in South Dakota to give opportunities for woodwind performers." 

Elizabeth Robinson
Elizabeth Robinson

After receiving a grant from SDSU's Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Challenge, Robinson decided to use the funding to bring in musicians from around the region. The group included:

  • Elizabeth Robinson — artistic director/flute — SDSU
  • Don Linn — artistic director/conductor — SDSU
  • Beverly Gibson — clarinet — University of South Dakota
  • Mark Stevens — piano — SDSU
  • Sam Gowen — horn — SDSU
  • Stephanie Kocher — flute— University of South Dakota
  • Robin Michelle Sweeden — oboe — Oklahoma City Philharmonic
  • Amy Laursen — horn — University of South Dakota
  • Jennifer Wohlenhaus Bloomberg — oboe — Des Moines Symphony
  • James Compton — bassoon — Omaha Symphony
  • Michael Walsh — clarinet — SDSU
  • Martin Van Klompenberg — bassoon — North Dakota State University

The weeklong endeavor culminated with concerts in Brookings — at Founders Recital Hall in the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center — and in Sioux Falls — at First Congregational Church.

"In the tradition of Harmoniemusik by great composers like Mozart, Strauss and Taffanel, the South Dakota Chamber Winds bridges the gap between chamber music and a modern wind ensemble," Robinson said. "In that vein, our first season prioritized works by living composers."

Each concert program included five pieces, starting with "Moxie" for woodwind quintet plus piano by Nicole Chamberlain, a Georgia-based composer. Commissioned by the Peachtree Chamber Players, "Moxie" is a reflection of the experience, flexibility and determination gained during the challenging pandemic years. According to the program notes, the piece is "dedicated to everyone who was able to move forward in-spite of the unbelievable amount of loss and obstacles, people with moxie."

The second piece — "Tray" — takes the audience on a journey that depicts the controversial stalk, tussle and shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin. The piece also depicted the murder trial, in which the shooter — a neighborhood watch volunteer — was found not guilty. Marie A. Douglas, an acclaimed Atlanta-based composer, is known for her exceptional talent in blending genres and textures within her concert stage pieces — which was on full display with her 2018 piece, "Tray" for flute, clarinet and horn.

Next on tap was a 2020 piece by award-winning oboist and composer Alyssa Morris. "Where the Colors Fall" for woodwind dectet is a deconstruction of the hymn "High on a Mountain Top" and a nod to the mountains of Utah. According to the program notes, "Nearly every bar of the hymn is utilized in some way throughout the dectet. Though the pieces of the hymn will be found strewn throughout the dectet, there are also moments when the hymn is reconstructed and can heard in complete form."

Portland-based composer Kimberly Osberg's 2017 piece "Passing Through" for wind octet was the penultimate piece played by the ensemble. Her piece, originally composed in 2013, explores a series of textures through musical gestures that reference nature and the joy and vitality of life. It starts slow, then culminates in a burst of energy that results in a dynamic work that showcases each instrument group, which, according to the program notes, makes for an ideal piece for any wind octet.

The final piece of each concert was Jonathan Newman's "Concertino" for flute solo, chamber winds and piano. The 2007 piece is a nod to the lively tradition of 19th century French concertinos and the music of Toru Takemitsu. A Virginia-based composer, Newman has brought a new perspective to American concert music by blending styles of pop, blues, jazz, folk and funk into his work.

Chamber Winds

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As part of the funding, Robinson was also able to bring in a recording engineer and producer, which will allow the group to record and master their work.

"This work will eventually be commercially released as an album, sometime in 2025," Robinson said.