Ensemble ‘opens minds’ with unconventional music repertoire

Jordan Beck

Normally, it wouldn’t be too unusual for a classical chamber group to include vocalists, but the Open Mind (OM) Chamber Ensemble isn’t just any chamber group. Their coach, professor of music Elda Tate, said one of the pieces in their performance at the Reynolds Recital Hall on Sunday, Nov. 17 will feature throat singers.


It’s different, but it’s also perfectly in keeping with the ensemble’s mission, Tate said. Over the past four years, OM’s members have strived to make modern, avant-garde classical music accessible and fun for the general public.

Music Department Head Robert Engelhart said the Open Mind Chamber Ensemble got started when Tate decided to start a group devoted to out-of-the-ordinary classical music.

“[She] has always had an interest in experimental music,” Engelhart said. “Things that don’t sound conventional: unusual structures and unusual instruments. So she found a group of students who were also interested in music that wasn’t run-of-the-mill. This is an opportunity for them to throw things out and see what people respond to.”

“It’s been going for roughly four years,” Tate said. “It started with a flute ensemble that I had, a very good flute quartet. Other students started joining because they were interested in the music they were playing, so I added other instruments.”

This semester’s OM performance will include pieces such as “Sattoh (Wind Dancing)” by Katsutoshi Nagasawa, “Infinite Square” by Aurelio de la Vega and “Tango Fantasy” by Herbert Lindholm.

Tate said OM’s sharp focus on experimental classical music has helped introduce people to the genres they perform and, just as importantly, to help overcome public preconceptions about them.

“Most people are afraid, or have the idea that they dislike this kind of music,” Tate said. “We’re trying to introduce them to these styles.”

Exposing the public to new and different musical styles isn’t just a side benefit of groups like OM, Engelhart said. It’s one of the most important things about them.

“A lot of folks these days have a narrow range of music they listen to,” Engelhart said. “It’s important to broaden that.”

While Tate is the founder and coach of the Open Mind Chamber Ensemble, she doesn’t conduct the group. Tate said since many chamber ensembles (OM included) don’t have conductors, their members must work together to stay synchronized.

“The ensemble is responsible for everything,” Tate said. “There is no conductor to lead them through pieces. The students start the pieces, are responsible for the tempo, for starting and stopping, and everything else.”

OM’s musical selections aren’t typical, but they’re not meant to be off-putting or difficult, Tate said. In fact, the group has been extremely successful at introducing audience members to music they might not have found on their own.

“Every time I’ve had this program, people come up to me afterwards, and everyone likes something different. People can expect sounds that they’ve never heard before, or, at least, in this context,” Tate said. “I’d think that people usually find something they really like a lot.”

The Open Mind Chamber Ensemble will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 in the Reynolds Recital Hall. There is no admission fee.