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Inside UWEC's Baroque Chamber Orchestra

| Rachel Mueller, Theatre Arts & English, '22

Students at UW-Eau Claire have the unique opportunity to participate in the baroque chamber orchestra, an opportunity that professor Tulio Rondón says is rare among undergraduate programs.

The baroque chamber orchestra follows historically-accurate performance practices from the baroque period. “The important thing is the technique and the aesthetics of the music and learning how to interpret these composers in a different way - in a way that we think that it resembles closely to what they wanted at the time,” says Dr. Rondón. “One of the things that they do in the ensemble is play with very little vibrato. That makes the intonation a little bit more challenging so that it, in a way, improves students’ intonation by playing in this ensemble. Also, the bow technique becomes a lot harder because everything you express with vibrato, for example, which is a technique on the left hand, you have to express it with the bow.”

In the beginning of the baroque period, orchestras did not have conductors. UWEC’s chamber orchestra follows this practice, with Dr. Rondón serving as a coach rather than a conductor, and he never interferes during concerts. “What that allows the students is to realize what they can do,” Rondón says. “First of all, it gives them freedom to manipulate my concepts, which is very important. It’s not like they’re specifically doing what I want them to or what I tell them to do -  there is a lot of freedom for them to become individual musicians, which is very important. But at the same time, the experience of chamber music, the value of that is the connection each student - it’s basically like having an intellectual conversation without words. You’re communicating with your instruments and delivering a product to the audience that comes from your inside and your intellect and it changes. So the music is evolving in every coaching and things that I’m saying, and it gets better the more they practice and all that stuff, but also the performance itself changes the better they become when they play technically and doing the things that I’m telling them to do… It’s not just my idea anymore, it becomes their idea and it kind of changes. It’s a wonderful thing to see in students… It empowers students and also gives them a lot of autonomy, which is very good. And also it boosts their confidence when playing their instruments and as a musician, which I think is the most important part.”

Collaboration is constant in this ensemble. Dr. Rondón says that he makes room for student and faculty solos, as well as faculty-student performances. “I do concentrate the efforts on the strings, but we do sometimes have other students from other areas like winds and also faculty and percussion, so we do involve some people on different projects depending on what we can do, so it’s a super cool experience for everybody.”

Through the chamber orchestra. Dr. Rondón hopes to inspire music education students and colleagues to teach full pieces of music rather than arrangements. “I will tell my colleagues, my teachers colleagues, why are you doing [arrangements] instead of just playing Vivaldi?” he says. “It’s possible to play it, it’s not incredibly hard and it’s so cool… My idea, because our school is very big in music education, was to have musicians and music education students realize that ‘oh, my students will be able to play this in orchestra.’ So they can utilize that music and the techniques we’re using. I think if they implemented those techniques in schools, in young kids, their level of playing is gonna be much greater when they graduate. It has a lot of purposes, this ensemble.”

For any additional questions about the chamber orchestra, contact Tulio Rondón at rondontj@uwec.edu.