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Celebrating 30 seasons of beautiful music

Published 12:59 am, Wednesday, August 8, 2012

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  • Flutist Susan Rotholz and cellist Eliot Bailen created the Sherman Chamber Ensemble in 1983 and still are actively coordinating its many activities.
                               
Courtesy of Peter Weitzner Photo: Contributed Photo
    Flutist Susan Rotholz and cellist Eliot Bailen created the Sherman Chamber Ensemble in 1983 and still are actively coordinating its many activities. Courtesy of Peter Weitzner Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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30th anniversary classical concerts Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. St. Andrew's Church, Kent. Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. Lake Mauweehoo clubhouse, Sherman. Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. St. Andrew's Church, Kent Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. Lake Mauweehoo clubhouse, Sherman
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A year after graduating from Yale University, Eliot Bailen and his wife, Susan Rotholz, became intrigued with the idea of playing classical concerts in Sherman.

Mr. Bailen's parents owned a home in Sherman and the young couple felt, if they were going to perform in a chamber ensemble together, Sherman would be the community.

In 1983, the couple founded the Sherman Chamber Ensemble.

It debuted that year at the Sherman Playhouse to a packed house.

"We lived then, and still live, in New York City, spending as much time as possible in Sherman," Mr. Bailen said. "The New York connection is what has given us the opportunity to meet all the wonderful musicians who have accompanied us over the years."

Among the regular ensemble musicians are Susan Rotholz on flute; Eliot Bailen on cello; Jill Levy on violin; and Sarah Adams on viola.

Since their initial concert, the ensemble has expanded its activities to a year-round schedule of some two dozen performances, for all ages and held in a variety of local venues.

In 1992, the group incorporated with nonprofit status.

Its budget has grown to $93,990 by fiscal year 2012.

Major funding over the years has come from such entities as the state's Office of Policy and Management and the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation.

Since 1997, the group has offered a full subscription season of three chamber concerts in both Sherman and Kent.

An annual Thanksgiving weekend series of free matinee concerts is performed in both towns.

Labor Day weekend annually brings a bluegrass jamboree featuring ensemble members and local performers.

Events such as the annual "Live at the Lake" coffee house brings a collaboration with local pop, rock and traditional musicians.

In recent years, Mr. Bailen and Ms. Rotholz' three children, Daniel, David and Julia, have joined the coffee house performance.

Julia, 15, also accompanies her father on guitar and interacts with the audience at children's concerts in Sherman and Kent.

"We came to realize early on that we were serving the community musically in so many ways that we had to create a mission statement," Mr. Bailen said.

That mission is "to bring world-class musicians (to the community) to perform a diverse range of music in a way that is intimate and inclusive."

Sherman resident Colette Shulman has attended ensemble concerts from the group's inception.

"My late husband, Marshall, and I started going from the beginning," Mrs. Shulman said. "Its performance level, which was good to start with, has gone up over the years.

"I like to see how they tackle the very difficult sounds of new composers' works. They also bring us the music of less well-known but gifted composers as well as the classics."

Local writer and musician Don Lowe joined the ensemble's Board of Directors two years ago. He performs at the coffee house, in June concerts on the Sherman Green and collaborates with Mr. Bailen in the educational program.

"These are world-class musicians coming here to little Sherman, Connecticut," Mr. Lowe said. "We have the best musicians in the world coming here and that's no exaggeration. These people perform in concert halls all over the world."

And "the glue" of the Sherman Chamber Ensemble?

That would be Mary Rindfleisch, the executive director, Mr. Lowe said.

"Mary holds the whole thing together," Mr. Lowe said. "She's the glue."

"If I'm holding things together, it's only because I have a marvelous group of musicians that makes that possible," Ms. Rindfleisch said.

Ms. Rindfleisch has served as executive director for 18 years. Her involvement began when she attended an ensemble concert and responded to an audience survey.

"It asked if you would be interested in volunteering. I checked yes," she said. "My first career for 15 years was as a performing arts manager in summer stock and theater.

"I came in at a time when the (ensemble's) original volunteers felt they had done all they could to move the group forward. They knew things had to go to the next step and I had the skills needed to help with that."

A myriad of activities for children -- including participatory concerts and a range of school assembly performances -- have been created. The first children's workshop was offered in 1995.

The "Song to Symphony" is the centerpiece of the group's educational outreach. It is a song-writing residency done every four years by Mr. Bailen that culminates in a full musical theater production performed by students and accompanied by a full orchestra.

Mr. Lowe first worked with Mr. Bailen eight years ago on a show at Sherman School and has stayed on board.

"I wrote the script for the last one," Mr. Lowe said. "Eliot does the really magnificent job. He writes the songs with the help of the kids."

Ms. Rotholz recently marveled at how the ensemble series has grown.

"It's very different from when we started," she said. "It includes so many different genres and concerts filled with our friends, an interesting group of musicians.

"The series not only provides an opportunity to hear music live. It creates a hub for people with a common interest to get together.

"It's a happening place to be for both the musicians and the audience, and the community has been continually supportive."