Chamber Music Rural Residencies: Inspiring Communities With Live Music

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Photo montage showing the string quartet playing in front of a barn, with an inset of a posed group photo

The Ying Quartet, (Inset, left to right) consisting of Timothy, Phillip, David and Janet Ying, spent two years teaching and performing in Jesup, Iowa as part of the Chamber Music Rural Residencies program, created by the NEA. Photo courtesy of Cedar Arts Forum

1992String quartets were a rarity in the small town of Jesup, Iowa. In fact, many people had grown up in Jesup without ever hearing the sound of a cello or viola being played live. An NEA program changed all that.

Because residents of Jesup and many other rural communities seldom have the opportunity to experience live music concerts or to learn from professional musicians, the Arts Endowment designed the Chamber Music Rural Residencies program. In addition to benefiting the communities, the residencies provided young, emerging musicians the opportunity to hone their performance and teaching skills. Begun in 1992, in partnership with Chamber Music America, the program matched musicians with rural host sites, where they provided school instruction, workshops, private lessons and community concerts.

Members of the Ying Quartet, which had won several major competitions, were finishing their formal studies at the Eastman School of Music in 1992. They were looking for an opportunity to gain performance experience, add to their repertoire and share their understanding of music with uninitiated listeners.

In Jesup, Iowa, Superintendent of Schools Mike Krum, along with a local arts council, the Cedar Arts Forum, leapt at the opportunity to engage the quartet in a residency. "The program was a fresh, new idea and we purposely selected a string ensemble because it wasn't familiar to our community. Many in Jesup had never heard live string players before," Krum explains. "We struck gold with the Yings."

The Ying Quartet consists of siblings Timothy and Janet on violin, David on cello and Phillip on viola. "The two years we spent in Jesup as part of the Endowment's Rural Residency Initiative is without question one of the most significant experiences in our musical lives," says Phillip.

The ensemble performed in Jesup area schools and colleges, church services, homes, local businesses, civic clubs and senior homes and taught lessons and workshops to children and adults. They also grew to feel like members of the community.

The Ying Quartet has earned an outstanding national and international reputation over the last decade. The ensemble is now on the faculty at the Eastman School of Music and tours internationally. According to Phillip, "The Rural Residency was a launching pad for our subsequent career."