One of the hallmarks of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s twice-yearly festivals is the placing of musicians in private homes, not hotels. A chef is hired to cook their meals; homes are opened for rehearsals. Meet the woman who helps make it happen.
A dozen or so years ago, when the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) Summer Festival was in full swing, Jill Bader had a call from her adult daughter, saying she was making a surprise visit home.
Bader’s response: “Oh my God — there’s a baritone in your bedroom.”
Bader is the head of SCMS’ Artist Hospitality Committee and, come festival time, if there isn’t a baritone in a bedroom, there will likely be a cellist or some other string player. (The SCMS summer festival runs July 6-Aug. 1 this year.)
IF YOU GO
Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival
July 6-Aug. 1, artists include Jeremy Denk, James Ehnes, Augustin Hadelich, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; $48; $30 senior rush 90 minutes before each concert; $16 students (206-283-8710 or seattlechambermusic.org).
Notes: Concerts begin at 8 p.m.; free preconcert recitals start at 7.
• Each concert will be broadcast live on a rotating basis to neighborhood parks by KING-FM; participating parks are Columbia Park, Volunteer Park and Freeway Park. See website for schedule.
• A family concert for kids 5-10 is 11 a.m. July 25 at Benaroya Hall; tickets are $12.
• A free outdoor concert of Mozart and Tchaikovsky will be at 7 p.m. July 29 at Volunteer Park. Family activities start at 5:30.
From the time it was founded in 1982, SCMS has stood apart from most festivals because it houses out-of-town performers in private homes rather than hotels.
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Musicians performing in the society’s festivals do much of their rehearsing in private homes and share most of their meals there. One home is designated Dining Central for the length of the festival, and a chef serves lunches and dinners on every rehearsal day — that’s four days a week for five weeks.
Musicians love the arrangement.
“The fun aspect is one of the most important things about the festival,” SCMS Director James Ehnes said a few years ago. “Great music-making, and social fun, too. You develop friendships, not necessarily even with people you’re performing with — and that’s rare.”
Home hospitality was built into the festival from the time that cellist Toby Saks (1942-2013) founded it. After joining the music faculty at the University of Washington in 1976, Saks, a former player with the New York Philharmonic, found herself missing some of her musician friends from back East. Throwing a festival was one way to lure them out to Seattle.
Bader had attended festival concerts for years but became involved with musician housing only after her children had grown.
One of her neighbors in Madison Park, SCMS board member Ruth Gerberding, wife of former UW President William Gerberding, was a host and, summer after summer, Bader could hear string quartet rehearsals in the Gerberdings’ backyard.
“When my last kid left,” Bader recalls, “I went across the street and said, ‘What does it take to have musicians stay here? I’d love to be able to do that — particularly a cellist, if you have a cellist.’ ”
Eventually Bader joined the SCMS board herself. With her three fellow committee members, she coordinates an operation that poses considerable challenges. It’s a lot of musicians — 47 this year — and matching musicians with appropriate hosts is complicated.
The Madison Park neighborhood is the hub for meals and rehearsal activity. But musicians are accommodated in other parts of town, too. Musicians who drive have rental cars at their disposal. As for those who don’t, Bader is “very careful to house them where the meals are or in walking distance.”
Then there are instrument/rehearsal space requirements.
“The pianists are in homes that have as close to proper concert pianos as can be,” Bader says, “so they can go from their practice time to rehearsals to stage without too much interruption.”
Even with hosts who are used to entertaining house guests, Bader tries to make sure they know what to expect.
“Having musicians in is different,” she says. “They’re on funky schedules. They come back from after-concert dinners at 12:30, one o’clock at night — hopefully tiptoe in quietly. They’re very often sleeping after a concert day until the last minute before their midmorning rehearsal.”
Local musicians often volunteer to house out-of-town performers, a seemingly perfect match. But visiting musicians, Bader points out, “need a certain amount of sound privacy, because they’re doing their own practicing, because they’ve got a lot of music running around in their head.” If their hosts spend a huge amount of home time playing their own piano, that’s a problem.
And then there are the allergies.
“The cat and dog and bird and bunny thing — yes,” Bader says with a shake of her head.
“That’s a big deal.”
In Bader’s kitchen, every horizontal surface is covered in paperwork, indicating which musicians will stay where. The list of factors to be considered — “fur and feather allergies,” “nondriver,” “need a keyboard,” “slight nut allergy,” “nondriver with fiancée who drives,” “carpet allergies” — is daunting.
Bader quips: “I think two-thirds of the musicians who come through here are allergic to cats.”
It’s not just the hosting home that has to be allergy-considerate, but the private-home rehearsal locations, too.
Hosts also need to be aware that some visiting musicians may be only in their teens and require coaching on how to be house guests. As one recent host said of a particular player: “I needed to make sure he understood that the dishwasher fairy doesn’t come on weekdays when I’m in my office — that he really does need to rinse his dish and put it in the dishwasher. But now he’s trained, and you can house him anywhere.”
The payoff, Bader says, is experiences that couldn’t come your way in any other manner.
“Oh, it’s incredibly selfish having musicians stay with you, having rehearsals in the house. Absolutely selfish! For me to have this house filled up with music — it’s a 110-year-old house. It’s made of little sticks of wood, and the strings fill the house with an amazing, amazing sound that lasts for a while after they stop. Everything’s still reverberating.”
That baritone in her daughter’s bedroom brings back especially fond memories. Mother and daughter both loved hearing him warm up in the shower every morning: “I won’t ever forget the sound of that: the water running and this amazing baritone voice ricocheting through the house.”
While some hosts are glad to get back to their normal lives after a festival ends, others feel downright bereft.
“The first year that I was involved,” Bader recalls, “I was just out-and-out maudlin.”
She has heard the same from other hosts: “It’s just very quiet afterward.”