When musicians play in large groups — like a band or symphony — weaker players can hide behind the skill of others. However, that safety net disappears in the small-group style of chamber music, where all of the performers are forced to play with synchronized accuracy.

UNCG senior Carolina Perez knows the importance of chamber music in the development of a young musician. Thanks to her help, approximately 60 student musicians at Southwest Guilford High School had the opportunity to learn about and perform chamber music as part of Perez’s honors project.

“Essentially, chamber music is music that is performed in small groups — duets, trios, quartets, jazz band, musicals — where the performers are playing one on a part,” Perez explained. “With one player on a part, chamber music forces each student to learn his/her part and to execute it perfectly every time.”

In collaboration with Southwest Guilford’s band director Kenny Butler ’08, the students were split into 13 groups — three brass ensembles, three saxophone quartets, four woodwind trios and three percussion ensembles — and coached on the process of playing chamber music. Perez, a senior music education major from Cary, visited the students multiple times a week during the past semester, working with the wind instrumentalists and providing feedback.

“I am hoping that this experience will foster the students’ leadership and allow each group to take ownership of their piece,” Perez added. “Participation in chamber music gives the students an opportunity to make their own musical decisions and create their own product. This is an experience that they cannot get from the typical large ensemble setting.”

The project started on the heels of marching band season, and Perez said the students were initially a little weary — and wary — of the new pieces. After a few weeks, the students started to own the new style for themselves. “I saw that many of them were excited about the challenging music. Many of the students began having rehearsals after school and outside of the time that I came to rehearse with them,” Perez said. “The extra practice initiated by the students helped the music come together, and many of the groups quickly developed their own unique ensemble sound.”

Commenting on the effect that the chamber music project has had on his students, band director Butler remarked: “Carolina’s chamber music project allowed me to pursue a genre of music that I only thought was accessible by large ‘rich’ schools. The growth I saw in my students was tremendous as it affected both the individual musicians that participated in the project and the overall sound of my large ensemble. I see more confidence in my students, and many of them even created their own small ensembles after the project. I just placed an order for a large shipment of chamber music, and I can’t wait to get it in their hands for the spring concert!”

The project, part of Perez’s honors project through the Lloyd International Honors College, culminated with a concert, but Perez hopes the skills the students learned will continue to impact them for the rest of their musical training.

“With this project, my aim was to show the students of Southwest that many musical opportunities exist beyond simply ‘playing in band class.’ I hope that I have given the students the courage to participate in new musical experiences. Within these experiences, I also hope that they will find an appreciation for all music that will last for the rest of their lives.”