Chamber music instruments

That's Sam in the photo above behind the others, with Paula on the right. In a scene that is totally typical of the mood of any chamber music weekend, a good time is being had by all. Here, Joanne and Ed Kovarik are the players enjoying the festivities with the Goldens.

A Little History:
A Fond Remembrance by Sam Golden

In 1969 Richard Gray, a prominent Chicago art dealer, asked a friend of his, Zita Cogan, whether she thought amateur musicians might want to come to Sleepy Hollow, the resort he owned on the shores of Lake Michigan. Zita was the administrator of the University of Chicago concert program and a friend of ours as well. (In fact, Zita, who died a few years ago, was known and beloved by many, including a large number of leading musicians. We still miss her a lot.)

Zita asked what we thought and we decided to try it. So, that fall, three quartets of musicians went to this beautiful resort, We found we had a ball playing music and enjoying the lake, the grounds and the South Haven area, with its many orchards and berry farms. Why not do this every year, we thought. We talked to Mr. Gray and he came up with a format. He would pick weekends outside of the peak months of July and August when the resort usually had few guests. (In the first few years he selected the weekend after July 4 for one, believing that most people would not be vacationing right after the holiday. It turned out that the resort was always busy that weekend, but not with our people, who were out vacationing elsewhere, so the July weekend was dropped.)

Organize it and they will come?

How did we get the word around? We tried music schools, but that netted nothing. We called or wrote all the friends we could think of who played chamber music. And we wrote to the people listed in the Amateur Chamber Players’ Guide from the Chicago and Detroit areas and some others in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. We found other names in the Interlochen directory. The results were encouraging, and we had a successful weekend in June of 1970.

Although most of our musicians came from the Chicago area, we lucked out when Jim McClellan, a fine violist and chamber musician from the Detroit area, decided to try us out. Jim was very active in Interlochen and knew scores of musicians in greater Detroit. When he returned to Detroit and gave Sleepy Hollow the stamp of approval, we started to get a number of his friends, and what began was a Chicago-Detroit connection that has continued to this day.

The inevitability of change

In the beginning we met from Friday evening through Sunday noon. Later we found that some people wanted a longer weekend, so we changed the starting time to Thursday evening. In 1993 we invited cellist Judith Glyde to come to a spring weekend as an artist-in-residence. Judy had just left the Manhattan String Quartet and taken a position on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Recently she was promoted to full professor!) Up to that time, there was no coaching, just free playing. Having an artist around to give us some coaching and inspiration turned out to be popular, and we continue to offer coaching at all our sessions now.

As to the arrangements for the weekends, we worked with the resort management. They handled all the business details. I started to organize the groups, and soon Mr. Gray formally recognized that as my job, so I’ve done it ever since. Others have helped: Zita, when she was alive, and Paula, whose challa bread has become a regular part of our gathering on late Friday afternoons.

The Sleepy Hollow Philharmonic

Early on we got the idea of all coming together on Saturday nights to form an orchestra. Paula and I had been active members of the Hyde Park Chamber Orchestra in Chicago and hence had access to a good library. We also obtained music through Sylvie Koval, our dear, lamented friend who was head of the string program at Northeast Illinois University.

It wasn’t long before Alan Garber, a longtime friend whom we first met at Interlochen Music Camp back in the summer of 1942, became the regular conductor of the orchestra, a post he held for years! Once the artists started coming, they willingly performed concerti and other solo pieces with us, and have taken on conducting duties as well. The artists have also held master classes and can always be counted on for some kind of lively musical session.

Of course our players have predominantly played string instruments. Quartets are the basic fare, but we have accommodated every size group from duets to nonets. Although the quality of the pianos has been variable, there have been wonderful times playing from the rich piano-string literature. Wind players have come and we have explored the limited but enjoyable works for wind-string combinations. In our earlier days we had as many as two wind quintets at one weekend; in recent years we have had anywhere from one to five wind players on a weekend.

Extra-musical activities

Sleepy Hollow has been a place where lasting friendships have been made—and even some romances! It has fostered the joy of good music-making and provided a welcome respite from the cares of everyday life. Although our actual “instruction” is limited, people find that they hone their musical skills, most notably their sight-reading. Families have gotten together and had a pleasant weekend with much music. Sometimes almost our entire Golden family has been there, with many playing in the sessions.

People often ask what we do about balance, so that we can have everyone playing in appropriate groups. In early years we would peruse the advance list; if we found a shortage of one instrument or another, we would make some calls. We haven’t done that for many years. Somehow we make do with the group that comes, and if there’s a shortage or excess of some instrument, we find a way to work it out. Other people ask how we match the quality of the players. While that will remain a professional secret, I can reveal that the general level of playing at Sleepy Hollow is high, so that makes it easier. Of course there are occasional personality conflicts, but they can only last a couple of hours at most.

Now, as we move onward, we look forward to fun chamber music playing by fine musicians—or is it fine chamber music playing by fun musicians? However you describe the experience, we’ve found it to be deeply rewarding.

Entering a New Era

Sam Golden passed away in March of 2016, leaving one very great void in the hearts of all who ever participated in the Sleepy Hollow experience. Many of his countless musical friends and acquaintances contributed their memories to a Sam Golden Memorial page, a fitting close to a life dedicated to the ongoing enjoyment of chamber music playing.