A unique group of musicians turned up to study at Settlement earlier this year: a preexisting group of retired amateur players, with a strong interest in taking on an advanced-level piece by J.S. Bach.
Adult musicians regularly come to Settlement to play chamber music through the Adult Chamber Players program, but this group’s focus and dedication demanded special attention: Daniel Elyar, a faculty member who focuses on Baroque repertoire in his very active career as a performer.
“They were already colleagues in a sense,” he says, “so it was really fun for me to come in and work with them.”
As Elyar coached the group in Bach’s Musical Offering trio, a piece from late in Bach’s life that he describes as having “funky canons and big contrapuntal pieces,” he drew on his deep knowledge of Baroque performance practice, a topic he has been immersed in since his conservatory studies at Cleveland Institute of Music. Baroque music has become more widely studied and performed in recent years, with major conservatories, such as the Juilliard School, adding Baroque studies to their offerings.
“It seemed like the right way to go about doing music and having a career,” he says.
Even with a grounding in its style and history, Baroque scores are sometimes confusing to novice musicians. Elyar sums up some of their initial frustrations: “What edition do we use? What instruments do we use? Basso continuo – is that an instrument?”
Since teaching at Settlement, Elyar has focused on Suzuki instruction, a comprehensive method for very young students that emphasizes repetition, group performances and parent involvement. Among his older students, he often looks for violin students who might consider switching to viola to help ensure diversity in ensembles. “I make viola a priority because it’s good for the school,” he says.
He also prioritizes inviting students to his performances, both ones with Philadelphia-based ensembles and touring engagements by national baroque ensembles; earlier this month, Elyar had a hometown performance with Seraphic Fire, a Florida-based group, as part of an East Coast tour.
Since students are so eager to attend performances, he likes to return the favor when his students begin to take part in ensembles. Elyar proudly notes that most of the second violin section in the Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra, Settlement’s advanced study orchestra, are current or former students of his.
On occasion, Elyar’s interest in Baroque music lines up nicely with his teaching. When his older students reach a certain point in their development, he says, “I always pick a Handel sonata for them.”