Lembit Beecher conducts the Southwest Chamber Players as they play Bach’s double violin concerto at a 15th anniversary concert in 2012. Courtesy of the Author

By David Ehrlich 

The Southwest Chamber Players are a loose coalition of over 100 dedicated amateur musicians who have performed at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Southwest Washington since 1997. On a nearly monthly basis, the Chamber Players perform purely as volunteers, presenting chamber music concerts to the community free of charge. 

Including all of the orchestra’s instruments, as well as singers of every voice range, the Chamber Players’ repertoire emphasizes works of the great composers of the classical and romantic eras. 

Long before founding the Southwest Chamber Players, I began studying the piano with my father, Richard, an amateur who played his way through college. When I first expressed interest at the age of six, he told me that learning could be a lifetime project, but would possibly be the most satisfying experience of my life. He was right.

Today, I serve as the director, pianist, and cook-and-bottle-washer for the Chamber Players. Since learning piano on snowy Boston mornings, always after shoveling the driveway, several decades of gainful labor in the retail business passed, but I never lost touch with the piano.  

During the 1970s, I became interested in the role of the piano in chamber music and started playing duets with a violinist friend, and not long after that, with a clarinet. I also learned of the existence of a network of chamber music camps,  which are week-long gatherings, typically in an academic setting, of enthusiastic amateurs of various instruments. My first experience at a camp in Chapel Hill, North Carolina sold me forever. Not only did I work my way through some magnificent works of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, but I bonded with every aspect of the operation. Last year marked my 30th visit, and along the way,  I’ve hosted faculty and other participants from the workshop, all of whom have become extremely close friends. 

In this spirit of collaboration and love of music, I created the Southwest Chamber Players. The DC area includes a huge pool of amateur musicians, and although some have not played since childhood, they are glad to pick up their instruments again. 

Early on, I was greatly encouraged by Paul Moon, a young Southwest resident. In addition to being a skilled attorney, Paul was an occasional modern musician, an amateur filmmaker, and a confirmed computer geek, and helped me establish a website, www.southwestchamberplayers.org. which includes videos and a listing of concerts. 

In Southwest, we are located in the shadow of the Library of Congress, which holds a glorious collection of chamber music literature. The Chamber Players are deeply tied to our community, as we have performed in the friendly acoustics of both the old and new St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church over the years. Between church construction at the corner of Maine Avenue and 6th Street SW and the coronavirus pandemic, our concerts have been limited in the recent past. As we approach our 25th anniversary, we are ready to celebrate our reemergence with a gala revival in early April. Stay tuned for more information in the next edition of The Southwester

David Ehrlich has lived in Southwest DC for over 40 years. 

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