The Goodwin Avenue Trio plays on
March 23, 2021
One late July afternoon, a clarinetist, a cellist and a pianist made introductions over Zoom. They gathered soon after for a first run of the Brahms Clarinet Trio in A minor. Andrew J. Buckley, a first-year masters student in clarinet performance and literature, felt something click.
“I was like, ‘yup, this is it,’” he said. “‘Now we’re doing it for real.’”
On March 27, The Goodwin Avenue Trio will make its professional debut at Smith Memorial Hall. Limited in-person seating will be available for students who are up to date on COVID testing. In keeping with its mission, the Trio offers this concert as a source of hope and healing.
Buckley is excited to perform alongside cellist Ethan Schlenker and pianist Chanmi Lee, both first-year masters students in music performance and literature for their respective instruments. To Buckley, the event is more than a recital — it’s a move toward the future of live music.
“Live music can happen during the pandemic,” Buckley said. “It’s probably the thing that people need the most.”
Buckley’s life in music began when he learned to play the piano at five years old. In fourth grade, he picked up the saxophone, and in high school, the flute and clarinet. Growing up in New York, Buckley dreamed of playing in Broadway pit orchestras.
Of all the instruments in his toolbox, the clarinet’s pure sound and endless emotional range are dear to Buckley.
“You can go from these really delicate, soft textures to extremely bombastic, bright, exciting, crazy technical virtuosic playing,” he said.
At the University, Buckley’s musical life is a constellation of playing, learning and teaching. He maintains a small private studio where he indulges his passion for music education.
Between his studies and his students, Buckley works hard to prioritize his work with the trio. Coming into his masters degree, he knew he wanted chamber music to be a significant part of his experience.
“That summer, I had nothing to do besides sit at my computer and try to figure out stuff for the fall,” Buckley said. “I spent it trying to put this dream team together.”
After endless emails to professors, teaching assistants and students, Buckley found himself tagged in an email with Ethan Schlenker. Schlenker’s cello professor Daniel McDonough thought they might be a good fit.
Schlenker’s journey in music began on the piano in Normal, Illinois. Cello came next when they joined a children’s orchestra in the first grade. Schlenker quickly fell in love with it.
“Around seventh or eighth grade, I decided on some level I was going to be a professional musician — that this is all I want to do with my life,” Schlenker said.
After years of playing in string ensembles where blending is the primary task, Schlenker said they are delighted by the challenge of a clarinet trio. In this unique instrumentation of clarinet, cello and piano, the musicians must think more about supporting each other’s voices than about melding them into one.
There is not a wealth of music written for this particular combination of instruments. Here, Schlenker’s mind for composition comes into play. For one of the Trio’s current pieces, Schlenker is playing an adapted viola part on the cello.
“I did my own transcription from the score and put it into notation software and everything,” they said. “We’ve had to get creative with it.”
Schlenker approaches the technical facts and failings of different instruments with a similar kind of imaginative spirit. They challenge Buckley not to compromise musical phrasing for the break of a breath. They challenge themself to generate a sound as forward and resonant as the clarinet or piano.
Above all, Schlenker considers the listener.
“If I’m an audience member, I don’t want to walk out of a recital and say, ‘Wow, what good cello playing,’” they said. “I want to go out of that recital and say, ‘Wow, what gorgeous music.’”
Last to arrive was pianist Chanmi Lee. She traveled thousands of miles from her home in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee found the piano at four years old. She said her decision to center her life around music was a simple one.
“My parents asked me, ‘do you want to do music?’,” Lee said. “And I said yes.”
Lee has noticed many cultural differences since her move abroad. She said the food here doesn’t quite measure up to her mom’s cooking and quiet, spacious Urbana feels worlds away from the excitement of Seoul.
Most importantly, Lee said her masters program’s emphasis on experimentation is relief from the stringent standards of her prior musical schooling.
“In South Korea, there is kind of one very powerful standard,” Lee said. “Here, I can make my own musical world.”
Studying in the U.S. has presented new limits along with new freedoms. Lee was surprised by the serious COVID restrictions on campus. She recalled the trio’s early struggles to find rehearsal spaces.
“We always got in trouble,” she said.
Lee is grateful for her groupmates’ acute awareness of the pandemic. She described Buckley and Schlenker’s COVID-19 safety habits with amusement.
“They just go, ‘I will drink my coffee,’ and walk far away,” Lee said. “It’s so cute.”
Lee’s work with the trio has been a practice in communication. She is getting more comfortable speaking English during conversations with Buckley and Schlenker. She said she’s also learning to fold the piano’s bright sound into the darker tones of the clarinet and cello.
Lee said she’s finding her voice, in life and music.
“I’m proud to be here,” Lee said.
Buckley, Schlenker and Lee are excited to introduce themselves as The Goodwin Avenue Trio. Debuting in the pandemic only energizes their purpose.
“People need live music,” Buckley said. “It’s going to be one of the things that pulls us out of it.”