From Northwestern Now

Chamber music students will get to advance their proficiency with infamous solo passages under the Spring Quarter teaching model developed by Bienen School’s String Chamber Program Coordinator Desirée Ruhstrat, a violinist and member of the acclaimed Lincoln Trio and Black Oak Ensemble.

While spring cleaning at home in Highland Park, Ruhstrat and her husband, a cellist from Great Britain, came across his copy of “Naughty Bits,” a book series highlighting quartet excerpts for various string instruments. The British lesson book inspired Ruhstrat’s instruction plan for spring. 

“For many works in classical Chamber Music, instruments can be thrust into the limelight with a solo passage that suddenly runs very high or with a very fast flurry of notes. The object is to collect together such passages so they can be practiced, making it easier when you are called upon to play these pieces,” Ruhstrat said.

Sixty-three Bienen students will receive weekly coaching from Bienen faculty including Ruhstrat (violin), Sylvia Wang and José Mendez (piano), Lynn Williams (harp), Andrew Raciti (bass) and members of The Dover Quartet, Bienen’s Quartet in Residence. 

For their finals, students will submit a recording of an entire quartet or a list of the excerpts from the chamber repertoire. 

Ruhstrat believes the lessons will give students an opportunity to focus on the individual roles and responsibilities of their specific instrument within the chamber repertoire.

“Focusing on the challenging passages will help them understand why composers chose certain markings, such as slurs and articulation and other musical details within the piece,” Ruhstrat said. “And how their technical choices as musicians can impair or enhance the overall group’s musical performance.” 

While the perfect software is yet to be invented to solve the problem of sound quality and time lag for ensemble performance, Ruhstrat said that a test group of students in the class is experimenting with different methods of putting together an online trio performance. And she notes that a virtual Bienen Feinberg Orchestra Collaboration is underway on a Facebook page featuring students from both schools.  

Read more profiles in remote teaching from Northwestern Now


  • Desiree Ruhstrat
  • Sylvia Wang
  • Jose Mendez
  • Marguerite Williams
  • Andrew Raciti
  • Dover Quartet