follow us!


Celebrating Women in Music:


Creating, Leading, Organizing, Performing, Illuminating, Exploring


A decade has passed since the Bellingham Chamber Music Society organized as a non-profit arts entity and began sharing a collective love of live chamber music with Bellingham audiences.  The BCMS founding director, Leslie Johnson, is an accomplished violist and teacher. Her partner in this early vision was Pat Nelson, a fabulous bassoonist and long time Bellingham musician who for 20 yrs has shared her unending energy and love of music with audiences, students of all ages, and colleagues. Pat is now the board president and fearless leader of the BCMS as we move beyond the covid pandemic that made us acutely aware of our deep need for live music. Whether player or audience member, we all grew an extra layer of appreciation and dedication to this art form. 


Pat’s latest partners in the BCMS adventure are her new Board of Directors: all women, all full of energy and ideas, and all dedicated to live music.  Each board member comes with her own relationship to classical music. 


The ideas overflow from the Board of Directors and outnumber hours in the day.  We created  our ‘Parking Lot of Dreams’ file folder to stash the dream seeds until they are ready to be tended. Stay tuned to find out about our next adventure.


Pat, Jen, and Erika have been collaborating for years as players and teachers. Their trio, rioT, was so named because they literally love playing together, spend as much time laughing as rehearsing, dream out loud together, have developed an amazing rapport, and the ability to literally anticipate each other’s breaths.  


The whole world has become acutely aware of the stunning historical lack of representation of women and BIPOC composers in the classical realm. Like many organizations, BCMS is actively dedicated to bringing these voices to light through our programming. It is wonderfully exciting to be able to find gorgeous repertoire from the 17th-21st centuries written by people in these underrepresented demographics who are now beginning, more and more, to make our hearts sing like flowers in the spring earth. 

On  May 7th,  at our final concert of the 2022-23 season, we are celebrating historic musicians Clara Schumann and Louise Farrenc along with living composer Jennifer Higdon. Higdon is a Grammy award and Pulitzer Prize winning composer. She won the latter prize in 2009 for her violin concerto. Our guest artists Carolyn Canfield, Page Smith and Judy Widrig will perform Higdon’s “Piano Trio”. Here are Higdon’s thoughts about the piece: 

“Can music reflect colors and can colors be reflected in music? I have always been fascinated with the connection between painting and music. In my composing, I often picture colors as if I were spreading them on a canvas, except I do so with melodies, harmonies and through the instruments themselves. The colors that I have chosen in both movement titles of the Piano Trio and in the music itself reflect very different moods and energy levels, which I find fascinating, as it begs the question, can colors actually convey a mood?” 

J. Higdon

Jennifer Higdon, photo credit: J.D. Scott

Clara Schumann lived during the 19th c. She was married to Robert Schumann and was a dear friend of Johannes Brahms.  Clara however had a very successful career of her own. She was regarded as a child piano prodigy,  she composed many works, toured as a pianist, and taught at a conservatory in Frankfurt, where she negotiated her own contractual terms. She was the only woman on the faculty.

Louise Farrenc was also a highly successful pianist and teacher. She composed symphonies, overtures, and chamber music.  Farrenc was the only woman appointed to the Paris Conservatory faculty in the 19th c. where she fought for a decade to gain equal pay with her male colleagues. It was in fact the highly successful premiere of her “Nonet,” which BCMS is performing, that finally saw her being granted equal pay.

The Return of the Chickering Piano

Our May 7th concert will also help us celebrate the return of the Hotel Leo’s Chickering piano. Piano guru, Michelle Stranges, has been refurbishing the piano since January and we are delighted to have the unveiling of the restored instrument occur with the performance of the Schumann and Higdon piano trios. Come hear it sing again. Tickets are on sale at our website: 

Mary Davenport-Engberg Photo Exhibit

Another treat at the May concert will be our display of historic photos of an early and important woman in the musical life of Bellingham: Mary Davenport-Engberg. Ms. Davenport-Engberg was a violinist, composer and conductor with important ties to the music scenes in Seattle and Bellingham, WA. She conducted her own orchestra that performed in the old Beck Theatre opera house located in what was later the JC Penney building in downtown Bellingham.  Jennifer worked with Whatcom Museum photo archivist  Jeff Jewell  to put together an exhibit of pictures of this musical pioneer from the turn of the 2oth century. 


Playing the works of living composers is, of course, a delight as well. Earlier this season we featured a beautiful trio by Alyssa Morris and a more contemporary ‘sounding’ work by living Venezuelan composer Miguel Santaella. Both works were well received by our audience and we pledge to continue playing works by living composers and pushing the ‘contemporary’ sounding envelope just a little bit. 

We will bring you more newly discovered gems as the seasons go on and we promise to continue to program old standards that make your hearts sing as well. 

Jen Weeks March 30,2023