Chamber music – a classical jam session

The sounds of the violin pushed here, the cellos pulled there, while all around the harp swirled as the sounds ebbed and flowed around the audience. The music was written to reflect tides and currents, composer and Cellist Ha Yang Kim said as she introduced her world premiere piece.

“I suddenly realized all the music played today was either written for us, by us, or in some way reflects the islands,” Sophie Baird Daniel, harpist and co-founder of the Archipelago Collective Chamber Music Festival, told the audience at the Sept. 10 performance at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. The music included works by Frey Waley-Cohen, and long-time islander Alex Shapiro who was in attendance and introduced her piece, “Intermezzo for Bassoon and Harp.”

For the last eight years, the weekend after Labor Day, Baird Daniel and Dana Jackson have organized the Archipelago Collective Chamber Music Festival. The festival was comprised of four concerts, three at Brickworks and one at SJIMA.

The program’s “Message From Directors,” explained Jackson and Baird Daniels believe strongly their music should represent the multi-faceted nature of the art form.

“This year’s programming ranges from Beethoven and Brahms to living composers including Jennifer Higdon and Paul Schoenfield. We’re particularly excited to be presenting the world premiere of a work by H=Yang Kim, a co=commissioned between Archipelago Collective and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Ms. Kim’s work will be featured in a program of music entirely by contemporary female composers including San Juan Island’s own Alex Shapiro. We look forever to lively discussions with you after our performances.”

“We both have connections to Friday Harbor,” Baird Daniel said, explaining why she and Dana Jackson chose to establish the festival on San Juan.

Both musicians grew up in the Seattle area. While it is possible the two ran into each other at a music convention or concert, it wasn’t until 2014, that they connected.

“We had both recently returned to Seattle and working on the same project. We carpooled and ended up talking the entire car ride about Chamber music and how we missed playing with people,” Baird Daniel said.

Chamber music is smaller than a symphony orchestra and more intimate as a result, not unlike a jam session.

“There is no conductor,” Baird Daniel explained,” So it’s more democratic.”

Jackson, there is a deeper connection with both fellow musicians and the audience.

“It is almost like having a conversation, you can sense when people get excited about it and we play off each other’s excitement.”

As an example, the two told the story of the Cellist Nathan Chan, who at one point during the Sept. 9 concert at Brickworks had become animated during his solo, drawing in the audience.

The two developed into the Archipelago Collective after that conversation, bringing in friends and players, shortly after that. Today the festival is comprised of a dozen or more musicians, according to Jackson, depending on who they have been collaborating with, and who is able to attend. Instruments usually include a variety of woodwinds, like the Bassoon and Clarinet, and strings, such as harps, pianos violins and cellos.

The Chamber Music Festival in Friday Harbor is the only festival the due organizes, “It is more than enough,” Baird Daniel said. However, they are continually busy with other performances.

Since the beginning of the festival, SJIMA has played a significant role, according to Jackson.

“We have played at least one concert at the museum every year. They have been extremely supportive, and we have a good relationship,” Jackson said.

Jackson became interested in music at an early age, playing the saxophone in junior high band.

Through the endangered music program, she was introduced to the Basson and immediately intrigued. “I just thought it was this quirky, weird yet cool instrument,” Jackson said. That quirky instrument now plays a major role in her career.

Like Jackson, Baird Daniel was also interested in music from an early age. Her family were not professional musicians, but listened to and played a lot of music. She took up the harp because it was pretty.

Her harp stands over five feet tall, and with its wood frame, strings and pedals, it is not a light instrument. It takes a dolly, a big cart, and helpful friends to carry it around Baird Daniel laughed, adding “I’m also stronger than I look!”

As Baird Daniels and her harp, Jackson and her easier-to-carry bassoon head out of town, the message from the directors had one final thought.

“Music has the ability to transport us, to heal us and to soothe us. We hope to provide you [with] all of this and more.”

To learn more about the Archipeligo Collective visit

Contributed photo by the Archipelago Collective