Great Exhalations

Reprinted from Aptos Times, Santa Cruz County, California

Calico Winds is taking woodwind chamber music to the forefront of the chamber music world. With style, grace, and a little attitude, they are helping to redefine the structure and repertoire of popular chamber music. We asked them about their music, their history, and their vision…

What’s so great about the sound, literature and experience of a woodwind quintet compared to other types of chamber music? What distinguishes the CW from other woodwind quintets? Not only are there more colors in the sounds of the instruments of a wind quintet, but there are many styles of music that are naturally part of the wind repertoire. Part of Calico Winds’ mission is to accentuate both of these unique qualities to the fullest. First of all, we have a blend that is unequaled by any other wind quintet. And with that as our launching pad, we have fun creating new tone colors with different combinations of instruments. We select repertoire that allows us to exploit this full palate, and in fact we chose our name “Calico” to reflect this quality. We also program a wide variety of styles in every concert. For this concert the audience will be treated to Renaissance dance music, a Bach fugue, American romanticism, a French “Flight of the Bumble Bee”, Mahler songs, Cuban dances and bit of theater. We know that a diverse audience of music lovers will find a Calico Winds concert exciting, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.

What qualities do you value in the members of your group? We all love the way each other plays her instrument. Each one of us is a great musician on our own, with many musical experiences to draw upon and a passion for playing that is a constant inspiration to the other members of the group. We have a lot of fun playing and cherish our chance to make music together And we are all dedicated to making wind quintet a bigger part of the national chamber music scene. Of course we value each other’s sense of humor, the love of a good cup of coffee, fine food and spirits.

What do you want audiences to hear and experience from your performances? We want the audience to not worry about “getting it” but just enjoy what they hear. People often only experience winds as the far away instruments in the back of the orchestra. We want them to come away from a Calico Winds concert with a new picture of what wind instruments can do and be excited and inspired by what they just heard…and of course want to come back and experience it again and again.

Why should people turn off the TV and come out to hear you? Well first of all the Olympics will be over and we can teach anyone to set their VCR. But if your curiosity hasn’t been piqued already here are the Top Ten Reasons to come to our concert: 10. We’re five babes who will blow you away 9. No strings attached 8. Wind players are musicians too 7. We inhale 6. Freshness guaranteed 5. We’re perfect family entertainment: no sax or violins 4. If the concert hall burns down, we can still play a duet (think about it) 3. No cane, no gain 2. No gusts, no glory…and the #1 reason to come to a Calico Winds concert: NAPPING IMPOSSIBLE!


Calico Winds blow in for Redding Show

Betty Lease, reprinted from the Record Searchlight, Redding, CA

The Southern California ensemble Calico Winds plays music that ranges from Bach to Frank Zappa. When they first got together, the members of Calico Winds wanted to be a breath of fresh air in the world of chamber music. They wanted to be the antithesis of stuffy, the opposite of austere. So they posed for publicity photos on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, shared their recipe for a potent rum- and gin-laced “Calico Tea” and distributed the “top 10 reasons to book Calico Winds,” including “These five babes will blow you away.”

But they never abandoned being serious about their music.

” We had this idea that we wanted to do something to distinguish ourselves from other groups,” said Kathryn Nevin, who plays the clarinet in Calico Winds. They look for pieces that aren’t commonly played, seek out nontraditional arrangements and commission still others. “We work hard to make sure the arrangement works in an artful way for the instrument,” Nevin said this week by phone from her Southern California home. “When we started the group there was a lot of very severe wind quintet music out there. We liked the idea of approaching brand new work.”

The Calico Winds will bring its artful renditions of music to the Redding Convention Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The concert is part of the Shasta Community Concert Association series, although individual tickets may be purchased for $25 (adults) and $10 (students). They’re available at the Convention Center box office, 777 Auditorium Drive; call 225-4130. “There will be a wide variety of music – some original and some arranged,” Nevin said. “There will be nothing harsh, but there will be some intriguing pieces that I’m sure some people have never heard before. And it will all be fun.”

The five members of the group – which also includes Eileen Holt Helwig on flute, Rong-Huey Liu on Oboe, Theresa Treuenfels on bassoon and Rachel Berry on horn – like to interact with the audience during a concert, Nevin said. They realize that many people haven’t heard a wind chamber group perform before, so they like to enlighten and educate, as well as entertain. “We like to talk about the music and what we’re up to on stage. It’s not a standup routine, but we try to engage the audience in a personal way,” Nevin said. “We take the approach that we’re human beings on stage who aren’t so different from them.” They see it as sharing the music they love. They do both bright and dark music, covering composers that range from Bach and Frank Zappa. They approach every piece with ardor and commitment, even the light-hearted ones. “A lot of music that isn’t serious doesn’t get serious treatment,” Nevin said. “If you don’t approach it with the same attention as you do serious music, it won’t sound good.”

All the Calico Winds musicians live in the Los Angeles area, which allows them to rehearse six to seven hours a week for the shows they perform all over the country. In addition, they all work as freelance musicians, performing in various symphonies and orchestras. Nevin and Treuenfels both instruct at La Sierra University in Riverside, where the group serves as faculty wind quintet in residence.

Calico Winds released its first CD, “All in One,” in 1998 and will come out with its second sometime in the next several months, Nevin said. “Vintage America: A Musical Meritage” will feature a diverse collection of music that reflects the lives of early Americans.

Nevin said members of the Calico Winds think of themselves as a team, so they came up with baseball-like “Calico Stats” for each member to answer the many questions they get. A complete listing on their Web site,, includes information under headings such as farm teams (where they attended college), positions (what instruments they play) and RBI’s (their recreation and back-yard interests.)

Like the calico that inspired their name, these musicians strive to blend diverse “colors” or tones into a pleasing and interesting fabric of music. That’s especially difficult with a wind quintet, Nevin said, because the instruments don’t have a natural homogeneity. “We try to achieve a homogeneous sound, a really smooth blend of sounds so that you can’t tell which instrument is playing which note,” she said.

After all the work of selecting, experimenting, blending and smoothing, Nevin said it’s a thrill to perform. “It’s sort of like that moment when you really know you’re living,” she said. “It’s totally consuming, exhausting, but energizing.”