“A Foundation of Friendship:” A Few of My Favorite Things with Maddy Ewell ’24

Welcome to “A Few of My Favorite Things” — arts edition! In this series of Q&A interviews, The Bates Student sits down with students involved in the arts on campus to learn about their favorite parts of what they do. Today we’re chatting with Maddy Ewell ’24, the founder and president of the Small Ensembles Club. Home to all of Bates’s student chamber music groups, the club provides a nurturing environment for self-directed small-group music at Bates.

Whatever she’s talking about—whether it’s the neon vest she wears as a peer tutor in the Academic Resource Commons (“I’m getting autographs on mine from everyone who comes through”), the Community-Engaged Learning project she did for her ethnomusicology class (“it was all about fiddle music and folk music in Maine”), or the different varieties of beans that show up at the Vegan Bar in Commons (“sometimes they’ll have chili, other times black beans; it’s so versatile”)—Maddy Ewell ’24 talks about it with enthusiasm. And there is quite a bit to talk about: Ewell is a neuroscience major “technically on the pre-health track” who minors in music, a routine presence in Lewiston elementary school music classes, an active member of the Tea Club, and the founder and president of the Small Ensembles Club, home to all of Bates’s student chamber music groups. (Chamber music groups are small, unconducted groups like trios and quartets.) She seems to be constantly busy—this is a girl who I’ve witnessed pull out chemistry flashcards in the middle of an orchestra rehearsal while the conductor works with another instrument—and yet never visibly overwhelmed. Whatever she is doing, Ewell does it with what seems like boundless energy.

At once a boisterous and profoundly kind individual, in many ways Ewell seems like the natural choice for the leadership of a student music group. But her path there didn’t come easy: until last year, Bates had no organized club for chamber musicians. “I love chamber music,” Ewell says, “and so when I got to Bates and there was none, I was really disappointed.” Last year, Ewell decided to do something about it—writing a club constitution, emailing BCSG, applying for funding—and the Small Ensembles Club was born.

Since then, the Small Ensembles Club has ballooned in size. It is currently home to 30 musicians in half a dozen small groups of all shapes and sizes: there are piano trios, flute quartets, and everything in between. A true musician at heart who talks easily about how enraptured she can be by the grandeur of music, Ewell told us her favorite things about small ensemble playing, the magic of music, and the home she has built for her fellow chamber musicians at Bates.


Favorite thing about chamber music:

“The intimate setting that’s provided by chamber music is completely unmatched,” says Ewell. Musicians follow each other, as opposed to a conductor or leader. “It allows for such a deep connection, because everything that you’re doing has to be the same…There’s no room for you to do different bowings or breathe differently; every single thing has to sync up. And I think that acts as a foundation for friendship.” She adds, “I find that some of my closest friends are people that I’ve had the experience of playing chamber music with.”


Favorite piece of chamber music:

Ewell’s first love was Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 5: it was listening to a performance of this piece by faculty members at a summer camp that transformed her from a casual violin student into a true music lover. “I had never been so encapsulated by classical music before,” Ewell says. “I was like, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Today, though, her heart lies with Brahms—specifically, his Sextet in Bb major. “It’s just such a fantastic piece. There’s so much depth in it. And I think it’s the six instruments that gives it that,” she says. 

It’s special, too, because of the way she first played it. After hearing a faculty performance of the piece at summer camp, Ewell and several friends stole away to sight-read it. “I had never before experienced chills while performing myself,” she says. “And we played it, and everybody in the room kind of froze, and we were like, oh my god, what just happened.” Since then, Ewell has gotten chills every time she plays or hears that particular passage.


Favorite type of chamber music group:

“I think pieces with two cellos are super cool,” says Ewell. “If you add another viola [to the typical string quartet of two violins, one viola, one cello], it adds more tension, but it doesn’t add more support. … But there’s something about there being two cellos that adds a ton of power.” The “most thrilling piece I’ve ever performed,” Ewell says, was the String Quintet in A Major by Alexander Glazunov, for two violins, a viola and two cellos.


Favorite part of the Small Ensembles Club:

“Everybody has such a good attitude,” Ewell says of club members. “You can make jokes out of small things.” In the traditionally-competitive arena of classical music, “I really enjoy the fact that everybody is able to sort of let that go and be like, we’re gonna have fun.” 


Favorite Bates class:

There’s Introduction to Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience — but there is, too, Performing Musical Art of Indonesia from last spring’s Short Term, where Ewell learned to play the gamelan. “I got daily exposure to music,” she says, making it an obvious choice for a favorite.


Favorite food at Commons:

“I think it might be taco salad,” Ewell says. “Hear me out!” It’s versatile, it’s “different every time you make it,” it allows for salsa and guacamole—what more could you want?


Favorite life lesson learned from music:

“There’s always something to learn from your peers,” Ewell says. In academic classes, there might be a single right answer, but musical interpretation is a melting pot of ideas — especially since the Small Ensembles Club’s chamber groups are self-coached. “Everybody’s contributing … You might think you’re right, and then you’ll play it the other person’s way, and you’re like, oh, that actually does work. It tells this story in a different way.” She finishes with a philosophy as applicable to the wider world as it is to the practice room: “Nobody ever approaches it in the same way, [so] let’s combine all our ideas and try everything out.”




Student musicians interested in joining the joyful melting pot of musical ideas that is the Small Ensembles Club can reach out to Ewell at [email protected]. Those interested in experiencing that joy from a seat in the audience should mark their calendars for December 2, 2022, the date of the club’s fall semester concert.