In 2013, Kevin Kwan Loucks was at the Irvine Barclay Theatre performing the piano parts of Mozart's "G Minor Piano Quartet" and Schumann's "Piano Quintet in Eb Major" with Trio Céleste, his chamber-music ensemble, and other musicians. After the curtain fell, the three musicians congratulated one another on a job well-done–yet they felt they could do more with their talents, something that would benefit the larger community.
"We thought we had something we could build from," says Loucks. "That realization was amazing."
This thought led to Chamber Music | OC, Loucks' music-outreach organization emphasizing musical education, performance and community, with Trio Céleste as principal performers. The organization focuses on using chamber music–a Baroque-era style of classical music written for a small number of instruments–to help musicians use the language of sound to connect with community members. Providing a tuition-free young artists' program and live chamber-music performances are the two main ways they do this.
"We want to give people the opportunity to go to concerts and experience it," Loucks says. "Many people don't know how to listen to classical music because they've never been told. It's all music; it's all sound. It just needs context. So we try to provide that."
Born in Korea and adopted by an American family, Loucks grew up in Santa Rosa, where, after hearing The Sound of Music as a child, he took his first piano lesson. That love brought him to UC Irvine to study music, and then to Stony Brook University and Juilliard. After graduate school, Loucks began an artist's residency at the Great Park, through which he met the rest of Trio Céleste, whom he now tours with internationally.
Loucks was able to travel with the group to South Korea for an international arts-mentoring program focusing on underserved children. The kids didn't speak English; Loucks could only utter about 10 Korean words. Though they were left with only gestures and music to communicate, Loucks found it surprisingly easy. "This was another example of how powerful music is–how it connects with diverse populations that have nothing to do with one another," he says.
Using classical music to connect with audiences also meant challenging the industry's straitlaced culture, which Loucks acknowledges is deep-rooted. For Chamber Music | OC, loosening up and encouraging audience interaction is a step in the right direction. "Some of my friends will play, and they won't say a word," Loucks says. "They'll just bow and leave."
Loucks prefers moments akin to what happened when he accompanied a cellist from Montreal at the Great Park. In the middle of their performance, a guy wearing flip-flops and holding a bag of chips sauntered to the front and made himself comfortable enough to loudly crunch his snack despite the hush of the crowd.
"It was obviously distracting," Loucks says. "After the concert, the cellist said he was going to talk to the guy and tell him that was inappropriate behavior."
But before the cellist got a chance to unleash his inner Stokowski, the guy came up to them.
"You just made my year," the supposed boor told the two. "I've never heard live acoustic instruments before, and I've never felt this way. I want to go again."
"I hope he'll always remember that," Loucks says. "Because I always will."