His grapevine is a chamber music lifeline

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

IN THE mood for some live chamber music in the coming week? Well, in the Southland alone, there are more than 70 events to choose from.

Who knew?

Probably no one better than Jim Eninger, a retired TRW aerospace engineer who culls all sorts of sources to keep people up to date about small local chamber music events that he thinks are insufficiently publicized. In his Eninger lists concerts, locations, times, ticket prices and site links and often adds remarks about artists who might not be household names. Currently, about 3,700 people receive the e-letter. (To sign up, send an e-mail to jeninger @yahoo.com.)


FOR THE RECORD:
Jim Eninger: In today's Calendar Arts & Music section, a photograph of a conductor and a violinist is mistakenly placed with an article about chamber music enthusiast Jim Eninger. The portrait of Eninger by Times photographer Rick Loomis that should have run in its place is at right. —


"Jim is an indispensable figure to the classical music scene in Los Angeles," says award-winning L.A. pianist Robert Thies. "He is amazingly thorough in the way he compiles all the many details for the concerts, writes gracious introductions for visiting musicians and ensembles and even markets musicians' websites. He does this without charge to anyone, so he obviously does it from his heart."

Says L.A. pianist and conductor Neal Stulberg: "Jim is one of the people Los Angeles is named for. Without him, there would be no comprehensive source of information about concert events in our area."

"I write the newsletter because I really want to energize the cultural scene," says Eninger, 63, a native Angeleno who lives in Torrance. "People love to go to these concerts. So I've got quite a loyal following."

Eninger's first issue came out in 1999. This week's is No. 364.

The impetus, he says, was an article written in 1999 by the late Times music writer Daniel Cariaga titled "Listen Close: An Aficionado's Guide to the Intimate, Small-Venue Art Form of Chamber Music."

"Danny picked out seven series that were his favorites and talked about what he looked for," Eninger says. (For a list of Eninger's favorites, see accompanying article.) "That was the spark that made me think of doing this newsletter. It opened up a world for me. I pay homage to the article by beginning every newsletter with 'Greetings, Music Aficionados.' "

After nearly a decade, he adds, "Of Danny's picks, not a single one has folded, and major new series have emerged. The music scene is definitely growing, and the quality of the presentations is better."

Although not born into a musical family, Eninger enjoyed classical music as a child and occasionally took off for an opera or a concert in the Bay Area while studying engineering at Stanford. But it was his move to the South Bay in 1971 that prompted his current devotion.

"I met some people at TRW who were involved with the South Bay Chamber Music Society, and my wife, Mary, and I started to go to the concerts there," he says. "I ended up on its board of directors. For a while, I was its president. For a long time, I was the treasurer."

Eventually, because he was familiar with computers, he began sending out e-mail announcements and the programs of upcoming society concerts.

"That absolutely energized the series," he says. "We overflowed our Harbor College venue. So we went to two concerts a weekend, which is the current format -- at Harbor College and then at Pacific Unitarian Church in Palos Verdes."

After he left the organization in the late '90s, Eninger read Cariaga's article and decided to use the list he had developed to keep people current about other events.

"The first newsletters were called 'Chamber Music for the South Bay,' " he says. "But as I found out more and more about what was going on in town, I expanded it. Now it's called the 'Chamber Music Letter From the South Bay,' and it covers all of Los Angeles and Orange County."

Eninger says he has a database of more than 530 websites to draw from. Every week, he and a group of volunteers (P.S., he's looking for a few more helpers) check out about 160 of the most active sites to see what concerts are coming up. It takes 20 to 30 hours a week to pull it all together.

"It gets kind of intense every Tuesday and Wednesday before the letter goes out," he says. "Thursdays and Fridays are less pressured. In the summer, it really slacks off, so I'm able to go two or three weeks between issues."

Fortunately, he can cut, paste and update information so he doesn't have to do it all from scratch.

"I have some computer tricks called macros that automate a lot of the things I do," he says.

Occasionally, he acknowledges, he has thought about abandoning the project. "But it has opened up things for me so much. I meet so many wonderful people. My wife and I go to concerts all around town because I want to see the series that I write about. The contacts that it's opened up have been quite amazing."

All this music appreciation hasn't tempted him to take up any instrument, however.

"I'm the listener in the family," he says. "My wife plays the piano. Our two daughters, Christie and Katie, one's a singer and one's a violinist.

"I did build an antique clavichord from a Zuckermann kit once. I thought that would be the perfect instrument for me because it's so quiet, I couldn't embarrass myself. But I don't have any musical talent."

Eninger knows that he might be able to cash in on the newsletter if he took ads for it. But, he says, "I'm just not that interested in the financial side of it. It's just something I do because I enjoy it."

He also believes he will be able to enjoy his hobby for a long time.

"In spite of what you hear, classical music is really entering a golden era," he says. "It has to do with the aging of the baby boom generation. The cultural history of the second half of the 20th century is almost defined by what the person of the average age of the baby boom generation likes to do.

"We saw a real resurgence in the interest in tennis, and then that waned. The next thing you're going to see is that classical music is going to be very strong. Audiences are really going to swell over the next 15 years. As an engineer, I have a very good mathematical background. I can guarantee that will happen.

"The challenge will be after that baby boom generation starts to die off. But that's going to be in a long time."

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