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The Magic of Three: C of I’s Langroise Trio enriches Treasure Valley music culture

Greatness often comes in groups of three: Pyramids of Giza; primary colors; musketeers. The “rule of three” states that triads are funnier, more satisfying and more effective than other numerical pairings. Perhaps that is why The College of Idaho has a string trio instead of a quartet.

The first time the current members of The College of Idaho Langroise Trio ever played together, their music and style blended into one seamless sound wave. Violinist Geoffrey Trabichoff had played chamber music his whole life, but he’d never felt more in sync than he did during his first audition alongside fellow trio members Dave Johnson (viola), and Sam Smith (cello).

“I remember thinking after the first movement, ‘actually, we could just go on stage and play that,” Trabichoff recalls.

The Langroise Trio was officially created May 31, 1991, through a generous $2 million gift from arts patron Gladys Langroise, whose name also adorns the two story, 54,000 square-foot Langroise Center for the Performing and Fine Arts. The Trio was formed to enhance music performance and education in the intermountain United States, to preserve and promote the classical music tradition, and to foster awareness of its importance to society.

Each artist-in-residence followed his own winding trail to the C of I campus in Caldwell. There were stops at the Iceland Symphony, the Mannheim Chamber Orchestra in Germany and even a rhythm and blues nightclub in Florida along the way.

But for two Midwesterners and a violinist from across the pond, Idaho came as a culture shock.

Smith and Johnson had played principal viola and cello together with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic for about a decade, with summers spent at Grant Park in Chicago.

The decision to move west reminded Smith of the movie Dances with Wolves. In the film, Kevin Costner’s character asks to be posted as far out as he can, and it felt like that for Smith.

 “Going out into the unknown,” he said.

Johnson helped Smith load his moving truck bound for Caldwell, not knowing he’d follow within a few months.

The last piece of the trio didn’t fall into place until six years later when Trabichoff left his concertmaster position with the B.B.C Scottish Symphony and moved stateside.

Being a Londoner and having lived in big cities around Europe, it was a completely different style of living for Trabichoff. The perception of America is everything goes 10-times faster, but in the Treasure Valley, life moved slower, he said.

“Coming from Glasgow, it’s just another world,” Trabichoff said.

Each Langroise Fellow came to the C of I in search of something unique and fresh, and the Langroise Trio position offered a challenge with its three-pronged requirements.

“Being able to not only play orchestra, but then you could also teach classes and give lessons in a college environment,” Johnson said. “But the Trio part of the job was the most intriguing. That calls you to a higher level of responsibility and musicianship.”

None of the members know when they decided a career as a professional musician was in their future. It just seemed instinctive, like the southerly flight of birds each winter.

“The Christmas that I was 7, I apparently told my parents that I didn’t need any gifts except a violin,” Trabichoff said. “And I have no idea why I said that.”

Trabichoff would go on to be mentored by renowned Russian pedagogue Sascha Lasserson, whom he met through another great career influence—a London cab driver named Alf.

“He was a kind of freak because he was a London taxi driver, but he knew more about music, and specifically violin playing, singing, and ballet, than most professionals do,” Trabichoff said. “It was because he had a terrific interest in those things, so he made a point of going to whatever he could.”

In turn, the Langroise Trio members have influenced the next generations of musicians—scores of talented students who have come through the C of I music department. The Trio members know the pressure, stress and musicianship required to play an instrument, and how to make a living doing so. Because they have “been there” and “done that” — going through auditions, playing with various orchestras around the world, and playing solos — students studying with Langroise Trio can walk in the shoes of a professional.

And those professionals can relate to being in the shoes of a fledgling musician.

As a high school senior, Johnson remembers feeling like a deer in the headlights at his first show with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. The conductor was a skinny, dark-eyed Italian man.

“When he looked in your general direction, you thought he was staring at you,” Johnson said. “So, I was really scared.”

For Smith, it took an alarming wake-up call for him to realize the work ethic required to be a professional musician.

While at Ball State University, Smith was one of 100 to audition with the Cincinnati Orchestra. The pressure got to him. One part nerves and one part unpreparedness equaled Smith coming apart in some of the excerpts. Afterward, one of the violinists in the orchestra came up to him.

“When you started playing, we took notice and were really interested in you,” she said. “But you obviously don’t have any idea of the level of preparation necessary, so take a look at that.’”

That’s one of the things the Langroise Trio trains students to do—to thoroughly learn a piece and have it ready for performance. It’s one of the many ways the Trio members help prepare students for performances, auditions and musical careers in the Treasure Valley and beyond.

“That was one of the missions and expectations, that we would kind of enrich the local area,” Johnson said.

And enrich the area they have. The Trio has watched students crescendo into the ranks of the Boise Philharmonic and beyond. There are currently about 10 musicians in the Boise Philharmonic who went through the C of I or took private lessons under the Trio, and many more that have come and gone.

“That’s the big reward of it,” Smith said. “That’s the whole ‘why’ of the Langroise Trio.”