Now that most college summer breaks are over, and with the “official” end of summer approaching (Sept. 22), I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the summer festivals I attended during my high school and college years. These festivals were extremely important to my musical development in a number of areas. In the next few posts I’ll give a brief overview of each festival, and some random thoughts about what I learned while there.
Growing up in western North Carolina, I was fortunate to live within a few hours of this excellent summer festival. I attended BMC a total of four years, two as a high school “camper” and two as a college student. Although I had attended other music camps earlier in high school, Brevard was my first real taste of what life as a professional musician might be like. My first two summers at Brevard were when (and where) I decided to pursue music as a career, and those summer experiences helped me develop many of the skills necessary to do so. While I’m sure BMC has changed since I was there, I believe it still is a “comprehensive” music festival, featuring programs in orchestral and band performance, opera and choral music, chamber music, collaborative piano, theory/composition, conducting, and more. The students encompass all levels of ability and experience, from junior high through doctoral level and young professionals. I strongly encourage my own students to attend some kind of summer festival, even if it isn’t a full six or seven week program like Brevard. Even a one or two week summer festival can prove invaluable to your education and career. Speaking from my own experience, here are some reasons why festivals like Brevard are so important.
Being a Little Fish: Festivals like Brevard attract students nationally and internationally, so attending one as a young student can be an eye-opening experience. Essentially all of the high school wind and brass players I met at Brevard were at or near the top of their sections in their respective programs, so the level of talent, motivation, and competition (almost always friendly!) was high every summer. Add to that the very high level of college student that usually attends Brevard and you have capable players on every part in every section of the bands and orchestras. I think it’s crucial for young players to see the level of playing that’s out there, both from their peers, and from older, more experienced players. In my case, I wasn’t really discouraged by the high quality horn playing I heard at Brevard – instead I was inspired to work harder, practice smarter, and try to learn everything I possibly could from everyone I met.
Models of Professionalism: BMC had, and still has, a world-class faculty, with renowned teachers and performers on every instrument and in every concentration. The orchestral faculty perform together with advanced students in the top orchestra, which usually presents at least one concert every week of the festival, plus several opera productions and chamber music. Other than a few performances by the North Carolina Symphony and the occasional military band, the BMC faculty orchestra was the first truly professional ensemble I had ever heard in a live concert. And because most BMCO rehearsals were open to student observers, I got to hear a very high level of playing day in and day out. During my four summers I had the opportunity to study with and hear the playing of several nationally known artist-faculty, including Cynthia Carr, Eli Epstein, Dr. John Ericson, and Dr. Jean Martin. In addition to weekly private lessons with the horn faculty, I got to observe their professional deportment and collegial cooperation first hand.
Repertoire, Repertoire, Repertoire: The student ensembles at Brevard performed frequently, usually giving at least one full concert every two weeks. And because most of the instrumental students during my time there participated in two large ensembles, we were constantly learning repertoire and preparing for concerts. One Brevard ensemble I remember in particular was the Repertory Symphony Orchestra (RSO). The RSO was made up primarily of college students, with a few high school players as well. The RSO was a reading and performing orchestra, so we not only performed concerts but spent several rehearsals reading standards of the orchestral literature like Brahms and Tchaikovsky symphonies, and Strauss tone poems. I will admit that much of the material I encountered in the reading sessions was beyond my abilities at the time, but I benefited greatly from hearing the more experienced players and observing the world class conductors, one of whom was Gunther Schuller.
Networking: Many of the students I met at Brevard went on to professional playing and teaching careers, and I still remain in contact with several of them. Even as a young student I was able to learn about the importance of professional relationships by interacting with older students and the BMC faculty. The first time I ever heard of Douglas Hill and the horn studio at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was from a student at Brevard (little did I know then that years later I would earn M.M. and D.M.A. degrees from UW-Madison!) And over ten years later I remain in contact with current and former BMC horn faculty, including Dr. John Ericson and Dr. Jean Martin. Both Dr. Ericson and Dr. Martin contributed enormously in making my summers at Brevard fun, educational, and professionally relevant. In recent years Dr. Ericson has become a trusted mentor in many areas relating to my professional life, and each year I look forward to reconnecting with my former teachers at horn workshops.