“I’ve learned what ‘classical’ means. It means something that sings and dances through sheer joy of existence.” — Gustav Holst
June 23-27 saw the air above Mount St. James filled with the ornate sounds of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms as a select group of 16 aspirant musicians aged between 16 and 28 participated in the College’s inaugural Chamber Music Institute program.
One of the few of its kind in the country, the intensive course was designed to develop the individual talent of violinists, violists, cellists and pianists from across the globe by immersing them in a holistic environment where they studied both the practical as well as the theoretical aspects of music. Students benefitted from the guidance of a team of internationally renowned musicians who provided access to fully equipped practice studios and classrooms, the newly renovated Brooks Concert Hall with Steinway pianos, and the most extensive music library in central Massachusetts.
Although engaging, the demands of the course were high, and students had been chosen based on an application process that asked for a detailed summary of their musical experience, as well as two sound samples to demonstrate playing ability. Students remained on site throughout the program, eating and sleeping in the College’s dining and residence halls and attending a series of master classes, talks and workshops, as well as performances and social activities. Each participant was assigned two pieces of music, one coached by a faculty member on an individual basis, and the other with a faculty member playing in an ensemble.
“The ensembles allowed the students to engage each other in interesting conversations,” explains the program’s artistic director and lecturer at Holy Cross, Jan Müller-Szeraws, “with tutors taking the students’ performance as departing points to bring light to diverse aspects of musical creation; from technical advice, through interpretation, all the way to the spiritual resonance of playing music.”
Many of the students echoed the abstract sentiments expressed by Müller-Szeraws, favorably supporting the course’s overarching notion that there is more to music than simply playing and performance. Violinist Marybeth Mackay, from Francestown, N.H., noted that one of the course highlights was, “the focus on the spiritual elements of music” explaining that, “beautiful music is created when people invest themselves in playing simply for the joy of playing together.”
Fellow violinist, Izumi Hoshino from Hiroshima, Japan, complemented Mackay’s observations, detailing his understanding of chamber music as, “a very sensitive and intimate process where success depends upon developing a deep understanding of the personalities of your fellow musicians.”
The understanding between the students was more than apparent at the public performances that concluded the week’s activities. Not only did they display an innate understanding of chamber music through the immaculate quality of the performance, but did so with a deftness of touch that acutely expressed the warmth and fragility of the music being played.
The program was the brainchild of celebrated composer, Distinguished Professor of Humanities and chair of the music department, Shirish Korde. Accompanied by a team of musicians with a wealth of experience working with children and teenagers, Korde designed a program that utilized the College’s extensive music facilities to create a summer program where young people could nurture their interest in chamber music while enhancing their abilities.
Korde, who has had his work performed by the likes of the Boston Philharmonic and the National Polish Radio Orchestra, hailed the efforts of tutors Adam Golka, Eric Culver, Peter Sulski and Saul Bitrán, commenting that, “the Chamber Music Institute was truly amazing, and one of the most satisfying and inspiring experiences in my long time as chair of the music department.”
Encouragingly, the successes of the program lauded by Korde were shared by the students. Violinist Lily Honigberg from Washington, D.C., expressed a desire not only to see the program continued, but expanded, while cellist Jacob Mackay, from Francestown, N.H., commented that, “I would absolutely do this institute again. I feel like I attended a full semester at a conservatory in the short week I was there. I learned that music has the power to inextricably connect people in a way that words cannot.”
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