Monday, August 30, 2010


Even though technically speaking there are three more weeks of summer, now that school is starting and it's getting dark at 8 p.m., it feels like it's over. I've been thinking lately of how different summer was when I was in my seemingly endless years of school. I remember this feeling that finally, I could spend all my time practicing so I could really dig in and learn something. There were summers when all I did was practice and do wedding gigs (back when my rent was only $120 a month!).

And then there were summer music festivals. I attended a few of those, though not the really prestigious ones. My one summer at Aspen was the closest I got to the big time, though I was but a tiny cog in the huge wheel of musicians. That was pretty much a waste, musically speaking (I was in the most boring orchestra -- it was a chamber orchestra for the people who weren't big enough star students to get into the top chamber orchestra but who were better than the people in the so-called "Festival Orchestra" -- wow, haven't thought about all this ranking stuff in years), though it's a nice place for a vacation. And that was also when I decided not to go back to North Dakota, where I had been playing in a regional orchestra and teaching the previous season, but to go to graduate school in Cincinnati instead. It seemed the entire string faculty from CCM was spending the summer at Aspen during those years -- they jokingly called it CCM West -- and they had scheduled a block of time for official auditions, so it was easy for me. The teacher I was studying with taught there, and it was just a charmed moment for me to get in with a full scholarship, even though a few years later it became much more competitive.

Before that, I spent several summers at the Waterloo Festival in New Jersey, which, looking back on it, was a great deal: It was all-scholarship, including room and board, for two months. There was an orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz (a well-known conductor, formerly a successful trumpet virtuoso), with weekly concerts, plus chamber music and master classes (I even got to attend a master class given by Josef Gingold!). Because it was so close to New York -- at the time I went, it was housed at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison -- most of the teachers and guest artists were big-name musicians in groups like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. I'm not really sure how I managed to get into this place. I guess it was just a fluke that the recital tape I sent them in 1979 was so good; once you were in one time, you were in any other time you wanted to go, so I was able to go back a few more summers. I did like the experience, but I didn't entirely appreciate it at the time, nor did I take advantage of everything it had to offer, particularly in the area of networking. Ah, well. I believe the festival is long gone, no longer being held.

In addition to the long festivals, I've been to a number of shorter festivals and workshops, including some Suzuki teacher training courses, a couple of chamber music festivals, and even (much more recently) the New Directions Cello Festival for nonclassical cello playing.

For all of these, the hallmarks are sweat, way too much proximity to other musicians, and (for some) way too much partying. The big festivals were fun for me when I was younger, as someone who had never lived in a college dorm before. (I remember, with some shame now, participating in the vandalism of a dorm room: the guys who lived in it invited everyone in to draw and paint grafitti onto every wall in the place. They did paint over it all before they left, but it was a big mess. Yikes. Kids.)

Now that I'm working full time like a normal adult, that summer magic is gone -- it's just like the rest of the year, only hotter. Still, every June, I have the fleeting sensation that I've just been let out of school and am on my own.

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