By Rachel S. Karas News-Post Staff
Twenty-five young musicians arrived Sunday in Emmitsburg for the annual International Music Institute and Festival USA, an intensive summer music program for strings and piano players.
The rigorous institute held at Mount St. Mary's University draws participants from the United States and abroad for 10 days of rehearsals, lessons, workshops and public performances, Executive Director Elizabeth Borowsky said.
The program runs through July 24, followed by a performance tour of seven shows in five days.
From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., musicians are challenged to improve not only their playing ability, but their mental and physical connection to the notes as well.
"I don't see music as a performance, as an entertainment thing," program co-founder Charles Borowsky said. "Music is a tool for a catalyzing of creative forces. ... I want to show the function of the arts in society."
The program's interdisciplinary curriculum separates it from similar institutes, Charles said. Fifteen faculty members and visiting artists lead classes including "Mind, Body, Music," "Stage Presence" and "Introduction to Singing."
Pianist Alyssa Howell, 18, of Leesburg, Va., is in her second year at the institute. The group is like a family where each professor knows your name and musicians become best friends, she said.
A unique routine connects students to one another and to their work, Howell said. Participants start each morning with 15 to 20 minutes of stretching and exercise, and end each night by listening to each other's life stories.
"It's a very holistic way of going about learning music," Howell said. "It looks at you as an entire person, not necessarily as a musician."
Among this year's students are an 8-year-old violin prodigy from Newtown, Conn., who lives across the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School; a Japanese musician in her fourth year at the institute; and a Florida native attending the program on scholarship after she won a concerto competition.
Though a few participants are foreign-born children now living in the U.S., no international students are among this year's musicians. People may be deterred by rising travel costs or prefer to let the institute come to them when it goes abroad in the coming years, Borowsky said.
Many students come to the institute apprehensive about pressure or competitiveness, faculty member Blanka Bednarz said. But the group collaborates and learns from one another, and the teachers watch the musicians transform.
"They come out with the sense they belong in a community ... that loves music," Bednarz said. "They come out inspired."
The institute began in West Virginia in 2003 but has been held at Mount St. Mary's since 2005, co-founder Cecylia Barczyk said. With facilities better suited for the institute — including on-campus dorms and pianos — the university has proved a valuable partner for the institute's growth.
The university "is more of a learning, vocational place," Barczyk said. "One cannot help but be inspired by the spiritual aspects of the Mount."
Organizers plan to bring the program to the Baltic states in 2015 and other places around the world, hoping to share their vision for musical education and learn from more students.
"This is a unique opportunity, practically a professional experience," Bednarz said. "I continue to be amazed with the talent ... and they're really good people."
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