Thanks to a generous scholarship as well as receiving the Univeristy of Nebraska Hixson-Lied Summer Study Grant, I was able to be among the 30 string and piano students of the 2014 International Music Institute and Festival USA, which took place on the beautiful campus of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD.
At our very first orientation meeting, the founder of the festival Dr. Charles Borowsky welcomed us with these words, “give what you have and take what you need.” Throughout the ten days of this intense solo and chamber music festival and the following five-day tour around MD and PA, I gave my best. I also feel that I have taken with me a plethora of knowledge and experiences, to the point that I can say I have grown as a musician, performer and a human being.
The festival offered more than traditional lessons, coachings and performances. It focused on a holistic approach and comprehensive musicianship.
The participants varied in their age and skill level; there was a very talented 11-year old pianist, many high school students, but also college students, some of which came from the nearby Peabody Conservatory of Music while the others flew from Canada and California.
Every day we began with centering our body, mind, and spirit with 7am yoga morning stretches. For me, this would have usually been completely out of question since I’m a night owl. However, I soon found out that being up this early I get a lot accomplished while still feeling full of energy. Our festival schedule was completely booked beginning with these stretches until the evening reflection time, usually taking place around 9.30pm.
I loved IMIF’s unique opportunity to take both solo lessons and daily ensemble coachings, with the IMIF faculty alternating so we never received the same perspective two days in a row. I must say that these 1.5-2hrs intense coachings on our Brahms’s Piano Quartet op. 26 were my most favorite part of the camp. There was simply so much to learn from the IMIF faculty (but also from one another) about this piece, its musical style, technique, phrasing, balance, ensemble communication and much more. It was as if the whole semester of the UNL chamber music class was “squeezed” into 10 days. We took a far journey from the very first reading of the Brahms until a week later when we performed the first movement at the student chamber recital, especially given that our newly formed ensemble consisted of four musicians from completely different colleges and musical backgrounds. We were also thrilled to receive a coaching session with Baltimore Symphony concertmaster Jonathan Carney, who helped us put on the final touches before our first performance.
A major highlight was the visit of the amazing pianist and professor at the Peabody Conservatory, Prof. Brian Ganz. In my own work with Prof. Ganz, as well as observing the lessons he provided to other students during his masterclass, I was simply amazed. It is incredible how much difference he was able to make in thirty minutes while completely engaging the audience and radiating with positive encouragement. I have participated and also observed many masterclasses throughout my studies, but I can honestly say that the way he approached his students was simply unforgettable.
That same evening we were in for an incredible treat: Prof. Ganz performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio and Schumann’s Piano Quartet with the IMIF faculty (Blanka Bednarz and Emmanuel Borowsky, violins; Sharon Eng, viola; and Cecylia Barczyk, cello). An unbelievable spiritual-musical experience!
Later that week, the IMIF faculty performed at Dickinson College, presenting a whole new program of solo and chamber works. I truly respect the IMIF faculty for they are excellent performers, teachers and caring people – these skills that do not always go hand in hand.
In between practicing, rehearsing, coachings and attending faculty concerts, we attended two seminars on performance psychology. I found these interactive sessions very informative and helpful, especially since I have always struggled with performance anxiety. Some of the most important points that I will remember for the remainder of my performing career are these:
I feel that the last point is really essential since so often we judge ourselves according to how we played, forgetting about other characteristics that contribute to who we really are.
The other non-musical activity I really enjoyed was the theater workshop. Happening on the very first evening of the festival, it definitely helped to break the ice while making us step outside of our comfort zones. We were asked to dance, create fictional ensembles and were challenged to acknowledge the necessity of breathing to our existence and performance.
Perhaps the most important lesson we have learned was that during those 10 festival days, we have to work together as a team. Sometimes it is even necessary to “put on a mask” when you perform, even if you feel scared.
After the first week of hard work, it was time to perform our solo repertoire as well as the assigned ensemble pieces. I found myself performing my solo Bach as well as accompanying two violists during the same concert. Needless to say, this was a great challenge for me as I usually avoid playing solo and collaborative works on one occasion. Yet again, it was time to face this task and learn from it.
As exhausted as we may have been when the institute was over, eight of us checked out of our dorm rooms and immediately were on our way to begin the IMIF 5-day tour. In 27 years of my life I have never participated in a concert tour, so the idea of seven concerts in five days was scary and exciting at the same time.
We performed in towns of Thurmont, Annapolis, Towson, Bel Air and Baltimore in venues such as mountain retreat cottage, retirement centers, Armory, and many gorgeous churches. The acoustics, space, and even the quality/type of the piano varied considerably from place to place. Usually we were able to rehearse in the space but few times we simply had to trust our skills and “adjust” during the performance. The audiences were very enthusiastic and curious, so during our last few performances we decided to offer a brief Q&A session. This was a great way to connect with them as we shared more about our musical upbringing, our repertoire and love for music. Twice during the tour we had two performances in one day, a noon and an evening concert. I have to admit that staying focused and energized until the evening performance (and being last on the program!) was probably the most challenging part of the whole tour. As we were blending together as a group more and more after each performance, we had a chance to personally get to know each other when sightseeing and trying local foods around the toured cities.
The words are not enough to capture how grateful I am for these two weeks of my life, for everything I have learned, the many performance opportunities I’ve had as well as the personal and professional connections I have made.