This summer, I spent three weeks at the Bowdoin International Music
Festival in Brunswick, Maine. The festival, which is in its 51st year, is
held on the campus of Bowdoin College, and runs for a total of six weeks;
participants can choose to stay for one of two three-week sessions or the
full time. I arrived at the festival on a Saturday afternoon after spending
nearly 20 hours in the car with my parents and violinist friend, Angela,
who was also attending the festival. There wasn’t much time to relax -
after settling into my dorm room and attending several orientation
meetings, I had to squeeze in a few hours of practicing. I had a chamber
music placement audition the next morning at 9:00 AM in front of the
festival’s cello faculty.
I spent the entire evening before my audition drilling the complex
technical passages of my piece, the Cello Concerto in A minor (3rd
movement) by Camille Saint-Saens. My audition went well, even though it
only lasted about two minutes. Our chamber groups wouldn’t be announced
until Tuesday, so I had two full days to practice and get to know my
Tuesday morning, we all received an email listing the chamber groups. I had
been placed in a piano trio with two other girls who were around my age.
Our assigned piece was Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat Major. I wasn’t
excited about playing it at first - I’d heard it many, many times and
didn’t particularly like it. Once I met my chamber group, however,
rehearsing and performing it turned out to be a rewarding experience. We
performed in an Artists of Tomorrow Concert, part of a series featuring
students from the festival.
My private cello teacher was Amir Eldan, a professor from Oberlin College.
He was a few days late to the festival and didn’t hear my audition, so I
didn’t get to meet him until my first lesson. Before he even let me play
anything, he asked me to tell him everything about myself in one minute.
After I’d played, he gave me incisive comments and specific ways to
practice certain sections of my piece. I knew that he would be able to help
me polish and improve my concerto before my performance.
In addition to weekly lessons and chamber rehearsals most days, I also had
technique class twice a week for two hours. Amir gave us scale and arpeggio
exercises, and taught us how to use a tennis ball to practice vibrato. In
the second and third weeks, we had master classes, where we would perform
for each other and Amir and the other students would offer comments and
constructive criticism. It was great to play in one of the master classes
because it was like having an extra lesson. In addition to my rehearsals,
lessons, and master classes, I practiced three to four hours per day.
Fortunately, it wasn’t work all the time. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
evenings, we would go to faculty concerts, where teachers and guest artists
gave solo as well as chamber music performances. The Bowdoin residential
life faculty took us on off-campus weekend day trips – I went to the beach
as well as a shopping excursion during the second week. The campus had
workout facilities, so I was able to run on the treadmill and swim in the
morning. Also, because we were allowed to leave campus, my friends and I
often walked downtown in the evenings for gelato.
One of the main things that I liked about the Bowdoin Festival was the
freedom to structure my daily routine and schedule. Since most of the
participants were college students, we were expected to be responsible for
ourselves. If you wanted to be on time to breakfast, you had to set an
alarm and get up. Unlike at other music camps that I’ve attended,
practicing was not monitored; you were expected to be diligent and
self-disciplined. If you had a conflict and couldn’t make a lesson, you had
to check the schedule and see if there was someone with whom you could
I performed my concerto on Thursday of the third week. In the past I have
experienced performance anxiety and struggled to control my nerves. Bowdoin
was such a supportive environment and my teacher was so helpful that when
it was time for me to perform, I was actually excited. It was an afternoon
concert, and although not as well attended as the evening concerts, several
of my friends and people from Brunswick came. They clapped so much after my
performance that I took two bows!
My fantastic experience this summer would not have been possible without
the generous scholarship from the Park Ridge Cultural Arts Council. The
Bowdoin festival offered opportunities and challenges that enabled me to
further my musical as well as personal growth.