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 roommate, Ailun.
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 switch.
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.