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Brian Hong

Violin Camp-Experiences and Thoughts

June 30, 2008 at 9:57 PM

Here I am, sitting at my laptop, typing away while scratching my bug bites. This is what my life is like after I go to camps. Although I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot about music, and I gained many friends, there is nothing quite like being at your own home, having all the time in the world to practice.

My summer started off with school. In the beginning of June, I got a pre-arranged absence form signed. Because of a camp I was going to, I had to get out of school 2 weeks early. I thought that it would be glamorous, being able to gloat at my friends still in the middle of their civics projects, but it was quite the contrary. Before the ink dried on the form, my teachers threw loads of work at me. On the top the pile I saw many, many, many review sheets to study for my finals. Sigh, all in the life of a musician!

The day after school ended (I got an A in all of my classes besides English, in which I got a B+), I got all my things packed and left for Massachusetts. The camp I was going to was called Interharmony, a chamber music festival located at a girl’s boarding school in Pittsfield. I had been invited there by a teacher named Misha (I will not disclose the last name without his permission) whom I had met in a violin boot camp in Florida.

Throughout the camp, I did not learn much. The chamber music was sub par, for the most part. Not to say that there weren’t any good musicians; actually it was the opposite. The problem was there wasn’t much time to rehearse and only a couple of coachings. I was put in a group with an incredible violist from Juilliard, but he was also in 4 other groups, which gave us no time to rehearse. The orchestra was below expectations as well. Our conductor, Sid (again, I will not disclose his last name without permission), was the concertmaster of many of the great orchestras of the USA during his time. He had now become a fabulous conductor, but the orchestra was also, ahem, pissing him off, pardon the language.

The only times I learned during this camp were during lessons with Misha. Misha was great-a 29 year old world class violinist from Israel. He could have easily been a great soloist (he has soloed with every major orchestra in Israel), but he decided to settle down with his wife and child in Florida, where he teaches at FIU. However, Misha is a very vulgar man. Not in a bad way, however. He is, to find a better word, very blunt in his style of teaching. Some students may take it to be mean spirited, but I take it to be refreshing, sort of like a wake up call. Some of Misha’s comments would resemble something like this- “What the f*** are you doing? I thought you were smart; THINK, if that’s not too hard for you”. This was all done in our best interest however, because all of his students good to amazing players.

I was also exposed to many things a 14 year old should not be exposed to. Many of my friends there had weed, cigarettes, and alcohol. Late at night, they would go out and smoke weed, and come back fully stoned. This made me feel kind of lonely, because I would have no one to hang out with because most of my friends would be acting retarded all around the campus. I was offered cigarettes and weed several times, all of which I turned down. In a way, this was a learning experience, because I saw first hand what drugs could do to people, and, if anything, this has just increased my strength of refusal of drugs and alcohol.

The day before camp ended (I missed the final concert because I had to head to my next camp, for a reason which will be explained), my parents picked me up and we drove quickly down to Philadelphia, specifically to the gorgeous town of Bryn Mawr, where our next camp took place. This camp, called the Strings International Music Festival, was, and is, held at the beautiful campus of Bryn Mawr College. This camp is run by two amazing people, Sandy Marcucci, a woman who runs many camps across the US, and the Principal Second Violin of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Kimberly Fisher, whom I have had the honor of studying with during the year, and most of the members of the string section of the Philadelphia orchestra.

The reason I had to leave my last camp early was because of a masterclass. I was scheduled to perform in a masterclass with Richard Amoroso, acting associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia orchestra. It was on the evening of the day I got to Bryn Mawr. The accompanist for the evening was Julie Nishimura, a fabulous pianist who never overplays the accompaniment and is also very precise. I did not play my best that night ( played the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso), but the kids from last year who remembered me (most of the crowd) cheered me on, which made me feel guilty. Mr. Amoroso also gave me many compliments, saying I was “fantastic and amazing” which made me feel even more guilty, because I personally was not happy with my performance. I felt better after he mentioned that I had to improve my intonation, however.

This camp had many great opportunities and many great players. One of the great opportunities was the concerto competition. It was split up into different age groups and there were winners for each age group. The finalists of each age group played at Thomas Hall, a grand ball room where all the major concerts were held. The overall winner of the competition, quite simply the best player, got a chance to play his/her concerto with the Ocean City Pops orchestra. In this case, it was a her. A 14 year old girl named Madison Vest, a fabulous player from my area (Northern to Mid Virginia) who’s won most of our major music contests, won the competition with Vieuxtemps 4 concerto. It was quite simply one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever heard. Not just because of the intonation, which was perfect, but the musicality was all there. I was, even being the manly man I am, near tears by the end of her performance. She swept the grand prize with her playing and her gorgeous white dress, (which she looked quite stunning in, in my opinion).

Another great opportunity at Strings International was the Kimmel Center Competition. All violinists participating were to prepare the second violin part of a movement of their choosing of the Bach double. All cellists competing were to prepare the first movement of a Vivaldi violin and cello concerto. All preliminaries were done in a room with Madi Marcucci, the incredible daughter of Sandy Marcucci, who is going to Juilliard, playing the first violin part, and Davyd Booth, a fine violinist from the Philadelphia Orchestra who is also a great pianist, who accompanied on the piano. (He was the man who did the harpsichord accompaniment and the accompaniment for the concerto competition preliminaries and finals). The winners of each of the movements of the Bach, (Mary Dorss, First Movement, Me, Second Movement, Madi Vest, Third Movement, and Zachary Mowitz (cello), Vivaldi First Movement) got to perform their movement with Paul Arnold, a fabulous violinist from the Philadelphia Orchestra and and with an orchestra comprised of the college students participating at Strings. The highlight, however, was the concert hall we performed it in. We had the honor of performing in the grand Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center before a Philadelphia Orchestra concert. The acoustics were amazing. The sound was clear and annunciated, but not muddied. This was certainly one of the most fun camp experiences I’ve had, unlike last year when I did this competition. (Last year I won the Third Movement and performed it at the Mann Center, but the theater was outdoors, making it hard to project).

The orchestra was great here as well. There are six orchestras at Strings, ranging from Pearl orchestra to Gold Orchestra, Gold being the most advanced and Pearl holding the youngest beginners. This is another reason why this camp is great-it has something for everyone, from beginners to great players like Madeline Vest. Gold Orchestra was great this year. We performed a quite polished rendition of the first, second, and final movements of the Dvorak String Serenade. Our conductor, Mr. Lee, is a free-lance pianist and conductor in New York. He is one great conductor, however. His interpretation of the Dvorak was new and inspired, however, it was very dignified and tasteful. His conducting was exquisite as well. He conducted with the poise of Dutois, but with the contained excitement of Barenboim. It was a great combination, and I hope Mr. Lee goes far in his career.

The overall atmosphere of this camp was great. No one here was conceited and everyone was accepting, graceful, and kind. I guess that particular quality of camp is the one I missed most when my parents picked me up after our final orchestra concert to bring me home. This was Friday evening, and now it is Monday late afternoon. I had a couple of days to get over my depression, but now I conquered it and I put those emotions into this blog.

I will only be home for a week, however, because I will be leaving for a heavy-duty violin camp in Ithaca, New York, called Preludio. I have to learn two assigned Paganini Caprices (#14 and #17), take a polished piece with me (Barber concerto, 1st Mvmt.), and learn an assigned Kreisler piece (Praeludium and Allegro). On top of this, we have technique classes, performance classes, and group classes. There are only twelve students coming, and I feel honored to be among them. We will be taught by a distinguished teacher from Chicago, Tom Wermuth, and his daughter, Allegra, who plays in the Colorado Symphony. I will write a blog about that camp as well. Until then, happy practicing!


From Hannah Wright
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 1:11 AM
you sound busy! It was interesting to read your blog, good luck with the rest of your summer!
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 1:39 AM
Wow, sounds like you've had quite a summer so far. Congrats on winning with the 2nd mvmt. of Bach! What a great opportunity. Best of luck to you at your next camp. Look forward to hearing about it. :)
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 10:56 AM
Very interesting and candid blog! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope you don't mind that I read it with a parent's eye. I never had the opportunity to go to music camp as a kid, so I have no first-hand idea what it's like, but people are starting to suggest it for my daughter (she's 8), and while she's not going this year, she might later.
From Brian Hong
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 11:39 AM
Hey guys. Thanks for the responses.

I must put in a correction. Ms. Nishimura does not accompany Hilary Hahn. That would be another fine pianist, Natalie Zhu. I should have checked my sources before putting it in this blog and I apologize.

From Marianne Hansen
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 1:28 PM
Hey, Brian,

Glad to hear you liked Strings. I work at Bryn Mawr College, and it was certainly fun to see you all with your instruments on campus every day. And the occasional burst of music through a window was great!

Marianne

From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 3:31 PM
Karen, What did you read in the blog with parent's eye? I have to confess, pots and cigarettes stuck in my mind. I am still of the opinion that kids should be allowed to experiment. With my daughter possibly in the upper division at camp next year, I am mindful of the issue.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 4:12 PM
Ihnsouk, that stuck in my mind too. And, Brian's mature response to what he saw.

Also, I was struck by what he wrote about the way the teacher Mischa interacted with the kids. I think my daughter would hate that kind of interaction with a teacher, at least as described. It would discourage her rather than inspire. But then, she's only 8. I think it's very different for teens. And maybe she'd perceive it differently than I did anyway and wouldn't actually be bothered.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 4:28 PM
I think everyone has to have at least one teacher that is overly frank and startling! That style is a little out-of-vogue these days (like spanking is), but it can be effective in moderation, kind of like strong spice in food.
From Brian Hong
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 4:41 PM
Don't take what I wrote about Misha wrong. True, he uses some bad language, but who doesn't nowadays? I don't believe he is the right teacher for young children, but he is one of the best teachers I've had, besides Kim Fisher and my own teacher here in Virginia, June Huang.

Misha is also one of the kindest people. If he is very blunt, it is because he sees the potential in us and wants to nurture it.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 4:58 PM
I didn't mean to criticize Misha. It sounds like he was a great teacher for that camp and for many, if not all, of his students. I'm glad that it was a such an enriching experience for Brian, and them.

But reading this as the parent of my own daughter and knowing how she has interacted in the past with a teacher who was "blunt,"--in particular, seeing what it did to her confidence, something that has taken the past two years to rebuild--I'd be wary of sending her into a situation like that again, at least until she shows some signs of having gained the perspective and maturity that would enable her to handle it.

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on July 1, 2008 at 11:47 PM
A tough teacher can be great. And kids do have to see the world as it is, I suppose, to some extent, and have the freedom to choose their own path, and yet not so much free choice that they get lost, bewildered or disheartened by it all, or mixed up in things that can addle their brains. All people are ultimately fragile and vulnerable, and some degree of protection from the unsavory aspects of the world is only wise, especially for the young and naive. I don't like the sound of your camp too much.
From Ray Randall
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 12:41 AM
Very nicely written. You write it so
it seems we are there with you.
congratulations.
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 12:50 AM
I mean the first camp, that is. I'm glad the next one was so much better. Yes, very well written.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 1:29 AM
Great piece Brian. You're obviously smart and talented. You are going to go far.

Don't worry about loneliness when others are abusing drugs and intoxicants. Living a life of character is always lonely.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 4:05 AM
It doesn't have to be lonely if you happen to find friends that are on the same page as you. Sometimes, that can be difficult, but there are more kids like you out there, so take heart!
From Brian Hong
Posted on July 3, 2008 at 5:32 PM
Hmmmm.....isn't that counted as spam? It's in the other blogs as well.

Has anyone else gotten the email as well? It does look interesting, I mus admit.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 3:45 AM
I got this too and wonder why I'm getting it. It feels like a spam.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 6:17 PM
Yes indeed that was SPAM, and he'd been banned from the site. Please e-mail me if you guys are getting SPAM or find it posted on your blog, or anything like that. Sometimes I miss it, sometimes I just don't know if it's happening, if people are abusing the site by sending e-mails like this. E-mail me, I won't let it stand!
From Brian Hong
Posted on July 4, 2008 at 9:38 PM
Thanks, Mrs. Niles.

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