Last week I participated in the Minnesota Orchestra's "Fantasy Camp", and it was a wonderful experience.
I completed an application prior to their deadline, August 18th, and they made their selections on August 24th, of which they said they would be choosing 50 people to play a "sampler" concert with them on September 16th. We were to play Polovtsian Dances no. 8 and 17. (Real Fast)
Of the 54 lucky ones, I was chosen to play first violin, along with four others. The others were a variety of musical instruments, from horns to percussion.
We practiced with the orchestra on the 15th and 16th of September, before the concert. Sara Hicks, conductor, worked with us closely for the two days, as well as break out sessions with the principal of each instrument section. The five of us worked with acting concert master Sara Kwak, who taught me so many things in the short time I was with her. Some of the things she worked on with us were: the "shoe shine" bow, vibrato enhancement, learning fast passages, bow powering techniques, as well as how to play more clearly in the upper positions. We also worked on flying staccato methods, use of the "longer bowings" for a broader sound, where to place the bow to create differing sound effects, and lastly, how to sound better in general. Posture was stressed.
I cannot say enough for Sara's playing and teaching methods. The only problem is that she is so busy with the orchestra that she does not have time to take on any students. Oh well. Thank you Sara Kwak and Milana Reiche.
We also spent time with the Minnesota Orchestra President, Vice President and Pops coordinator. Meals were served to us the entire two days. They even gave some older chairs away to those that wanted something that may have had some famous person sit on in the past. I did not take a chair.
On concert night, the orchestra played the first half by itself, and we played the second half, teamed up with another first violin player from the orchestra. What a thrill.
Each camper was given 10 tickets, included with their $500 fee to play. The hall was general admission, and our tickets were good for any seat in the house. They even gave our people time to choose their seats before the general public was let in. The place was packed to capacity, with 2,400 people in the audience.
Pictures were taken, which is normally not allowed, and the press followed us around everywhere, except the bathroom. Some of the participants included a doctor from the Mayo Clinic, a music teacher, a grandmother and a violin maker. (I am the violin maker)
The neatest thing that happened to me was to play a concert side-by-side with Milana Reiche, third chair, first violin. Also, meeting Edward Stack, second violin and the oldest member of the orchestra. He and many people he remembered my teacher, the late Clifton Jackson (whom Milana Reiche replaced). Clifton was my teacher for over 20 years. He was also the personnel director of the orchestra for many years.
As a violin maker, I always learn something when I am around world class violins. What I was reminded at the Camp was that the violins should be left as close to their original condition as possible. No over cleaning or trying to make them look better with varnish or clever repairs. Repairs seemed to be adequate and done professionally to most to the violins I saw. However, this visit reminded me that cracks should never be cleverly concealed, but will always need to neatly show. And when well done, it is actually kind of pleasing to look at.
I also was surprised that many professional players have bridges about ready to fall down, strings that show signs of wear, and pegs that seem to stick. The lesson that I learned here is that they need to see a luthier, more often for a checkup. I did notice that Sara Kwak's violin was an exception and perfect in every way. Even the fingerboard was highly polished.
The Fantasy Camp talent was very high level. Many seasoned instrumentalists were in attendance. I could go on and on about that. I guess it surprised me.
From the food, to the picture taking, to the tickets given to us to allow our family and friends to come in early and sit anywhere in Orchestra hall, to play in front of 2,400 people -- all in all, it was a fantastic way for non-professional musicians and their families to live a life-long dream and play with a world class orchestra such as the Minnesota Orchestra. It really was a "fantasy camp".
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