My first exposure to the Domaine Forget (DF) campus was the day before my program actually started. My Mom and I were going to see the Quebec Symphony perform with violin soloist (and masterclass presenter at DF), Martin Chalifour. The concert was held at what we refer to at DF as the Salle FB (in otherwards: Salle Francoys Bernier concert hall). I was super excited to get inside of that hall as some of my favorite artists have recorded there (James Ehnes to name one) and I was going to get to be playing in it myself. It's well respected for it's acoustics. The concert itself was very good. It wasn't the all time best concert I've been too, but it was certaintly very good. It was only the first of many concerts that I attended at DF.
Domaine Forget (or DF) has got to have one of the most amazingly beautiful campuses. It's set right on the St. Lawrence River and the view from the different dorm studios and levels are breathtaking. The DF estate is a 150 acre historical site that contains many buildings, practice huts, an orchard and garden! I still haven't seen the whole campus but what I have seen is really amazing. There are different levels that are all connected by a road and stairs. The amount of stairs I had to climb to get food was 97. To the concert hall where some of my classes and all the concerts were, 194 stairs. One cool thing that I remember from my first day was seeing whales from one of the lower levels. How cool is that?
The practice huts on campus are kind of funky. There are several more than I can count, placed throughout the woods near my dormitory. You can walk/hike for ages and still never find the end of the huts. I set 45 minutes aside one day to specifically find the end, I didn't find it.The huts are each equipped with a table and chair. A skylight on the ceiling allows for light enough to read your music during daylight hours. They aren't very big, and they don't have electricity but they are excellent places to practice and they give you your own space.A unique touch I found amusing when first discovering these huts was that on the doorway to each hut is a composers name!
The only real big "oh my!" when I arrived at DF was my dorm room. The dorms for my age group are placed at the highest point on campus and overlook a field looking out to the St. Lawrence River. The building itself is a beautiful old historical building. At least beautiful on the outside. The building is divided up into about 6 different rooms. There is no air conditioning, which me being equipped with a fan I thought would be liveable. I found out the room I was assigned, went to my room with my bag and my jaw dropped open. In a room maybe 250sq ft big was one bathroom/shower (the door didn't even open the whole way before meeting the wall) and 11 beds. Yes, 11. One bathroom, 11 girls = AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
My first few days at DF were an adjustment period. I had to get used to getting up and going to meals at certain hours, attending lessons, figuring out where everything was.The first day especially was kind of scary for me as I had a placement audition in front of many of the faculty members and it would decide my fate in chamber music and masterclass placement. I got to do both, which was really exciting for me! There was also the additional stress of finding out who my teachers were and when my first lesson would be. To my great delight I got both teachers that I requested after some brief confusion. I also quickly realised that the many stairs are seemingly greater in number when you have an instrument and music stand on your back.
My two private teachers were Andrew Dawes and Philippe Djokic. Two totally different people and approaches and I loved them both. I think on a whole I probably was more compatible with Philippe Djokic's style because I was very used to how he taught making it very easy for me to catch onto things. Andrew Dawes is an incrediably warm person though and gave me some great things to work on and help me improve and he is very patient. It's going to be exciting for me to put into practice this next year what I've worked on with both of them and see how things developed in my sound and technique.
I mentioned I had the awesome opportunity to play in a masterclass. I got to play for Regis Pasquier. That man has got to be one of the most enthusiastic, inspiring, warm people out there. There is only one other person I can think of who gets into a performance like he does, Anne Shih. Pasquier would sit there and get so involved in a students performance, his eyes would be closed and you could see him conducting everything. When he'd work with a student he would be funny and humorous but at the same time completely engage the student and get them excited about what he was doing. He had this really infectious quality that made you feel completely at ease and comfortable and wanting to try hard to do the best you could. Getting to watch Pasquier perform at the end of the week it was obvious how passionate and involved a musician he was and I loved hearing his stories about Stern and Oistrakh!
When I wasn't at my regular lessons, masterclasses or concerts I was usually doing chamber music! I played in a quartet for both sessions which was a lot of fun. I had an awesome coach first session, Karine Rousseau. She had this off the wall sense of humor that I loved and she really knew how to inspire people. She was like Pasquier in how she got the student involved. Our last rehearsal with her the day before the concert she had us come in and she asked what we wanted to do to feel better or more prepared and confident in our upcoming performance. She made us try part of the quartet with backwards bowing, she made us try switching where we were sitting, she got our first violinist to sit down, reclined with her feet propped up on another chair to make her relax....she did all these things and more with us to help us loosen up and just try to have fun. She even gave us each a sticker that we each placed on our music before the beginning of our piece to remind us of that fun feeling we had so that when we got on stage it was fun and the love of playing chamber music, nothing more, nothing less. Friends playing music and loving it.
Aside from getting to do my own concerts with my groups I also got to attend several concerts, most of which were free of charge for me since I was a student at DF. Several of the concerts featured faculty members and then there were special concerts as well. One of my favorites was the Australian Chamber Orchestra with Angela Hewitt doing two piano concerts by Bach. They were really really really amazing! I also really enjoyed the Montreal Jazz Big Band. It was nice to have some variety on the classical music component by going to a couple of jazz concerts and even a dance concert! In total I got to attend 12 concerts by professionals and attended 6 student concerts. Another neat thing, before I forget, about the faculty concerts is that often you could hear and even watch the faculty rehearsing! I can remember the whole week leading up to the final faculty concert hearing the faculty rehearsing and one night walking home from rehearsals or a concert seeing the door on the barn (very glorified barn - awesome acoustics and two grand pianos) open and 5 faculty members were rehearsing. I just stood and watched for awhile, it seems so weird and exciting to get in on the work that goes into setting up for a performance and the performance come concert night was amazing.
Something that I got myself into that I had never heard of before was an orchestral excerpts masterclass. You prepare an excerpt (or a group of excerpts) and perform them and then get critiqued as if you were playing in any other normal masterclass. Darren Lowe was the person to be the critiquer (no pressure at all......not.) and he was very good overall. I found his suggestions useful and it was interesting to watch and obersve others and hear their comments too. It was a good breifing in audition preparation. I personally prepared the solo from Sheherazade. On top of that at the end of a couple of the classes some of us got to play together as a group and practice being a good first violin section. It was really interesting and something different from what I've done before.
There's so much to tell but I don't want this to get too too long. This is kind of an overview of my time there. It was busy and hectic and there was so much that I crammed into the four weeks I was there, but it was so great!
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