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Caeli Smith

A Letter from ENCORE School for Strings

July 31, 2006 at 3:48 AM

HUDSON, Ohio -- Where else can I have lengthy discussions about James Ehnes' interpretations of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, or use my friend's iPod speakers to blast Beethoven symphonies with a roomful of other 14-year-olds who are totally into it?


You can always find someone to play a Bach Double when you're taking a study break from Paganini. That's Sarah Eaton, left, and her roommate Shannon Lee.

For the past four weeks I've been sweating it out at ENCORE School for Strings, a six-week program sponsored by the Cleveland Institute of Music in Hudson, Ohio, a small town halfway between Cleveland and Akron. With its quaint Main Street, village green, and landmark clock tower, at first glance Hudson looks like it could be the setting for The Music Man. However, inside this sleepy town, a very exciting thing is happening. About two hundred musicians are working harder than they can any other time of the year, and some of the people I eat lunch with in the dining hall or pass on the sidewalk could be the next Joshua Bell.

Every June, about two hundred musicians—teachers, coaches, collaborative pianists, and students from all over the US and beyond—take over the campus of Western Reserve Academy, a well-manicured boarding school in the center of town. Few buildings here are air-conditioned and the Midwestern summers can get famously hot. But we find ways to cope (a quick trek over to Main Street, to the local ice cream place is always a tempting option.)

Students congregate outside between dinner and the Chapel concert. That's
Ray Chen on his cell phone.

The string faculty at ENCORE is world class—violin teachers include David Cerone (who founded the program in1985), Robert Lipsett, Victor Danchenko, David Updegraff, David Russell (a frequent contributor to and others. I study with Mr. Cerone's wife, Linda, who is also CIM professor, and with her teaching assistant, Rossitza Jekova-Goza.

Mrs. Cerone conducts weekly 8 AM performance classes (not a very natural time for a violinist to be performing, if you ask me.) But, I suppose her theory is that, if you can perform at well at 8 AM, you can perform even better at a decent hour. Besides, the air temperature is always cooler early in the morning.

At performance class, you get to hear what your fellow violinist are working on— frequently a dry run before a public performance. At our first class, 11-year-old Sirena Huang. who was a prizewinner in the 2006 Menuhin Competition, played the a flawless Bach D Minor Chaconne. Next week, she played the entire Vieuxtemps Concerto No. 5, again from memory. Every week Sirena has another lengthy, polished piece to present at class. She's an inspiration to those of us who struggle to pull a single piece together over two weeks or more.

Though the focus at ENCORE is on solo work, most of the students are also in chamber groups. I'm in an ensemble with my roommate, Harriet Langley and two other girls our age, and we're working on Mozart's 14th string quartet in G major, K. 387, nicknamed the "Spring" quartet. We rehearse almost daily by ourselves, working out bowings and interpretations, and then once our twice a week we meet with our coach, Bruce Uchimura, a cellist and fine chamber musician whose Merling Trio was a finalist in the 1994 Naumburg Competition.

Life at ENCORE is rich and busy. There's a strong sense of community here. The faculty joins us students for meals in the cafeteria, and everyone gathers for evening concerts at the WRA chapel, which is the focal point of ENCORE community life.

The food may not be the greatest, but the company is terrific. Left to right: Sarah Eaton, Mia Laity, and Shannon Lee.

At chapel concerts, we crowd together without the benefit of air-conditioning, or even electric fans, which are switched off to reduce noise during performances. The payoff is that we hear some of the most exciting string players on the map today. At our very first concert of the summer we were dazzled by ENCORE alumni Soovin Kim's program of the 24 Paganini Caprices. It was an such an awe-inspiring performance that the audience barely noticed the heat inside the chapel.

Students at ENCORE are able to experience concerts like these as frequently as four times a week, by famous performers, rising stars, and their fellow students. For example, we've heard Andrew Sord's Sibelius, CIM student Rachel Harding's Mozart D Major, and a delightful performance of the Tchaikovsky Melodie and Nová?ek Moto Perpetuo by twelve-year-old Madi Vest, from Virginia.

Sixteen-year-old Francesca dePasquale, who is the daughter of retired Philadelphia Orchestra Co-Concertmaster, William dePasquale and cousin of Cleveland Orchestra Associate Concertmaster Ellen dePasquale, played Barber Concerto. Elena Urioste, 20, a Curtis student and ENCORE favorite (another native of my hometown, Philadelphia) has performed several times, giving us a glimpse of her program for the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, which she and Rachel Harding will compete in this September. It's exciting to hear these young players who are on their way to becoming the next generation's top soloists, following the footsteps of ENCORE alumnae like Hilary Hahn and Leila Josefowicz, who lived in my dorm when they were my age.

Most students live in WRA dormitories, although some of the youngest and oldest students live nearby off-campus, joining the rest of frequently for meals in the air-conditioned cafeteria, or musical feasts in the sweltering chapel. The faculty lives either in WRA faculty housing, or close to campus in rented houses. This sense of geographical closeness – living in the cocooned center of a small town – enhances the feeling that ENCORE is a community.

I live on the fourth floor of North Hall, the youngest girls' dorm, with twenty other girls ages 13-15. I share a three-room suite with my roommate, Harriet, an extremely gifted Australian violinist from the precollege program at Manhattan School of Music. I first met Harriet four years ago, when we were ten-year-old bunkmates at the junior session of Kinhaven Music School in Vermont, where we played in a quartet together. Since then, Harriet has been busy winning competitions and making her professional debut with the Reno Philharmonic, and winning a prize at this year's Menuhin Competition. When we met up last February at her From The Top appearance on the all-Corigliano show, we decided to be roommates at ENCORE.

On a bench on Hudson's Main Street. Left to right: top, Mia Laity. Bottom: Ji-Won (Judy) Song, Shannon Lee, Harriet Langley, Sarah Eaton, Maia Cabeza, Tara Mueller

It is quite an experience, standing in the hallways during practice time listening to the sounds drifting from each room. Down the hall lives 2006 Sphinx laureate Maia Cabeza, who at 13 has just been admitted to the incoming violin class at the Curtis Institute. Maia is going to leave ENCORE a little early this year, for her August 4th debut with the Detroit Symphony. There's also Stulberg International Competition winner, Shannon Lee, and Kingsville International Competition winner, Ji-Won Song—just to drop a few illustrious names. All of the girls in my dorm, whether or not they are international prizewinners, play at a high level, both technically and musically. We are all focused, competitive people. And yet, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among us. We appreciate and support one another, buying flowers to bring to chapel concerts when a girl from our dorm performs.

Our days are packed with practice, lessons, and rehearsals: all of us practice every morning from 8 until noon (and most of us squeeze in a few more hours of practice throughout the day, whenever we can.) We have two or three lessons a week with our teacher, countless chamber and piano rehearsals, as well as scale class, theory class, and lectures. Although there is a lot going on here musically, there is also time to relax and do things other than music. Every weekend we go to the movies, and we often rent DVD's from the local library and spend rainy days watching them. We often go to the gym and the pool, and spend time perfecting our ping-pong and foosball skills. There's so much to do that I sometimes feel exhausted, and end up skipping the occasional field trip to the movies or theater, just to catch up on my writing, or some much-needed sleep.

A couple of weekends ago the entire student body of ENCORE had the good fortune to visit the Cleveland Orchestra in their summer home at the Blossom Music Festival. We piled into four different school buses and rode to Cuyahoga Falls, where there is a beautiful stage, with rows of covered seats, and a large grass lawn where people bring folding beach chairs and blankets and food.

It was an all-Tchaikovsky program, beginning with his Festival Coronation March and followed by the Tchaikovsky concerto performed by James Ehnes, the 30-year-old Canadian violinist who has played with major orchestras in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. (And who, I just learned, is moving to Philadelphia because his wife is a dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet!)

Ehnes' sound was silvery and smooth but at the same time rich and buttery. I had never heard the Tchaikovsky performed live with a major orchestra before, and that concert totally renewed my love for the piece. I was so thrilled that I took pictures with my camera cell phone and texted them to my friends and family back home!

When my parents are in the mood to shock people, they say that they've sent their daughter to summer camp in Cleveland. Of course, ENCORE's cheerful small-town setting is nothing like big city life. And the program is more similar to boarding school or college than a rustic summer "camp". Cell phones are a must here (it's how you communicate with your quartet) and we have internet hookups in our dorm rooms. We're not here to have fun (although we do); we're here to work. and to enjoy the freedom of six weeks devoted completely to our music, and to bask in the privilege of living among some of the most talented and accomplished string players from around the world.


Seven Encore violnists. Clockwise from top: Tara Mueller, Maia Cabeza, Harriet Langley, Sarah Eaton, Ji-Won (Judy) Song, Caeli Smith, Shannon Lee. While we were taking this photo near Main Street in town, someone said, "Wouldn't it be embarrassing if the Cerones walked by at this moment." A few seconds later several of us screamed-- there they were, suddenly standing over us. Mr. Cerone said, "Be sure to send us a copy of the photo!"

From Karin Lin
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 3:57 AM
It sounds like you're having a wonderful time there, Caeli! Thanks for the report. I've loved Shannon Lee since I heard her playing the Intro & Rondo Capriccioso on From the Top. I still go back and listen to the archives for her's humbling enough when a 14-year-old has that kind of technical ability, but to have that level of musical understanding and dept as well is truly astounding.

Oh, how I wish I'd gone to music camp as a kid. Well, it's not too late for my girls!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 4:52 AM
It sounds like a really intense experience and a lot of fun, Caeli. Thanks for telling us about it.
From Nicholas Tavani
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 4:57 AM
ah, Encore. Too bad you weren't there last year, Caeli. There were some memorable chapel performances...Henry Flory's bow hair flew out during Scherzo-Tarantelle, i think my quartet set a speed record in the second mvmt of Shosty 8, and Joel Link played a pretty incredible Tchaikovsky concerto on the final concert (which he learned in about four weeks while at Encore). If Joel performs in a chapel concert this year, go to it.
From Andrew Sords
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 4:19 PM
Hi Caeli,

What a fascinating post! Glad you're enjoying your summer here in sticky, muggy Hudson. By the way, I like the "Silelius" concerto too... :) Just giving you a hard time.

Andrew Sords

From Francesca dePasquale
Posted on July 31, 2006 at 8:19 PM
Hey Caeli,

Great article. Just wanted to correct a mistake though: Ellen is not my mom, she's my cousin. My mom's name is Gloria :)


From Colleen Russo
Posted on August 1, 2006 at 2:42 AM
Wow. Amazing story Cae! You now have permission for all the times you couldnt talk because you had to write it or take pictures for it ;) hehe.
You'll have to post an audio of you after encore!
From Peter Wilson
Posted on August 1, 2006 at 2:50 AM

I'm an ENCORE alum from 1986-89. I was even a counselor and photographer in my last year there. I've known the Cerones for many years, having grown up in Cleveland during my very early years. I studied with Linda and even went to a baseball game with David.

Please say "hello" to the Cerones for me! You'll have to ask if they remember the big slide show I put on at the end of the '89 season! . . . not a dry eye in the Chapel.

All the best,

From Caeli Smith
Posted on August 1, 2006 at 3:43 AM
Nicholas, Hi. I was at ENCORE last year. I must have missed Joel's concert, and yours, too, I guess, because I had to leave to go to Ireland for a week. Sounds like I missed some great performances!

Andrew, thanks for the spelling correction! I can't believe my spellchecker that doesn't have "Sibelius" in it. I'm returning this computer tomorrow.

Francesca, Thanks! But I re-read what I wrote, and I didn't say that Ellen was your mom. I know she's your cousin (my sisters used to study with your uncle Bobby. And I was in that Haiti-orchestra thing last September when you and Ellen played Symphonie Concertante.)

You were great then, and on the Barber, as well! I didn't mean to leave your mom out of the article, but I was just focusing on violinists. From the way I wrote it, it almost seems as if there's no one at ENCORE except violinists. (FYI, everyone, Francesca's mom, Gloria, is a cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her entire family is fabulous.)

From Andrew Sords
Posted on August 1, 2006 at 5:56 PM
I wanted to add my 2 cents to this article.

Yes, it was a good look into what happens at this festival, and it's sure to bolster ENCORE's reputation with all the name dropping--however, Chessie (Francesca) is an excellent violinist in her own right, regardless of her family's success. She's an extremely talented violinist, and it just so happens she's a member of an extraordinary family. I believe that for the purpose of the article, that reference was unnecessary. (Ellen also could not attend the Barber concert).
Yes, Hilary and Leila lived at ENCORE, in Hobart House, actually--that was the little girls' dorm back in the nineties.
Linda Cerone and David Cerone co-founded the festival in 1985.
It was very nice of you to mention my name and some of my classmates as well, but I think credit should also be given to the number of outstanding violinists, violists, and cellists at ENCORE who have not won anything yet, who do not have careers, and who work very hard to achieve a lot in a short amount of time. Those students at ENCORE should be mentioned and credited as well. Everyone here has worked to make it, and instead of a handful of violinists whose names may be more known than others, there are other memorable performances as well (Tina Guo's Dvorak cello concerto, Sifei's Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, the absolutely outstanding collaborative pianists, especially Anita Pontremoli and Liz DeMio, and all the chamber groups that work so hard to bring a complete work together and perform successfully).
These points are just my two cents, and I hope they add a little more clarity to the article.

Andrew Sords

From Andrew Sords
Posted on August 1, 2006 at 6:11 PM
P.S. I have not received my degree yet... :)
From Colleen Russo
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 2:57 AM
On the contrary, Andrew, I think it's really neat to hear about family backrounds. Caeli is by no means saying that is why that person is as good as they are, because we all know that comes from hard work and dedication. Therefore, I definately do not believe that it is useless information, at all.

I understand where you are coming from when you want to credit those who don't always win the competions but work really hard. However I think Caeli made it quite clear how amazing everyone at ENCORE is and how hard they work.

Caeli did pick out a few students and pointed out their accomplishments which was very nice of her! She was simply trying to show examples of how much these young musicians are striving to be the best they can. If she were to talk about everyone, the article would take days to read!

Once again, Amazing article Caeli! Perfectly done. :)

From David Russell
Posted on August 2, 2006 at 4:02 PM
Actually, Hilary and Leila DID live in North Hall when they were students at ENCORE.

Loved the article, Caeli!

Mr. Russell

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