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Caeli Smith

A Summer at Quartet Program

August 18, 2008 at 1:37 AM

Everyone knows how precious teenage summers are, especially for a musician. It's important to spend them wisely. With so many options to choose from, it was hard to decide which program to attend. I knew I wanted a place with emphasis on solo and chamber work, and with many enthusiastic recommendations from past participants, I decided to spend seven weeks at Quartet Program, for high school and college students, in upstate NY on the campus of SUNY Fredonia.

Located in the Chautauqua district, not far from Niagara falls, Fredonia is a small college town with charming restaurants and the all-important Walmart not far away. The town lends itself well to biking, with many convenient routes. In fact, it was common to see Charles Castleman, the director and founder of the program, zooming back and forth on his own bike, between the dorm and the music building.

The Quartet Program, in its 38th year, is small (though it expanded this year to include another program in Boulder, CO) and it's not as well-known as other summer programs out there. As Mr. Castleman explained to the audience at a concert, he doesn't do a lot of publicity for the program. "For each student slot, there are four applicants. I figure, with all of the applications we get, why would we need to publicize it any more?"

The small size of the group creates a homey, intimate atmosphere for the program, where each of the 36 students get to know each other well, become great friends, and create beautiful chamber music.

However, it's not only the students who become close friends. Unlike other programs, there is no psychological barrier between the staff and the students. The faculty, Mr. Castleman and others (notably violist Allyson Dawkins; dynamic-duo wife-and-husband-team Nancy Nehring and Mark Rudoff, pianist and cellist; and many more) have a relaxed and comfortable attitude. Some nights found the entire population of the camp outside playing a competitive game of "four-square", or inside having intellectual discussions (sometimes musical, often not) and many nights Mr. Castleman and other staff members would join us for a game, or to share anecdotes of QP years past.

Some of the group at Niagara Falls!

Every program I've been to has a different set up or level of expectation for its participants, so I didn't know what to expect when I came to QP. The emphasis, of course, is on chamber music. You are assigned to one group, a quartet or quintet, for the whole session (each is three weeks long), and you learn and are coached on an entire work. Each group rehearses at least three hours a day, and on top of that, two to three hours of individual practice is expected as well. That, combined with lessons and coachings, can add up to seven or eight hours of playing a day. Luckily, we had no injuries (well, no playing-related injuries, but there were a couple of incidents of ping-pong matches that got out of hand).

However, even with this schedule, it was made clear that beyond the time that was specifically set aside for practicing, the schedule was yours to organize. In other words: nobody was locked in a practice room. A quote taken from the Quartet Program website: "QP’s schedule is partially structured, offering a sample organized workday, and partially unstructured to allow each participant to discover the most effective conditions for his/her optimum progress." When this kind of freedom is granted, you're free to make a schedule that works for you; i.e., do what you need to, no more, no less.

Goofing off in the music building. Top: Julia Pucci, viola; Bottom, from left: Ari Lipchick, violin; me, and Hannah Linz, violin.

I really appreciate experiencing that freedom, as it allows you to learn from mistakes and realize what you need to succeed. Other aspects of the program were similarly relaxed, such as there was no strict curfew. When given the freedom of responsibility, you are able to discover what actually works for you. As Mr. Castleman said on the first day, "If you want, go ahead and stay up until 4 am. But you might find it hard to function on four hours of sleep!" And, very quickly, that was discovered!

The level on which the faculty cared about and committed themselves to the students was wonderful. Mr. Castleman is the primary violin teacher, and through my five lessons with him, I got to know him well as a teacher, a player, and a person. Always pleasant and upbeat, having lessons with him was an uplifting and encouraging experience. I worked with him on Chausson's Poeme, and as an indirect student of Ysaye, he let me in on extra chords and slides not printed in my addition, which would make the piece more authentic. When focused on other repertoire such as un-accompanied Bach and Brahm's 3rd violin sonata, he talked a lot about how the rhythms were related to folk music, and how to bring out the dance steps. He was very good at getting you in touch with the background of the piece, and knowing what the composer was after, making for a deep understanding of the piece.

We benefited from fabulous coaches at QP. Among them were the Ying Quartet, (whom I've profiled on before, here, Diane Monroe, violinist; and Jeffrey Solow, cellist. They were all very committed coaches, genuinely trying to help us grow musically as much as we could in three or four sessions. All of them specialize in chamber music, and they understood how much in love with the art and the repertoire we are. Tim Ying, of the Ying Quartet, told me and some friends that he remembers being our age and how exciting it was to discover this repertoire for the first time, and how it's such a magical thing. I feel that, as all of them were once at the place we are now, they could empathize with us, and all the better they could teach us.

The Ying Quartet, all four of them alumnus of QP, were incredibly inspiring and dedicated coaches. Every group had a coaching with three of them, and, as each of them are a part of their whole quartet, each offered different pieces of the musical jigsaw puzzle, which my group was able to piece together. They gave a beautiful (and tear inducing) performance in Rosch recital hall, before they were off to their next engagement.

Half of the Ying Quartet, Janet and David, after their concert.

My Beethoven Quartet in a coaching with Tim Ying.

Violin master classes were given by Charles Castleman, Jacques Israelievitch, and Judith Ingolfsson. Here's me in a master class with Judith Ingolfsson, with my accompanist SuJung Jang.

While Mr. Castleman was away at Boulder to check on the mid-west chapter of QP, a former student and QP alum James Lyon filled in teaching violin. Mr. Lyon is a violin teacher at Penn State and an incredibly expressive teacher and player, who likes to dwell on the creative process. He said to me in one lesson,
"I think that too often, we practice like someone is listening outside the door. What we don't realize is that actually... no one is! The practice room is like a laboratory, where there should be so much experimenting going on. When you emerge from the practice room, you should feel somewhat messy, as if you're covered with splashes of colorful paint."

"Sonata week" was a week-long break from the intense chamber music study, where everyone studied a sonata "from scratch" to perform at the end of the week. With our assigned pianists, we received coachings from Kyoko Hashimoto, who has been coaching sonata week at QP for many years. As a pianist and accomplished chamber musician, Kyoko was invaluable to my sonata experience, because she could give me insight to the pianist's part, and strengthen the connection between the pianist and myself.

Another great thing about QP is that everyone gets a chance to perform, both as a soloist and with their chamber groups. I performed the aforementioned Brahms at the end of Sonata week, and with my two chamber groups, the Schubert Cello Quintet and Beethoven Op. 18 No. 3. I've put up the third movement from the Schubert in the Concert Clips Section, and the rest of the work is up on YouTube, if you'd like to listen.

The Schubert Quintet. From left: Nick Thompson, 1st cello; Nora Murphy, viola; Ryan Shannon, 2nd violin; me, and Rachel Grandstrand, 2nd cello.

My Beethoven quartet with Charlie! From left: Ryan Shannon, 1st violin; Nora Murphy, viola; Mr. Castleman; Alex Glaubitz, cello; and me!

I hope everyone had as wonderful a summer as I did!

From Brian Hong
Posted on August 18, 2008 at 1:31 PM
Wow....great blog, Caeli. I aspire to become as good a violinist as yourself and as great a writer someday.

Haha I see Alex in those of the best cellists I've ever played with.

From Kevin Tompkins
Posted on August 18, 2008 at 1:37 PM
great article, caeli! now I have to go reminisce about qp...
From Lisa Perry
Posted on August 18, 2008 at 3:35 PM
Nicely done. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us.
From Bill Busen
Posted on August 18, 2008 at 10:14 PM
"I worked with him on Chausson's Poeme, and as an indirect student of Ysaye, he let me in on extra chords..."

You're going to just leave us hanging?!?

This calls for a YouTube video, at the earliest possible moment.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 18, 2008 at 10:25 PM
I love James Lyon's quote about emerging from the practice room, covered in splashes of paint! So true, and what a...well, colorful! way to say it. Thanks for bringing us there, Caeli!

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