Summer Festivals Inspire Musical Growth

Photo of Wilford Kelly '20

Becoming a great musician takes years of practice, intense physical and mental training, occasional rejection, and a deep sense of inspiration. Each summer, musicians from around the world attend festivals to hone their skills, make connections, and most importantly, get inspired. This past summer, SFCM students took part in programs that complemented and enriched their studies at the conservatory and gave them new motivation to pursue their paths as musicians.

Finding Beauty in the Details: Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival
Maiori, Italy

Pianist Collin Jinks ’22, spent his summer on the Amalfi Coast honing his skills and finding inner peace. “I was pulled into the rich culture and beauty of the land, and the inspiration I found was reflected in the music I made,” says Jinks.

Encouragement to attend the festival came from his teacher, Yoshikazu Nagai, who is the chair of the piano department at SFCM as well as chair of the festival. While in Italy, Jinks spent many hours practicing, gathering his thoughts at the beach overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, and then returning to the piano rejuvenated and inspired. “I felt my head was clear and free, life was slow, yet rich. There was sincerity in my music, which can be hard to find in the bustle of a big city.”

Looking back, Jinks is struck by how harmoniously each element of the festival came together: the setting, his personal practice, and the instruction he received. He recalls an eye-opening lesson where his teacher helped him produce a more effortless, warm, and controlled sound at the piano. “It made my piano playing easier. Well, as easy as playing the piano can be! The technique changed my perspective on how I approach music making.”

He says it’s the little things he’ll keep with him, like the lemon trees on the hillside, connecting with fellow musicians, and the feeling of peace. “I was nearly a different person upon returning to the United States. There was something magical in the air there. I am extremely grateful for the support I received in order to attend the festival, and the rewards of this summer will last a lifetime.”

Creating Community: Wolf Trap Opera
Vienna, Virginia

Bass-baritone Wilford Kelly '20, a second-year master’s student at SFCM, spent his summer at the Wolf Trap Opera’s Filene Center, half an hour away from Washington, D.C. The program is dedicated to excellence, innovation, diversity, and accessibility, and Kelly was immediately struck by Wolf Trap’s practice of empowerment and inclusion. “The company had one of the most diverse rosters I have ever seen at a young artist program. It not only accepted all of our differences but embraced and highlighted them. It was an example of what true diversity in our industry can look like,” says Kelly.
The program centers around its artists, and each season is chosen based on the people in the company and not the other way around, which is often the case. “This practice was very supportive of the singers, and it made me so much more comfortable auditioning for a panel knowing that I would not have to be forced into a box.”

Kelly sang the part of M. Prud’homme in Gluck’s lighthearted opera Merlin’s Island, and he says the individual attention every artist in the program received was astounding. “I felt like I was the only one there. The faculty were so knowledgeable, and every coaching was an opportunity for growth.”

His favorite part was the connections he made with his colleagues. “All of the faculty, staff, and artists became very close. There wasn’t a face or a name you didn’t know by the end of the summer, and that’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There was a sense of camaraderie that formed throughout the entire company.”

As he starts his second year at SFCM, Kelly is grateful for the inspiration he got from Wolf Trap Opera. “The connections I made will last a lifetime, and I’m so happy I was given this opportunity.”

Mentors and Students Play Side by Side: Aspen Music Festival
Aspen, Colorado

Each year, musicians from all over the world travel to the Aspen Music Festival for world-class performances and intensive musical training. Savanna Lawing, a second-year master’s student in percussion at SFCM, spent her summer in Aspen studying and performing alongside almost 700 students and 130 artist-faculty members.

“Playing music in the Rocky Mountains for two months is a dream,” says Lawing. “The program is unique in that it is massive. There are five orchestras plus an opera program. As a percussionist, that means I rotated ensembles every week, which provided me with endless ensemble experiences to adapt to and learn from.”

Lawing met and worked with percussions and musicians from all over the world. “We had master classes with some of the top orchestral musicians and soloists in the field, and they all had different techniques and approaches to the music. I left so inspired to explore the new ideas I learned from them.”

But what Lawing cherishes the most was the opportunity to play Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with the Aspen Festival Orchestra alongside her two teachers from SFCM, Ed Stephan and Jacob Nissly. “Being able to play with and learn from them in the orchestral setting was an invaluable experience.”

Orchestra Boot Camp: The National Orchestral Institute and Festival

Double bass performance major Kody Thiessen ’20 wanted to give himself a challenge. That’s why he attended the National Orchestral Institute and Festival in Maryland this past summer, along with other ambitious and talented young orchestral musicians. “The festival is great for resume building, and it provides pre-professional musicians the opportunity to prepare and perform a number of difficult pieces in a short amount of time,” says Thiessen.

Being an orchestral musician requires flexibility along with experience and practice, and Thiessen is grateful he was able to spend his summer learning, performing, and recording four pieces he was not initially familiar with: Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 5, John Harbison’s Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra), and Joan Tower’s Sequoia. “For the Tower, we had the opportunity to work directly with the composer and get her feedback. It was an amazing experience.”

Thiessen’s summer culminated with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. “Getting to lead my section and play with musicians of such high caliber was indescribable.” And although this was a highlight, Thiessen adds, “I loved so much about the National Institute and Festival: every minute of the rehearsals, performances, and everything in between. Choosing any one part of it over another would be impossible.”