Summer Circuit: Performance opportunities and professional connections abound at summer music festivals

Students play alongside faculty in this side-by-side concert at the Aspen Music Festival. Photo by Alex Irvin

Cornelia Heard has spent nearly every summer since she was in eighth grade at a music festival.

“I went to the Rocky Mountain Summer Music Center that first summer,” she remembers, “and the Blair String Quartet was there with Stephen Clapp.” Clapp, a former music professor at Peabody College and dean, emeritus, at Juilliard, taught Heard at the precollege Blair Academy. He was a member of the Blair String Quartet, the same signature chamber ensemble in which Heard has now been second violinist for many years. Heard, the Valere Blair Potter Professor of Violin at Vanderbilt, is also a member of the artist faculty at the Aspen Music Summer Festival and School in Colorado.

“At a summer festival the students are not studying for tests or writing papers,” Heard says. “Their days are structured around orchestra rehearsals, chamber music coaching, master classes, private lessons, going to concerts, practicing—everything is geared toward being part of this musical community. It shows them what the greater music world is like and what the standards are.”

Every summer many of Blair’s performance undergraduates and precollege Myra Jackson Blair scholars attend summer music festivals. To help defray costs, students receive financial assistance through the Potter Precollege Student Opportunity Fund, the Potter College Student Opportunity Fund, and the Jean and Alexander Heard Award.

Samantha Long, a 2018 musical arts (voice) graduate, spent part of last summer at Prague Summer Nights, a music festival in the Czech Republic to which she returned this summer.

“Summer programs allow musicians to get a lot of repertoire under their belts,” she says. “Singing the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for Prague Summer Nights will be a big résumé boost.”

Students also make valuable connections. “It’s important to have exposure to a lot of different artists,” Heard says. “This helps a student find his or her own voice. At summer festivals our undergraduate students often have lessons with prospective graduate school teachers to find out if they like working together and to see a different approach.”

Rising senior violinist Eliza Wong spent last summer as one of very few undergraduate fellows at Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s intense because everyone is really good at their instrument,” she says, “but the environment is really inspiring. At least every other night I went to different concerts. It’s so special being able to experience such a high professional level of chamber music and orchestral playing.” Wong was invited back and attended Tanglewood again this summer.

Heard stresses that even as a faculty member, she is constantly listening—and learning.

“You learn about how other people teach and how music education works in Israel, England, Austria, Japan, Korea. The students and the teachers come from all over the country and the world,” she says. “It’s very busy, but it’s rejuvenating.

“Plus, I met people my first two days in Aspen as a 15-year-old who are still very close colleagues now,” she says. “That’s what you do at summer festivals. You meet people you will know the rest of your life.”

–Bonnie Arant Ertelt