Universal Language of Music Unites International Campers at Summer Music Academy

Sep 21, 2017 2:25 PM

By Charles Schelle 

The Summer Music Academy at Frostburg State University is hitting all the right notes for budding student musicians.

Middle and high school music students from throughout Maryland – and from China – come to FSU for one week in July to improve their performance and musicianship through lessons from FSU faculty and world-renowned guest artists. The week culminates with an end-of-camp concert.

“Our goal is to keep children engaged through enriching experiences and activities,” said Summer Music Academy founder and director Dr. Karen Lau. “Music is a great way to keep children engaged in learning by encouraging them to develop previously unseen talents.”


Nerves and Strings of Steel

The Summer Music Academy is a supportive environment that seeks to bring out greatness in budding musicians. Performing with anxiety may come with the territory, Lau explained, as students have to learn how to listen for other parts during chamber music.

“Students are really nervous because they want to play well, and often their family and friends are in the audience,” said Lau, FSU’s strings instructor. “We tell them that nerves are a natural part of performing. As they get more experience performing, they will learn how to use their nervousness to focus. That’s a big part of the academy – giving the students multiple experiences to perform and letting them learn from those feelings.”

What better way to shake off nerves and learn to listen to your fellow musicians than on a busy street? One afternoon featured students playing a pop-up concert on the St. Michael Catholic Church courtyard and inside Main Street Books in downtown Frostburg.

Violinist Celeste Kane of Silver Spring said the camp helped build her confidence and the outdoor performance was a memorable exercise. Especially when the wind blew her music over during her solo, she said with a smile.

“It was fun! Lots of people stopped by to listen to us. That was amazing,” Kane said. “Little kids were stopping by. Cars were rolling down their windows and stopping in the middle of the road!”


Cultural Experience

The camp also brings students from China to participate, thanks to connections from Lau. Originally from China, Lau first came to America when she attended a music camp in Pennsylvania. The camp had such a profound effect on her that she wanted to return.

“After studying here, my life changed,” Lau said. “I wish more kids would have as good an experience as I did.”

Vocalist Qiang Ming said he enjoyed the bonding experience with the American and Chinese students, as he saw how the universal language of music could bring so many people together.

“I want to thank everyone, especially my professors, for recommending this camp to me. It provided us such a great opportunity,” he said, as translated by Lau. “The faculty and everyone at the camp are very friendly. It’s a good environment, not just for teaching, but for leading and bonding. We had a fantastic time here, and we want to come back next year.”

The dozen Chinese students brought a new dynamic for all of the student-musicians involved.

“It gives them a chance to interact not just culturally, but bringing those cultures together to make a unified product and also learning the techniques to be able to apply in performance,” said Dr. James Reddan, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities and choral music education.


Visiting Artists

Guest artists also worked with students at the camp and performed community concerts.

Violinist Eleanor Shen of North Potomac, Md., said it was beneficial to work with different professors and guest artists on the same piece of music.

“I really enjoyed it because I feel like every one of the professors had a different perspective on the music or the piece,” said Shen, a student at Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School in Rockville.

Guest artists included Joe Burgstaller, faculty member at The Peabody Institute in Baltimore, a former trumpeter and arranger for the Canadian Brass; violinist Ricardo Cyncynates, assistant concert master of the National Symphony Orchestra; the Pittsburgh Cello Quartet; and Philadelphia Symphony violist Marvin Moon.

“They’re like sponges both mentally and physically,” Moon said of the students. “They can hone their technique in the physical part and the practice methods in the mental part. It’s the time when most improvements can be made as a student.”

The camp is just another way to keep music alive.

“They’re the next generation,” Moon said. “Without them, music will die.”


Support for Robust Programming

The Summer Music Academy, now in its second year, is supported in part by donors through the FSU Foundation, to offer the robust programming.

Kevin Telford of Washington, D.C., has a deep appreciation of music. He’s taking up the cello as an adult, too, through private lessons with Lau. It was through those conversations when he realized he should support the Summer Music Academy.

“I know her passion for music is so strong and personal, how could I not want that to be exposed to as many people as possible?” Telford said. “Particularly with strings, this is a wonderful art that has survived the test of time for so long. It’s on all of us to have that continue.”

The Summer Music Academy will return next July. Registration will begin in the spring. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu/sma. To support the program, visit www.frostburg.edu/makeagift and designate your contribution for the Summer Music Academy, or call the FSU Foundation at 301-687-4161.