Adult Mid-Summer Piano Retreat in the Berkshires
by Louise Crane, December 2011
What did I do on my summer vacation? This year, for the second time, I went off to summer camp. Specifically, I was one of twenty campers at the Adult Mid-Summer Piano Retreat in the Berkshires, at Williams College in Williamstown Massachusetts. The retreat is led and inspired by three piano teachers-- Alison Barr and Debi Adams from the Boston area and Peter Kristian Mose from Toronto.
It is a full schedule. Williams College is an ideal place for a piano retreat. There's no television, no radio (unless you bring your own) and no newspapers (unless you get up before breakfast and hike to the village store). But there is practice (as many hours as you want), lessons, lectures, recitals, concerts, exhibits at the Clark Art Institute (Renoir, Homer and this year lots of Pissarro) and live theater, if you choose to take in the offerings of the Williamstown Theater Festival next door. (I saw two productions which got New York Times rave reviews - "Three Hotels" and Ibsen's "A Doll's House" - without paying Broadway prices.) So, the lack of TV, radio and newspapers is no hardship because there is simply no time to devote to the debt ceiling, the 2012 presidential race or any other issue occupying newsprint and the airwaves.
We lived in a student dorm, each with a single room and private bath, and took all our meals at the Faculty Club. After breakfast, each day started with an hour workshop in the Alexander Technique taught outdoors by Debi Adams, a certified teacher of the technique. (What is the Alexander Technique? "It is a method which helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities. . .") Then there was a lecture before lunch. This year's topics included getting the most from your lesson and getting the most from your practice. There was another on Brahms. After lunch there was more practice, a lesson, another lecture and after supper, a concert or a video or a "fireside" talk. One evening we drove to Lenox MA to dine before a concert at Tanglewood. One of the best lectures was just before we went to Tanglewood to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler's Fifth symphony. Peter Mose's analysis of the symphony made it much easier to understand Mahler's dense and often surprising work. (Many will recognize the adagietto fourth movement which was used in Luchino Visconti's film "Death in Venice.") While your practice piano was reserved for you for a specific time each day, you could easily find an unused one if you wanted to practice longer. You could practice early or late; the rooms in the Music Building are available from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm.
Each year there is a special guest lecturer. One evening last year we heard John Ferguson (http://www.johnferguson.org/) play Beethoven's "Pastoral" and "Hammerklavier" sonatas and the next morning conduct a master class for us campers. This year's guest lecturer was Dorothea ("Deede") Cook, a violinist with a special interest in the psychology of performance. She led us through two two-hour sessions on Dalcroze Eurhythmics. (http://www.dorotheacook.com/)
The organizers/leaders of the retreat are very open to suggestions. A returning camper inquired about four hand music so four hand duets were added to the schedule. Campers could sign up, music was assigned, pianists were coached and the retreat ended with an impromptu concert of four hand playing.
What I found most rewarding of the many, many rewards, was being able to have a lesson and then go immediately to practice what I learned and then showing off the next day at the next lesson what I had mastered. The instant feedback was very gratifying.
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