My Experiences at Rami's Rhapsody Piano Camp

by Janice Rosen, December 2008

The week of October 12-18, 2008, I joined a group of adult piano students in a week long piano camp at Rami's Rhapsody Piano Camp in Utica, New York. This camp is run in cooperation with the Mohawk Valley School of Music; and lessons, master classes, and lectures are given by a number of well-qualified musicians.

The camp is headed by Rami Bar-Niv, a concert pianist, composer, and teacher from Israel, whom I got to know through the former Piano L Email Discussion List and the Ramisrhapsody Yahoo Group which he created after the Piano L list dissolved. I met him in person for the first time during the summer of 2007 when he gave a piano recital in Alexandria, Virginia, which is not too far from where I live. Right away I was impressed with his warmth, kindness, and exceptional qualities as a human being and teacher, in addition to his excellent musicianship. When he mentioned his piano camp for adults in New York, I so much wanted to attend and experience this intensive piano experience.

In October 2008, I took the opportunity to attend, and I am so glad I did; it was a wonderful experience. I am a piano hobbyist, piano student, work full time, and have only the evenings and weekends to practice. It is a treat to have time to spend days doing nothing more than playing the piano.

The camp took place in Whitesboro Baptist Church in Whitesboro, a town just outside of Utica. The church has several pianos--an acoustic grand piano in the sanctuary, an upright piano in the nursery, and a few upright acoustics and digital keyboards in classrooms located in the basement of the church. Camp participants stayed in hotels or motels in the Utica area. Utica is a beautiful little town in the Mohawk Valley of New York and is the perfect place for a retreat.

We were divided into shifts of two hours each. Monday through Friday consisted of the following routine: the first shift (the one I was in) practiced from 9 to 11, took a break from 11 to 1, ate lunch (all of us together with Rami in the church common area), practiced again from 2 to 4, took a break from 4 to 6, participated in an exercise class led by Rami, had dinner and a special event. Every day during our practice sessions, Rami would give us one full hour of private lessons.

Rami is a wonderful teacher, and at camp he evaluated each of our skills, made recommendations, geared lessons to our specific needs, and because the church is so small, he could hear everyone practice even when he was not in the room with us. By the way, everyone could hear others practice, as well. Some of the other participants were quite familiar with pieces I was practicing and would come into the practice room and give me feedback. The camaraderie and friendship was just wonderful--ten weeks worth of regular lessons squeezed into one week of intensive study, with not only Rami as teacher, but also also other participants continuously talking to one another about our performances throughout the week, providing support and helping each other.

Some of the other teachers I had at the camp included

  • Anita Firman, soprano and professor at Hamilton College, who gave everyone a voice lesson
  • Sar Shalom Strong, pianist and head of the music department at Hamilton College and a performer with the Syracuse and Utica symphony orchestras, who led a piano masterclass one evening
  • Stephen Best, organist of the First Presbyterian Church in Utica and a professor of music at Hamilton College, who demonstrated the huge organ at his church and taught us how to play it (It was a thrill to play the scales and adjust all the knobs to create different tones and musical effects.)
  • Sharon Wagner, the church's music minister and director of the Mohawk Valley School of Music, the wonderful hostess and teacher who was always so full of energy and to whom I am grateful for her constant support and feedback. (We played a duet together for the recital.)

My favorite of the evening activities was the masterclass/ recital rehearsal led by Rami the night before our recital. We had to go through our routine and perform as if it were the real thing. However, Rami asked everyone to comment on each others' playing. Everyone got to say something about everyone else. The bonding and sense of community among the students was incredible. And, of course, we all had a master pianist/composer/teacher as our mentor throughout that week. I can't wait to attend the next one.

Janice Rosen

Janice Rosen at Rami's Rhapsody Piano Camp