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Are All Summer Music Festivals Created More-or-Less Equal?

AsMotherAsMother 348 replies21 threads Member
Although he hasn't received the official acceptance materials and information about a scholarship, if any, my son just found out that he's pretty likely to go to a summer music festival for composers in the summer (I don't want to name it until he has the acceptance in hand--I'm just superstitious!). Last summer he did Berklee's month-long String Quartet Composition program in Greece (LOVED it, and met his current girlfriend there too!), but all in all we haven't had experience with these things (I know that many music majors start attending various festivals while they're still in high school, but we were pretty clueless back then).
It sounds like a wonderful and very intensive program, with Master Classes, private lessons and seminars by a wide array of international musicians and composers, and attendees' work will be performed by an ensemble at the end. And it's in a city he's really wanted to visit.
Is there any other way to gauge the quality of these programs? He says that other Berklee students have attended, but so far he hasn't spoken to them as he doesn't really know them. If he is NOT offered a scholarship does that mean anything (he'd want to go anyway, but a scholarship would sure be helpful at this point). Anything else we should know? I think he's applied for some others, but this is the first one he's gotten a response on. I'm sure that some programs are more prestigious than others, but what does one look for?
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Replies to: Are All Summer Music Festivals Created More-or-Less Equal?

  • compmomcompmom 11560 replies81 threads Senior Member
    edited January 20
    Most composers do summer programs during undergrad years. It can be smart to go to programs/festivals with composers in residence who are faculty at grad programs that your son might be interested in, after Berklee, but not necessary.

    The main thing to look at is the prevailing aesthetic, and the fit is partly determined by admission :) There are many wonderful festivals in Europe too.

    Many schools fund these summer programs for students. Does Berklee?

    As for being more or less equal, they may be equal but different ....

    For info on summer festivals, programs and residencies, good resources are the Composers Site, and the Umbrella Platform (the latter tends toward the progressive). Also Walden School (Dublin NH) has a great list of opportunities on its website (their program is for high schoolers but the opportunities list has listings for undergrad and beyond).
    edited January 20
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  • AsMotherAsMother 348 replies21 threads Member
    Such helpful and complete answers--thank you! (I love this site.)
    My son's experience with the Berklee program in Greece was especially (aside from the simple fact of its being in Greece!) good in that he got to work intensively on a piece with which he's very happy (it's one of the one's he's been submitting to programs recently) with a wonderful Berklee professor/composer, with whom he's since seemed to develop a good working relationship and who continues to advise him on the best ways to "get his work out there"--definitely much more knowledgeable advice and mentorship than I can offer.
    The program that he has apparently (pending written verification) been accepted to is in Europe, and sounds pretty intensive, and concerned with the kinds of things in which my son is already deeply interested. The faculty has some serious credentials. They offer partial scholarships, but we haven't heard about that part yet. If it's as good as it looks, he will definitely be going anyway--we'll find ways to make it work.
    It certainly helps give him more confidence in his abilities to be validated that way--always a good thing.
    @furtheralong , I'm sure you're correct in mentioning that the networking aspect of such things can be especially beneficial as he moves ahead in his field. And @compmom has mentioned several times that the international music community is just wonderful. And honestly, I know that my son will just enjoy the experience like crazy--having the opportunity to focus even more on what he's totally focused on already, with the assistance of professionals in the field.
    I just get concerned about programs/competitions that may just be in it for the application fees, etc., more than about something truly useful. I've seen that kind of stuff in other fields, so I just want to approach things with some knowledge...hence I'm here :) .
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  • compmomcompmom 11560 replies81 threads Senior Member
    The reason these programs are essential for composers is simple: to get pieces played. Yes, at a conservatory, pieces get played, to a varying degree. But the performances rarely keep up with the work. For composers at colleges/BA programs, even more important.

    Composition has these islands of aesthetics, and everyone on each island kind of knows everyone there. At the undergrad level, the best experiences, including at school, can be a diversity among faculty and peers' work. At the grad level, students can choose an environment that best fits where they free to do the work they are moved to do.

    To some extent, these issues of aesthetics are relevant to choosing a summer program. Frankly, I think European programs in general are better environments for development- that's my view anyway.

    I think it's pretty rare for a prominent group at a festival to commission or request to play works by the attendees at a festival, after their work is played there. Just being honest and realistic. However, a faculty member may be encouraging and may end up being helpful in some unpredictable and unexpected way when looking at grad schools.

    The global community is nice but unlike, say a violinist, a composer is generally not going to make a living composing. Maybe in the film world, and there are exceptions, but it's not like a summer festival is going to help with future employment.

    Composers can develop their art anywhere and don't necessarily even need teachers or other people. But composers need musicians to play their works and that is the overriding focus throughout undergrad, grad and even doctoral programs. So summer festivals are key.

    I don't know of any that are scams or exist for sketchy reasons. Most festivals and programs are extremely competitive. I know one that had over 500 applications for 25 spots, and another one that had 85 applicants for 8 spots. This competitiveness is another reason to make sure of fit. One program may reject you and another may court you, depending on the aesthetic school they are in.
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  • bridgenailbridgenail 1199 replies6 threads Senior Member
    edited January 20
    A good way to know if a program is reputable is for your son to check with a "trusted" teacher/faculty member.

    Also the college-level peer rumor mill on summer programs/festivals is pretty strong in my limited experience. I don't know too many college-aged kids without strong opinions. You don't always want to take the opinion of your embittered roommate...so that's when you make sure to check with "trusted" faculty as well. At all summer programs my D attended there were peers from her school or similar level schools...and she got the nod from her teacher/peers...I knew very little about it.

    Glad to hear he's doing so well!!!

    Edit: One other comment - your son probably doesn't want to be associated with a bad program. My D would talk at me about how she wasn't going to be taken by programs not offering money, roles etc. etc. etc. She wanted to be associated with good programs...as everyone talked about what everyone is doing...maybe a good type of peer pressure I guess. Your son's situation may be different of course...but I had the distinct impression it was talked about A LOT.
    edited January 20
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  • compmomcompmom 11560 replies81 threads Senior Member
    edited January 20
    I only know about composition. At the undergrad level, I cannot imagine a young composer getting involved with a sketchy program. There are certain known festivals, one's teacher knows them, and there are sites that list opportunities that are legit. The faculty and ensembles at the programs are key and they are pretty easy to check out. Peers also talk about festivals and programs. It is pretty hard to go astray. The program AsMother is referring to has some very well-known teachers. Her son is at Berklee with plenty of resources in terms of info.

    I think composition may be a bit different from performance in this regard.
    edited January 20
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  • AsMotherAsMother 348 replies21 threads Member
    Hi--nice to "see" you again, @bridgenail ! And thanks for your kind words. Last year was tricky due to my son's injury, but things have improved greatly. (And, as far as "embittered" roommates go, he's incredibly lucky. He and his roommate from last year have become close friends--close enough that they decided to room again together this year and will probably share an apartment next year. He is a really wonderful young man (he stayed with us over Thanksgiving), and really seems to care about my son--and vice versa.) Pardon the parentheses within parentheses!
    I'm sure that you're absolutely right about the "trusted" faculty member, and I assume that my son will speak to him or her when he gets back to school. He can also track down the Berklee students who have been in the program before about their experiences, as the person who interviewed him on the phone mentioned their names. I just get excited about this stuff, and this is the one place that I can come and get good information from my OWN trusted sources!
    I shared information about the program privately with @compmom , and was encouraged, as she is familiar with some of the faculty and seems to think the program would be worthwhile. My son is still toeing the line between his beloved Romantic composers, and more contemporary work. I assume that some programs are more geared to a particular musical mindset than others, so if they liked what they heard enough to (apparently) offer him a space then I think it's probably a good fit. My thinking is that, as long as it's not some bait-and-switch kind of thing that @furtheralong was talking about, any experience where he can really focus on doing what he loves in a rigorous atmosphere is a good one--especially if he gets to travel, which he also loves doing.
    You also made an excellent point about being associated with a "bad" program. It doesn't sound as if this is one, but I just want to get as much information as I can--it makes for easier sleeping at night!
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  • AsMotherAsMother 348 replies21 threads Member
    My son sent me a text early this morning to inform me that he'd received his acceptance letter from the festival. That's all he's told me so far, so I don't know if he received any kind of scholarship or anything yet. But now I feel more comfortable in saying which one it is here--the Vienna Summer Music Festival Composers' Forum. Here's the link:
    Has anyone had any experience with this one? It appears that this is its third year. I've advised him to speak with other students who have attended, and/or with faculty members who know him and who are familiar with such things. I just wanted to know if anyone here knows anyone who has attended, and if they found it worthwhile. It sounds wonderful (especially for someone whose musical heroes include Beethoven and Mozart), but I want to be sure--especially if they have not offered a scholarship.
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