The Violin Channel recently sat down with Mark Hayman, new Executive Director of the renowned Meadowmount School of Music, in upstate New York.
The Meadowmount School of Music was founded by legendary pedagogue Ivan Galamian 77 years ago. Can you tell us about its foundation, history, and core mission?
Ivan Galamian was among the greatest violin teachers of the 20th century and perhaps the most renowned in America. Having relocated from Europe to New York in the 1930s, he was teaching at The Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music when he saw that his students would return in the fall with their playing suffering after a summer of neglecting their practice and studies. It was his idea to create a music school and bring students somewhere “without distractions” so they could focus on intense practice. He believed that dramatic improvements would arise from such a disciplined approach — “a year’s worth of progress in seven weeks.”
He first brought students to the town of Elizabethtown in the Adirondacks for the summer, having been introduced to the area by his good friend Gregor Piatigorsky, who had a home in (coincidentally named) New Russia. But soon realizing that the town offered too many distractions, he found the uninhabited Milholland estate lodge (named Meadowmount) outside the tiny nearby village of Lewis, New York and, with his wife Judith, created the school we know today.
The core mission remains singularly focused on improving string players' skills through intensive practice and total immersion in the study of string playing, in a quiet setting.
How has it evolved over the years? And what core qualities and teaching principles do you feel have remained ever-present?
The school has evolved by offering more opportunities and serving more students — now between 175 and 200 each summer. It has also purchased additional buildings and properties over the years to provide accommodations in single rooms (for individual practicing), as well as two concert halls (500 and 200 seats), teaching studios, accommodations and rehearsal space for accompanists, a summer violin repair shop, a student recreation center, and more.
But the core mission of providing a respite from busy city and school life in order to focus on practice and study, undisturbed by other activities and academic requirements remains constant. As one faculty member said recently, she tells her students “you will never again have this much time to practice, it’s a gift.” The discipline and rigor of practicing at least five hours each day for seven weeks combined with the peaceful and beautiful natural setting of the Adirondacks offers an experience from which every young person benefits, whether they go on to pursue a solo performing career, a career as a chamber or orchestra musician, or a career beyond music. Students find this experience to be invaluable to their development as a musician and as a person, and many return year after year. Honing your skills as a string player to the highest level is always going to create a strong foundation for music-making far and wide. There is no substitute for good technique and knowing the core repertoire.
Over its time, your summer program has involved and impacted some of the greatest string players of the past century. Tell us a little about your alumni —and are there any urban legends that stand out above the rest?
As Ivan Galamian was the preeminent violin teacher in America, he naturally attracted the greatest young players here for the summer, and great teachers on cello and viola followed.
Alumni of the school include a who’s who of great artists in the second half of the 20th century: Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Kyung-Wha Chung, Jaime Laredo, Michael Rabin, Ida Kavafian, Ani Kavafian, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell...
Itzhak Perlman met his wife, Toby Friedlander, at Meadowmount in the early 1960s when she was 20 and he 18! She famously proposed marriage after hearing him play Ravel’s Tzigane without having met him!
It is a testament to the brilliant model created by Ivan Galamian that alumni have gone on to create successful programs following the Meadowmount format — including the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island, NY founded by Toby and Itzhak Perlman, and the Heifetz Institute in Staunton, VA founded by Daniel Heifetz. The roster of master teachers at Meadowmount is equally illustrious, from Leonard Rose and Josef Gingold to Dorothy DeLay and Sally Thomas.
You’ve just joined as Executive Director of the school. Congratulations on your appointment! Can you tell us about how you are managing this summer given the current pandemic situation?
Thank you, I’m so excited to be here! In the summer of 2020, the school was suspended due to the pandemic. For 2021, we made the decision to go virtual, given the number of students we serve, our facilities, and the uncertainty of health guidelines for the summer. Given the need for social distancing, we felt that our facilities were not compatible with having a large number of students on campus, as well as travel difficulties and other logistical challenges.
Therefore, we recreated the Meadowmount schedule to be conducted virtually with students and faculty from their homes. Students follow the regimen of four hours of practice in the morning and an hour before dinner, and counselors communicate regularly, checking in with them that they are practicing, and monitoring attendance at online classes and performances.
There are weekly private lessons via Zoom as well as masterclasses, studio classes, and special presentations. Being virtual allows for a wide range of guest artists and speakers, some of whom would not normally have been able to get to Meadowmount. Alexander Technique classes are offered as well as regular yoga and meditation classes. Social group activities are organized online to have some fun together. Concert performances are recorded individually and then watched together several evenings a week. The music world has figured out the most effective ways to make, share and teach music remotely over the past 16 months and we’re using all of the tools learned to offer a full program this summer.
Already we are seeing some changes. For the first time in 77 year history of Meadowmount, you will be live streaming selected performances this year? What prompted this decision?
Having students record their performances gives us the opportunity to share these concert performances beyond the Meadowmount community. Watching concerts online has become the new normal and we’re taking advantage of this! Students have been given extensive guidance on how to produce quality video recordings, from selecting appropriate performance settings (not their bedroom!) to using audio microphones separate from their video recording (we send microphones to those who need), charts with ideal “stage” placement for themselves, their pianist and microphones, and the best settings for audio and video on their phones or other devices.
While this is more work than just getting up on stage in Meadowmount’s concert hall, it produces good quality video recordings which we are proud to share with the world, to showcase the amazing talents of Meadowmount’s students this summer. Having these wonderful recordings is a silver lining to the virtual summer.
What other changes can we expect to see in the coming seasons?
Now that we’ve moved into the digital concert world, we plan to install a fast internet connection to our two concert halls so that we can livestream many of our concerts in the future, starting hopefully next summer!
We would also like to institute a concert series by Meadowmount students during the academic year in New York City as well as other cities, to raise the profile of Meadowmount outside of the summer and showcase some of our fantastic young players, as well as some winter concerts here in the Adirondacks for our year-round community.
Apart from lessons, what other career development initiatives and programs do you offer your students over the summer? What different scholarship and fellowship opportunities are available?
In addition to weekly private lessons from our renowned faculty, each faculty member offers a weekly studio class for their students with the opportunity to play for each other and get feedback. There are masterclasses by renowned guest artists, and a fascinating weekly symposium on topics often related to chamber music. This summer’s symposia, which include talks and question-and-answer sessions, were led by insightful players including violist Masumi Per Rostad, Ethel Quartet founding member Mary Rowell, and a session on the legacy of the legendary teacher Leopold Auer by violinist Eric Wen.
Scholarships are offered to many students who demonstrate merit and we aim to offer more of these so that every deserving young string player who wants to attend Meadowmount can do so. Students are given opportunities to assist with campus life and programs: when in person, counselors are drawn from the older students, who supervise and mentor the younger ones. Students put together the concert programs and help in the school office.
For this virtual summer, many students are working on video productions, gaining valuable experience with audio and video technology as well as skills to produce online programs and content. With so much taking place on Zoom, there is a great need for online assistance, and our entire concert production and online technical system is managed by Meadowmount alumnus violinist Rodolfo Vieira who, fortunately, has IT skills equal to his playing!
What can we expect to see this summer? What can we expect to see next summer?
This summer you can expect to see dozens of wonderful performances online by a range of Meadowmount students, from brilliant young soloists to the Galvin Cello Quartet featuring three Meadowmount alumni!
We expect to return to a full campus next summer here at Meadowmount! With the many protocols being established in schools and elsewhere this year, we feel cautiously confident that we can create a safe, enjoyable and productive setting for young string players to come together to get the full Meadowmount experience in this beautiful corner of New York State for seven weeks.