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Summer String Academy Strikes Just the Right Note

The Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — With her violin resting neatly on her collarbone and her bow at the ready, Solveig Eythorsdottir stood before her class practicing her instrument.

Solveig traveled from Iceland to attend the Jacobs School of Music's Summer String Academy, a four-week intensive string workshop specializing in violin, viola and cello performance. Throughout the duration of the program, students attend private lessons, professional performances and lectures.

The camp, currently in its 29th year, draws students ages 12 to 18 from around the world to Indiana University's Bloomington campus.

Solveig, 13, has played violin since she was a small child and was drawn to the academy for a number of reasons.

"I was really interested in this place, and I wanted to see how a real American college looks like," she told The Herald-Times ( ). Learning in a group setting, such as practicing a piece at the front of a classroom for her fellow students, has been beneficial for Eythorsdottir. "We don't only learn from the teacher, but also from each other."

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The rest of the violin group is composed of students from places as diverse as Canada, India, France, Korea, and all over the U.S. While each comes from a different background, they have in common a single trait: the desire to expand their knowledge and improve their technique.

Sydney Hartwick, 15, traveled from Utah to Bloomington to attend the academy. Knowing that she wanted to attend a camp this summer, she searched the Internet to find the perfect workshop.

"I was interested in this one because it gives us a lot of practice time," she said. "I thought it would be a good chance to improve and get a lot of practice time and there are great teachers."

Sydney says that the opportunity to showcase that improvement is what she is looking forward to most.

"My family is coming the last week (of camp, this coming week) and I know that I'm looking forward to playing for them and to see if they can see a difference in my playing and if my technique has improved."

A typical day for Rose Brown, 18, begins at 7 a.m., when she rises to shower and prepare for the day before breakfast and a day full of lessons, classes and practice hours. She travels back to the dorm by 10 p.m. to ready herself for another day. While it is unlike any other camp she has attended, the hard work, she says, is worth it.

"I never really got the sense of accomplishment at the end of camp like I do here," she said.

Rebekah Heckler, 17, added that, though the intensity of the program presents a challenge, she has progressed immensely over several summers at music camps.

"I record all of my lessons, so at the end of camp I get to look back at the beginning of camp's lessons," Rebekah said. "It makes me want to practice more because I hear that I can make my sound a lot better."

Outside of the classroom, the students have the opportunity to relax and get to know one another. Aside from initial icebreaker activities, the group has taken trips to College Mall and planned a swimming trip for the Fourth of July.

Zoie Hightower, who is 16, said the group outings allow for a certain level of comfort to grow, which transfers easily into the classroom. She said the students sometimes find themselves asking each other for advice on practice pieces.

"You can get this feedback that you wouldn't really expect in any other environment," she said. "You can just grab someone out of a practice room and say, 'Listen to this and tell me what's wrong with it.'"

The students' parents also see tremendous growth in their children's comfort level and experience with their instruments.

Hebbah Vidali, whose 11-year-old son Matteo is attending the academy for the first time this year, said the students are exposed to a wide range of experiences and lessons that they otherwise might not have the chance to experience. Vidali added that, in a world where children are encouraged to be competitive and to be better than their classmates, the academy is welcoming and does not push competition on the students.

"It's a really, really high-class program but it doesn't encourage competition," Vidali said. "It's not ever encouraged that they be better than so-and-so, but just that they do their best."

Tania Gardner, whose daughter Bailey started playing piano at age 4 and moved on to violin later, said the academy teaches the students important life skills as well as musicianship.

"(They are learning) discipline and figuring out that effort leads to result," Gardner said. "You can see how far some of the kids have gotten."

According to the academy's website, tuition is more than $1,900, and room and board is around $1,800. Financial aid and scholarships are available in some cases, but for many families, budgeting throughout the year allows their student to attend the academy.

Vidali's son Matteo — the family lives in Bloomington — has saved money he's made playing his violin at the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market, and the family also budgets to cover the cost of the academy.

"We do it because he wants to do it," Vidali said. "Otherwise we wouldn't do it because it wouldn't be justified because he didn't want to do it."

However, the benefits of the program far outweigh the costs, Gardner said.

"There's a lot of encouragement," she said. "Also just (teaching) the joy of music. They show them that really deeply."

Program director Mimi Zweig has been with the academy for the 29 years since its inception and said that seeing the kids enjoy themselves is one of the many rewarding aspects of the academy.

"There are some kids who count the days as soon as the string academy is over until the next academy," she said. "(The kids) make friends that they have for the rest of their lives."

The program's mission is to provide individual lessons, chamber music experiences and hours of practice time to an average of 100 students from around the world each year. Working with faculty members with extensive experience in their field and teaching backgrounds provides another beneficial experience for students.

"We're striving for excellence and a positive environment, which allows young people to realize their dreams," she said. In turn, the students are given the opportunity to work with people who share their interests, which contributes to their camaraderie and overall learning experience.

"These are kids who, in their own communities, are maybe somewhat isolated, but they come here and are interacting with like souls and they are having the time of their lives," she said.

Through all of the hours of practice, chamber music and recitals, Zweig hopes the students leave the program with the desire to practice and play more music.

"I want them to take away a continued passion for music and knowing that practicing actually makes one better — and it's worth it."

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