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Sonata piano camp

I’m currently attending, for my fifth year in a row, the Sonata piano camp in Bennington, VT. This is a year-round institution, running for 38 years now. Originally it offered only a summer piano camp for children. Since 1979 they have been offering 10-day adult piano camps throughout the year. There are currently 9 sessions, plus 4 shorter (extended weekend) “Intermezzo” sessions.

This is a family run business, and is held in the huge (40 plus room) family homestead. Each session has about 24 students, most staying in the house (some choose quieter and more private quarters in nearby motels or bed and breakfasts). The typical day has 4 scheduled hours of practice, a 90 minute class (topics such as music theory, musicianship, music literature and appreciation, improvisation, sight reading, etc.), an evening master class or concert, and round-the-clock unscheduled practice time. There are about 26 pianos available. In addition to the master classes, there is a duet recital, and a final day solo recital.

Sonata house

The teachers are uniformly good, many of them fabulous. The owner and director, Polly Vanderlinde (eldest daughter of the founders, Rosamonde and Rein Vanderlinde), is an accomplished performer with an MA in performance, and a truly gifted teacher. She gathers additional faculty from all over New England, nearly all of them conservatory trained, professional performers and top notch teachers. During the camp each student receives 4-5 hour-long private lessons, in addition to the group master classes.

I get an enormous amount out of my time here. The students come from all over the country (and often elsewhere in the world). Most return year after year. They range in ability from raw beginners to the highly accomplished (recital pieces over the course of a typical year include things like Chopin sonatas or Fantasies, the Brahms F Minor sonata, Bach Partitas, etc.). I have made several good friends; we stay in touch throughout the year, and campers often get together in regional gatherings. My regular teacher is fabulous, but the opportunity for multiple lessons from top faculty, plus the many hours of concentrated practice and multiple performance opportunities can’t be beat. Hearing other students and the faculty talk and perform is also very inspiring.

This year my new repertoire was severely limited by having my left hand in a cast for 12 weeks (two separate fractures, the second two weeks after the cast came off the first), but I still have enough to make camp very worthwhile. Last night I performed Schubert’s A flat Impromptu (Op. 90, No. 4) in master class. Saturday I’ll play the third movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata in the solo recital. Thursday night I’m playing the theme and two variations from Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Haydn (the St. Antony Chorale) with Rosemary Perry, in a simplified arrangement for four hands, one piano (the original is written for two pianos). I’m also working on Rachmaninov’s G sharp minor prelude (Op. 32 No. 12), and Chopin’s F major etude (Op. 10 No. 8).

I just discovered that the have this picture of me as one of their publicity shots on the website. This was taken during “Monsters” rehearsal (we all learn a set of duets, but play them on 5 or six pianos as a piano orchestra).

Jeff playing monsters at Sonata 2006

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