The Music Never Stops: Mason Faculty Members, Students Participate in Summer Festival

Posted: June 21, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: June 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Aspiring artists can have it pretty rough when they’re just starting out.  Fortunately for aspiring musicians in the D.C. area, the Bethesda Summer Music Festival tries to make this path a little easier. Now in its eighth year, the festival is a two-week intensive workshop that promotes opera and musical theater for children ages 6 – 13, high school and college students and young professionals. The festival runs now through June 27.

“I created the Bethesda Summer Music Festival so that everyone in the community can have the opportunity to gain the experience they need to take the next step in their careers in a location that’s close to home,” says Mira Yang, artistic director for the festival and professor of voice in Mason’s School of Music.

During the festival, participants have the opportunity to take private lessons, improvisation classes, health and pedagogy seminars and a variety of master classes. Coaching is also offered.  At the end of the first week, students participated in a Liederabend (evening of song) and Opera to Pop Concert. The festival concludes with two productions, “The Sound of Music” and “Don Giovanni.””The goal of the festival is to offer students what I consider a mini-internship and nurture them into the next level of musicality by providing master classes and allowing them to interact with some of the most accomplished artists in the field.”

In addition to Yang, Patricia Miller, University Professor of Music and director of Mason’s vocal studies program, is also teaching master classes. Other professionals teaching in the festival are Ronald Gretz, director and conductor of the Annapolis Opera; Joseph Walsh, associate artistic director and associate conductor of the Virginia Opera; and Leland Kimball, producing artistic director of Opera Delaware.

Several Mason students are among the participants.

Senior Faiza Alam is pursuing a bachelor of music degree in guitar performance, but she aspires to write her own music. She decided to participate in the festival to improve her overall tone and vocal technique in order to become a better songwriter. She plans to attend all the master classes offered and will play the character Frau Schmidt in “The Sound of Music.”

“Participating in the festival has been a great opportunity for me to enhance my vocal ability even though I was a bit nervous going into it,” says Alam. “Many of the classes are conducted like mock auditions, so it gives students real-world experience about how to deal with stressful situations and present themselves during vocal auditions.”

For Rhylissa Verheij, a junior double majoring in music and psychology, the most rewarding aspect of the festival is being able to participate in the two musical theater productions. In addition to understudying for three roles in “The Sound of Music,” Verheij will assist Yang throughout the festival and plans to participate in several master classes.

“The festival benefits all of its participants on so many different levels. For individuals whose passion it is to sing and act, they are able to receive professional feedback on their work,” says Verheij. “For me, I was able to observe everything that was going on, have the opportunity to participate in master classes and learn about everything that goes on behind the scenes of putting on a musical theater production.”

All performances and master classes take place at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md. “The Sound of Music” will take place on Friday, June 25, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 26, at 2:30 p.m. “Don Giovanni” will take place on Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m. A reception will follow the performances.

The Bethesda Summer Music Festival is organized by the Asian American Music Society (AAMS). For more information, see the website.

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