Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's All About Me: Sonata (Fugue)

Clare and I arrived at 5 Catamount Lane in Bennington, Vermont on Sunday afternoon.  We found our assigned room and unpacked our belongings.  We wandered around the home, revisiting the by now familiar corners of this special place.  We greeted the slowly arriving old friends and welcomed the new. I listened to the comfortable chatter throughout the home- and even the faint sound of someone already practicing even before we were officially underway.  It always starts quiet, even a bit hesitant as it builds to the swell of music by the final day.

First and foremost Sonata is about MUSIC- and most specifically piano music!  My first stop was in the Grand Room with it's Grand Piano- so quiet as it awaited the beginning of what is always such an exciting experience.


The Sonata literature tells us that the house contains 41 rooms- and 30 pianos- though I've never counted.  There are NO PIANOS in the bathrooms or the kitchen- or the dining room.  But every where else...

In our bedroom...

In fact in ALL THE BEDROOMS!  There's no napping in your room at Sonata...

And in the linen closet...

And the closet under the stairs called the "Harry Potter Room"...

The days begin around 6:30 with breakfast and a shower- which order depends on how long your wait is for the bathroom... This year there were only 16 "campers" - "it's the economy, stupid"... Which meant not much wait for the showers- and always an empty piano waiting for additional practice! A silver lining in the cloudy days of this recession!
The days begin with practice and classes-stopped only briefly for lunch in the middle.  We have private lessons, duet practice, and MONSTERS!  We are tightly scheduled from 9am until around 10pm every day.  (It is probably important to note that since this is for "adults" no one comes looking for you if you decide to play "hooky" for any reason- like maybe a nap, or a walk, or a book...) Additionally this year we had amazing concerts by George Lopez who played Bach's Goldberg Variations- every single one- from memory- beautifully and also Kathy Chi who played an early Chopin Concerto beautifully. 

I began the week working on the Chopin Nocturne in F minor...


And I finished the week with Chopin... 

In between were hours and hours and hours of practice...  Beautiful hours of practice... There is no interuption for errands- or laundry- or dinner prep...or anything else for that matter.  You find your assigned piano- and you play and play and play.  Piano camp always has hours of solitary time- time with just you- and the piano.  And you never feel like there is something else you ought to be doing- because this is what you ought to be doing.

But before you think that all I did was sit alone with a piano, I ought to tell you about the food! Oh yes the FOOD.  Did I mention that at Sonata, we have HANS- our PERSONAL CHEF.  You got it! Gourmet every day!

And I might also mention there is a greenhouse out back- and we had fresh produce from the garden every day!  Yep you got it right! Every day.


And should I dare mention that we have desert every day. Delicious homemade desert every day! And of course there is plenty of wine flowing each evening as we celebrate our successes- or mourn our failures of the day with our music!


And each day I take a walk.  Into town.  Into Bennington.  Often when I'm at Sonata I'm reminded of the "Practice Building" at University of Oklahoma during my early years when I played the harp for the orchestra.  In the evening when I would practice (not nearly enough- but I was busy...) the building would yell out with the myriad of music played in each of the separate rooms- all competing- all screaming to be heard.  It's that way at Sonata.  We are all playing- at the same time- all day- and sometimes even into the evening.  And we're all playing something different- so as you play you are also hearing all the music around you.  It teaches you focus.  I think now I can perhaps even play at home while the lawn is being mowed after my week at Sonata.  But sometimes you yearn for quiet.  So I walk to town- and the music recedes as I walk away from the house.

And I stop each day on my walk and wander around the local bookstore.  Bookstores are so, so very, very quiet. 

And then sometimes I'll just wander around the grounds...  With the music sounding so very far away...



And Sonata is about the people. Amazing people.  Interesting people. Funny people.  And the time we spend from morning to night, talking, laughing, complaining (about our lack of progress usually), stressing (about the perfomance on Saturday when we are sure we will not be ready to "share")... Good friends... Friends that make you smile...Friends that give you much to think about... Silly friends...








We even had breakfast at the local diner with our friend and teacher from a past Sonata, Abilgail!



And in case you think we're always alone, let me tell you about all the duets! And Monsters!




And Monsters!  When we all gather in the basement in the piano with so, so, so many pianos- and play together- from 6-10 of us all at the same time! With Polly (more on Polly later) as our conductor!


The camp director is Polly!  A truly amazing woman.  She gather's all of us together- from all geographies- all personalities- all different talent levels- all different expertise with the piano. And she gathers us together- as she cheers us on- challenges us- praises us- encourages us- corrects our mistakes- notices our smallest accomplishments- gathers amazing teachers- and creates a home for us all.  Polly doesn't believe in competition.  At this camp there is no interest in how you play in comparison to any one but only that at the end of the week you leave a better pianist.  It's a special world of nurturing... And with Polly's example we in turn encourage each other. We listen to each other.  We praise each other.  We feel proud when any of us plays beautifully- and we suffer if any struggles. 





But then before it quite seems possible it is Saturday. And on the final Saturday we gather in the Great Room...

It would be wrong to call this final afternoon of piano a recital.  It is rather a sharing of all we worked on during the week.  A chance to hear in the quiet of this room the strains we hear clanging about in the roar that can be our practice.  Sometimes it is not until this afternoon that I'll know that a certain piece is played by a certain person since all the practice takes place behind closed doors...





And we all exhale together...In the pleasure of it all!

7 comments:

Don said...

I have to say that I have been to "Camp" twice, but only at the end for the "sharing". After I went the first time Max asked if we could get her a new piano. She was using an old very inexpensive small upright that was bought many years ago at a military px. After hearing her play at Sonata, we did not hesitate to find and purchase a new small grand piano. The second time I went I listened to her play a Chopin Nocturne that was absolutely wonderful and is still one of my favorites. Needless to say, the purchase was well worth the price.

smathis75 said...

I'm so glad you chose to write a blog piece on your camp stay. It is wonderful and the pictures put faces to all the stories you had to share with us in Philly.
You are a very lucky lady :)

Polly van der Linde said...

Hi Max, I loved reading this! Thanks for sharing. Great to see so many pics too! I'm so glad you didn't mention all my grimacing at your lesson! Today, I go to the primary care doctor to discuss what this might be. I think we both know the answer. How did I ever get through that lesson in so much pain?! Thanks for your help...your lesson became a win-win one, in my (personal) opinion! Keep up the great work! Polly

Brandy said...

Wow what a great run camp! The grounds and house are beautiful! Did you play the piano in the linen closet?

Maxanna said...

I always play the piano in the linen closet... And the Harry Potter..

Sandy said...

Thank you, Maxana, for that peek at such a fantastic place. I'm so happy that you are able to go and immerse yourself in music, good food and good friends...it sounds divine.

Lucas said...

What a gorgeous, GORGEOUS place! Loved all the pics and of course the stories and I could actually HEAR the piano music!! :)

Especially loved the feet shot. And someday, I hope to hear you play. I never have before and I would enjoy it very much!