Summer School – 1

Summer School

I recently came home from a week-long guitar summer session. I thought recording some of my impressions would be a good use of this space, both as a memory refresher for myself as time goes on, and to paint a picture of what a guitar summer school looks like for those who might be interested. I see this as running for a few days in order to cover the various aspects of the week.

I imagine the first thing to say is that the school is run by Simon Powis and the Classical Guitar Corner Academy. CGCA is an online school that seems to be quite unique in the space. In addition to the recorded classes, live on-line teaching, and a very large and active community of learners, once a year Simon puts together a week-long summer school on the campus of Endicott College in Massachusetts.  Students are assigned to dorm rooms at the college. Everyone stays at the same dorm, which also allows for the socialization in the evening after class.

The structure of the day is relatively consistent over the week, which give overall structure to something that could become quite chaotic without such a framework.

The first session of the day is the small ensemble. The 60 students in attendance are broken into 5 groups for work in small ensembles. The first time students see the music they will play is that first day. The division into ensembles is very roughly according to grade level, although each is more in a range rather than a strict stratification. The various groups and the multiple parts needed provide each person with a goal that is just beyond their current ability (but which is achievable!).

Following the small ensembles students are given some time off the guitar and attend a presentation/lecture done by one of the instructors. Some details of these will be forthcoming in a future installment of this blog.

Lunch is followed by individual lessons. Each student has two lessons over the course of the week.  These lessons are arranged before arrival and each student selects the pieces they would like to work on. The lessons are open, so any student can watch any lesson, although in all cases the audience maintains a respectful silence so the student and teacher interaction is the focus of the lesson. Entry and exit is suggested to coincide with the half-hour boundary, although lessons running a few minutes over tends to blur this as the session goes on. It seems to be something that everyone expects and accepts.

Individual lessons are followed by guitar orchestra practice. 60 guitarists are assembled on the stage and divided into 4 sections, roughly corresponding with traditional orchestra breakdown. This could be a somewhat daunting task as all of the orchestra members are amateurs, most of whom have either never played in this large a group before, or not since last summer school. The large orchestra director is Janet Agostino and she demonstrates just the right balance of iron fist in velvet glove to keep everyone progressing and on task.

The day finishes after dinner with a concert by a member of the teaching staff. While I will go into greater depth on these concerts, the one thing I would add as part of the overview is that each of the performers varies the repertoire from pieces that anyone familiar with the guitar would know to newer pieces that extend the experience of the audience and provide something new for their ears.

Over the next few posts I will explore more about each of the elements of the day at summer school.

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