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Sun Valley Music Festival’s Kids Celebrate 25 Years
Brad Hershey teaches a variety of violin and cello players about how to improvise.
Wednesday, August 3, 2022


William Lovett breathed in short bursts of breath, holding his hands underneath his belly button as  three-time Grammy nominee  Nicholas Phan watched. The exercise complete, he resumed singing Henry’s Purcell’s “I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly.”

“Now you sing with a lot more resonance, a lot more power!” Phan told the high school student.

“I felt like I learned a new place to breathe,” the 16-year-old Pocatello High School student exclaimed following his performance in the Voice Master class. “It was like I had a hole beneath my belly button and I could breathe out and feel it expand.”

Grace Friedley of Pocatello takes out her violin at the Sun Valley Community School, which has been transformed into a mecca for musicians this week.

Lovett is one of 230 youth taking part in the Sun Valley Music Festival’s free Summer Music Institute workshops this week on the campus of the Sun Valley Community School. The free workshops are taught by guest artists like Phan with the Music Festival, by Festival Orchestra musicians and by local music teachers.

The program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“We’ve had thousands of youngsters over those 25 years with as many as 340 students in a single summer before COVID,” said Kim Gasenica, director of education for the Sun Valley Music Festival. “Ellen Sanders, one of our cello teachers and a member of the Festival Orchestra, says she’s only been with us 24 years because there were no cello lessons that first year.”

The program started with a few local children, then expanded to attract students from Boise and Twin Falls. Today it attracts students from all over the United States, many of whom come to Sun Valley each summer to visit grandparents and other relatives.

Boise State University student Aslen Whitmore practices in Hagenbuch Hall.

“We’re able to make it free through the generosity of supporters of the Music Festival,” said Gasenica. “What thrills me is seeing former students now bringing their children.”

Students trudge across campus with cellos bigger than they strapped to their backs. Flutes and clarinets in hand, others make their way to music classes held in gyms and libraries.

Fueled by popsicles and pretzels, they take part in a variety of classes, then show what they learned in student recitals. This year’s recitals will culminate in the Afternoon Concert at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, in the Sun Valley Pavilion and the Evening Concert at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, in the Pavilion.

The latter will feature advanced Chamber Singers, the Advanced Chamber Orchestra and the Sun Valley Youth Orchestra, which entertains audiences with fun, familiar music.

Tenor Nicholas Phan, fourth from left, takes a group picture with those taking part in his Voice Master Class.

Aslen Whitmore, a student at Boise State University is attending the summer program for her first time this year.

“I wanted to come last year but couldn’t because of COVID,” she said. “My professor told me it was an amazing opportunity to learn one-on-one from some top players.”

Whitmore and other string players had a chance to step outside their classical music box to take an improvisational class led by Brad Hershey, who plays bass and directs the Wood River Orchestra, in addition to teaching local music students.

“Classical musicians learn to read early on so they don’t have experience improvising like jazz and rock  musicians do,” said Hershey, who has been teaching with the Institute for 15 years. “But having improvisational tools under their belt makes them much more marketable, especially if they want to do things other than play in an orchestra.”

Nicholas Phan sang later in the evening at the Sun Valley Music Festival performance of Brittens’ “Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.”

Additionally, Hershey said, students benefit from meeting and playing with other young musicians from other places: “They see what they’re playing and how they’re playing it so it’s a great symbiotic relationship.”

Grace Friedley, 16, said she’s made some of her best friends among like-minded musicians she’s met at workshops.

“Plus, I don’t have time during school year to play music the way I want to because I’m busy doing others things like ballet. So, it’s fun to come here and just make music,” she said.

Being able to study under classical stars like Phan can give young musicians new perspectives, said Gasenica: “Sometimes they’ve followed the people so to have them come work with them means a lot to them.”

Often, the professional performers stress techniques that the children have heard from other teachers, but it somehow clicks when they hear it from the pros, said Geoffrey Friedley, a tenor who teaches voice and music history and appreciation at Idaho State University. “Most of us in life have to experience something 25, 26 times before we say, ‘Oh, that’s what I need to do.’ ”

Phan, described by the Boston Globe as one of the world’s most remarkable singers, kept his Master Class light-hearted, interjecting humor as he told them how singing softly “brings everyone to you.”

He gave examples, his own voice sounding like crystal clear water sliding over cobblestones.

A college student shrieked in excitement as he felt his singing the way it was supposed to sound after holding his fingers on his ears while humming in order to feel the vibration.

Another sung with more power after Phan asked him to describe what he was singing about and translate the song into his own words.

“What I love about it is that now you believe you’re a human being in love with someone,” Phan told him.

“If you could go back and tell your young self something, what would it be?” Lovett asked him.

“I would tell myself to practice!” Phan responded.

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