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Perlman Music Program ‘stands out’ this summer

PMP Fellow Jameel Martin next to a portrait of Itzhak Perlman. Below, Chorus Master Patrick Romano.
CAITLIN PANARELLA PHOTO Perlman Music Fellow Jameel Martin next to a portrait of Itzhak Perlman.

Walking around the campus of the Perlman Music Program (PMP) deep notes mix with high ones, echoing from a white tent. A peek inside reveals music students practicing for upcoming events, playing with a fairy tale backdrop from a recent show behind them.

One of the musicians on campus  is Jameel Martin, who has been playing the viola for 17 years since he picked it up at age  5. Originally from Indianapolis, Mr. Martin is a fellow at the PMP and a recent graduate of the Juilliard School in Manhattan. He first attended Perlman’s seven-week summer program in 2011 and returned for the summers of 2012 and 2013. As a PMP fellow, he practices and performs his art while acting as a camp counselor for younger students, or, as they’re known, “the Littles.”

One of three siblings, Mr. Martin began his classical music career when his older brother’s violin teacher “prophesied” that he would play the viola, he said. That prophecy came true when he tried it and stuck with it.

Founded in 1994 by Toby Perlman, the PMP started as a two-week program in East Hampton. The camp moved to Shelter Island in 2000 and expanded to last a rigorous seven weeks. Led by world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, Toby’s husband, the faculty works to help talented young musicians realize their potential, Ms. Perlman said.

“Music is my and my husband’s life,” she said.

The summer program — the “meat and potatoes” of the organization according to Mr. Martin — hosts students from around the world, as close as New York City and as far afield as Asia. There are also shorter seasonal camps in other locations, such as Sarasota, Florida and Israel.

The Perlmans met at a music camp when they were both 20, and eventually married and had five children. They live in New York City, where Mr. Perlman teaches at Juilliard and other institutions and performs in venues around the world.

He must switch gears once the summer begins, however, from teaching college-age students to 12-year-olds, Mr. Perlman said. The younger students are the most exciting and challenging, he said, since they’re at an age where their minds are open. The mission of the program has always been the personalized education of young musicians, and both Perlmans work all year to fulfill that goal, the Perlmans said.

Alumni of the PMP have continued their careers with great success. As an alumnus, Mr. Martin spoke of a tight-knit network that continues after a student’s stay on the PMP campus. “You hardly ever really say goodbye to someone,” he said.

The Perlmans host reunion performances and an alumni series in New York City, and mentor their graduates with salons and forums to discuss their musical careers. Mentorship “is at the top of our list,” Ms. Perlman said.

The program welcomes many accomplished professionals to teach, including Patrick Romano, the chorus master. Mr. Romano, who began teaching at PMP in 1997, has a busy school year leading students in song at Juilliard Pre-college, Sarah Lawrence, and Riverdale Country School.

At PMP, Mr. Romano leads the entire camp in song from 5 to 6 p.m., which he described as a chance to “let the music breathe.” Though many of the students aren’t singers, he relates their instruments to their voices to guide them.

One aspect of the PMP that differs from many of its counterparts, according to Mr. Martin and Mr. Romano, is that Mr. Perlman asks that each student in an orchestra play as though they were a soloist. Rather than blend in, he asks each musician to stand out.

“That’s the way a great orchestra should be playing,” Mr. Perlman affirmed, adding, “Don’t play to hide.”

This attitude is especially rare for a strings section, Mr. Martin said, where cohesion is often the emphasis.

As for the best part about the PMP, Mr. Martin said there is “an artistic integrity here that is unparalleled.”

Mr. Romano praised the seriousness with which the Perlmans take each student’s growth and development. He also loves to see the musicians, many of whom do not sing at all, progress quickly due to their musical sensitivity.

The most rewarding part for the Perlmans is “seeing the students grow into their best selves, who they really are and who they can be,” Ms. Perlman said.

A schedule of events this weekend:
Orchestra and Chorus Concert at Southold High School, Thursday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. $20 tickets online at perlmanmusicprogram.org.
Annual Summer Benefit — “A Taste of Shelter Island.” Friday, July 28 at 6 p.m., Tickets start at $350 at perlmanmusicprogram.org.
Works in Progress Concert on the Shelter Island Campus under the Performance Tent. Saturday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m. Free.