JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Michael Siess and Valerie Kim after the Family Concert in July.
For the students of the Perlman Music Summer Program, their day may begin like anyone else’s. At 7:30 a.m., they have stretching or Zumba classes, sometimes aerobics. But that’s probably where the similarity ends.
They take stretching classes to prevent injury: most commonly, tendonitis in their wrists and forearms from the hours of practice and rehearsal on violin, viola, cello or bass. Violinist Michael Siess, 18, of Vancouver, Washington, stressed the importance of stretching to avoid tendonitis because the musician has to stop playing and rest until it heals. And for these athlete-like musicians, injuries are to be avoided at all costs.
Their day continues with individual rehearsals from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; they break for lunch, then have lessons from 1:30 to 5 p.m, with short breaks throughout. Chorus starts at 5 p.m. and dinner is at 6. Two or three nights a week, they have a Work in Progress Concert — open to the public — where they play pieces they’ve been rehearsing.
The students’ day ends at about 9 p.m. The campers still find time to have fun too. The campus, fronting Crescent Beach, offers beachcombing, swimming, kayaking and fishing. They also travel off-Island for field trips. They have Sundays off and on one Sunday in July, they participated in an “Amazing Race” on the grounds.
Forty kids, ages 12 to 18, come from all over the world. They arrive on June 30 and leave seven weeks later, often forming lifelong friendships and keeping in touch on Facebook. “By the third day, they don’t want to go home,” said Associate Director and cellist Merry Peckham, who has been with the program for 13 years, and often acts as a mentor, giving advice and encouragement. She explained that they try to make the program fun too. “It’s in a tent, so it feels like camp.” She said that the concerts are important for the students — performing is part of the process and the musicians need to learn to overcome performance anxiety.
Toby and Itzhak Perlman started the program 19 years ago and moved to their Island home in 2000. In addition to offering the young students a world-class education in music, the faculty tries to nuture the kids, to give them freedom to make their own choices. They’re encouraged to plan their own schedules and rehearsal time, to make the most of their time, much like college freshman (hopefully) learn to do.
Valerie Kim, a violinist and high school sophomore who attends the pre-college Juilliard school in New York City, arrived at the program as a 12-year-old. “The freedom [of the program] struck me hard. I didn’t know how to handle it.” But she adjusted quickly; this is her fourth year.
In order to gain admission to this rigorous program, the students submit a video audition that is evaluated by the faculty members. For the 2013 summer session, the program received over 150 applications and accepted 11 new students. Once the students are accepted into the program, they’re invited back every year until they graduate from high school. It takes about three months to get the results and during that time, according to Michael, “you just pray.”
Michael heads to the Cleveland Institute of Music in the fall as a freshman. Both Merry Peckham and Jeffrey Irvine, a Perlman viola instructor, teach at the Institute. When camp ends on August 18, Michael will return to Washington for a day, repack and head back to the East Coast.
These campers have a large and loving support system, including Anna Kaplan, director of programs, who, during this interview, made sure the kids had time to eat lunch and were wearing the PMP T-shirt for the photo. Anna has been with the Perlman program for two years; she arrives from Manhattan in May, travels with the program to Vermont in the fall, Sarasota in the winter and returns to Shelter Island in the summer, “Here’s the best,” she said.
“These are extraordinary kids,” Production Coordinator Emma Leinhass said. Most of them pursue professional musical careers .
Mrs. Perlman summed up the program, “at the Perlman Music Program, we help to foster the talent and spirit of these extraordinarily gifted, very promising young musicians.”