Pacific String Academy ends first year on high note

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    A local doctor and a former music student at Pepperdine come together and create a string academy-the first for the city and the university.

    By Judy-Anne Goldman/Special to The Malibu Times

    What do you get when you mix 20 motivated music students from age 10 to adult with an intense week working with acclaimed musicians from throughout the U.S.? The hope was that it would create the Pacific String Academy. The successful result culminated in a concert last Saturday at Pepperdine University’s Raitt Hall.

    The idea for the Academy came from a workshop last summer conducted by Cellist Andrew Rammon. Rammon was the first professional cellist to graduate from Pepperdine on full-scholarship and currently teaches music in Pennsylvania. He comes back to Southern California often to visit his parents, professional musicians Diane and Philip Rammon. Diane and Philip play in the Santa Barbara Symphony and are busy with film studio work among other projects.

    Dr. Hammond Emory had taken workshops with Andrew, both private and group. Because of the success of last summer’s cello workshop, Emory suggested the course be expanded to other string instruments, with the emphasis on chamber music as well as orchestra performance.

    With a handful of musicians at the drawing board, including Emory, Diane and Philip Rammon, and Pepperdine’s coordinator of instrumental music, Sara Banta, the group carved out a four-day curriculum, ending in a performance of small group and en masse classical pieces.

    “I’m very happy. The program was very successful,” Banta, who is the Pacific String Academy director, said. “It happened because Andrew was a wonderful teacher.”

    “The Academy really exceeded our expectations,” Diane Rammon said. “Originally, we were going to offer it for ages 13-18, but we opened it up for everyone with two to three years minimum experience.”

    And the experience was needed, as Banta said, “It was quite a rigorous program.”

    From July 8 to July 11, the students began at 9:30 a.m. and finished at 4:30 p.m. With only one hour for lunch, a 15-minute break and a half-hour special event, each day held only one activity-learning music they would play on July 12 after a full morning of rehearsals.

    “I think it was a really good experience,” 10-year-old Kimia Nadim said. Although she was the youngest participant at the Academy, Kimia is already a six-year veteran of the violin. This was her second violin workshop this summer.

    “I liked it because I made a new friend and I learned a lot,” she said. “I learned new practicing techniques to warm up.”

    The focus on working in smaller groups was embraced by faculty and students.

    Banta felt the Pepperdine campus was a highly appropriate place to introduce the academy.

    “The idea fit right in with our school,” she said. “At Pepperdine, we’re changing from the old community orchestra to an emphasis on chamber music. We have a resident quartet called Oceana that’s made up of four members of the L.A. Philharmonic.”

    Banta was quick to add, “We still have an orchestra and our music program is better than ever. Chamber music is a way to get more students involved.”

    Fifteen-year old cellist Kyle O’Rourke attended last year’s cello workshop as well as this year’s academy.

    “I enjoyed playing in the smaller groups better than in the orchestra,” Kyle said. “Chamber music is nice, short, sweet. You get more time to play individually in a smaller group.”

    Kyle’s sister, Megan, joined him this year for the weeklong session. She sat as second violin for her first experience in a workshop setting.

    “At first, I was nervous,” 12-year old Megan admitted, “thinking, oh, my gosh, we have to play such a long time each day! But then, I did it and found it was really fun.”

    Besides the Rammon family, the instructors included Pennsylvania fiddle master Melissa Becker and California professionals Bonnie Lockrem and John Hester.

    The students were treated to three afternoon events-a fiddling demonstration by Becker, a hands-on talk about how instruments are made by craftsman Michael Fischer and a lecture on Aristotle by Emory.

    “Music is a wonderful form of beauty,” Emory commented.

    He stressed the vital role of music in society.

    “Aristotle prescribed teaching in reading, writing, drawing and music, with the idea that the character of the people determine the character of the government and vice versa. Music gives a representation of all the emotions.”

    The triumph of the maiden voyage compelled the instructors to start planning for next year during the last day of the session.

    “I see it growing into a national level string academy, emphasizing small ensembles,” Emory said.

    The curriculum is expected to remain very similar to this year’s, with the same high level of practice and expectation of dedication from the students.

    “If you don’t work hard at something, you don’t learn it as well,” Emory explained.

    To learn more about the Pacific String Academy’s 2004 season, contact Sara Banta at the Pepperdine music department, 310.506.4000.