Music makers throng to summer institute

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

Seventy-nine-year-old Douglas Bittdorff, the head of Port Alberni's adult band, wanted to brush up on his conducting skills. A group of 10-year-olds opted for the junior string ensemble.

Both were among 300 keen musicians who surprised and impressed the renowned staff of 70 teachers, coaches and assistants at UBC's School of Music's annual Summer Institutes last month.

"The level of musicianship was very high," says Institutes director and UBC Music Prof. Martin Berinbaum, who started the program in 1993. "Several years ago we were only able to get through the first movement of Orff's Carmina Burana. This year we performed the entire work."

Although students come from as far away as Ontario and the United States, most are talented B.C. elementary, junior and secondary students.

On average they are accustomed to concentrating on their voice or instrumental ability for two to four hours a week. At the institute they get serious for at least six hours a day.

They also interact with the university's music faculty, students and instructors such as Assoc. Prof. Nancy Hermiston, head of UBC's Opera and Voice divisions, award-winning violinist Music Prof. Andrew Dawes, who has made over 50 recordings, or guest instructors such as Bruce Pullan, music director of the Vancouver Bach Choir.

The Institutes included sectional rehearsals, master classes, concerts for parents, friends and the general public, and everyone had an opportunity to play on the stage of UBC's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

"It was hard work and a wonderful experience," says Dr. Richard Mathias, tuba player in three local bands whose day job is as a UBC Health Care and Epidemiology professor. "It's invaluable to play with serious musicians of the highest calibre, including some who are much younger and better than me."

Berinbaum says the community outreach program is paying off. Musicianship in the province is improving as UBC Music grads take up teaching positions and recommend the program to promising students, many of whom are later accepted to the university's School of Music.

"Funding cutbacks have curtailed most similar music programs across Canada but UBC has found a generous partner in Nortel which provides scholarships. These benefited about 100 students this year," he says.

For more information on the School of Music and its programs and concerts, call 822-3113 or visit the Web site at