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Meadowmount’s New Artistic Director Janet Sung Reflects on Her Time as a Student at the Renowned Music School
By Janet Sung, From the May-June 2022 issue of Strings magazine
I first stepped onto the campus of the Meadowmount School of Music in Upstate New York at age ten. Nestled within the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, it was not a place you would expect to find a renowned music school. Even at that young age, I could sense there was something different and magical about the place. First, there was music happening everywhere, pretty much all day, every day. Second, everyone I met wanted to be there for the same reason—to learn and make music. What I quickly realized was that this wasn’t just making music—this was serious music-making for young musicians like myself. And it was an incredible environment of which to be a part.
Once there, it was difficult to ignore the storied history and all of the musical luminaries that had spent time there in the past. I was surrounded by photographs of famous string players that were part of the fabric of Meadowmount: Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Leonard Rose, Joshua Bell, Ani and Ida Kavafian, Kyung Wha Chung, and so on. Even the cabins were named after legendary string players: Piatigorsky, Rabin, Kreisler, Casals.
Many transformative things happened during my first summer at Meadowmount. I met lifelong friends. I had incredible performing experiences under the guidance of the faculty. It was also the first time I met Josef Gingold, who would soon after become my beloved private teacher for many years until I went away to college. He coached violinist Rachel Barton Pine and me in a quartet playing Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 4.
It was a place where everyone, from faculty to administration and staff, was deeply invested in my success and well-being as well as all my fellow schoolmates. One afternoon, while practicing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the windows open (it was summer in New York, after all), legendary collaborative pianist David Garvey walked by outside, stopped to listen, and called out from below, advising me to “practice slower.” He was absolutely right, of course.
When I received the opportunity to take on the role of artistic director of Meadowmount, I pondered for a brief moment if I could add this new responsibility of providing a similar experience for young musicians to my current life as a concertizing violinist and full-time professor at the DePaul University School of Music in Chicago. It was that responsibility, however, that made it impossible to turn down. The opportunity to help influence a new generation of young musicians’ lives in the same way that my time at Meadowmount impacted me was a powerful incentive. The music world, and the world in general, continues to evolve, but one thing still holds true: Young musicians need a place where they can have the opportunity and luxury of time, without distraction, to focus on their learning. Whether it is developing technique and artistry, preparing for an international competition or audition, or diving deep into a chamber-music collaboration, Meadowmount’s environment is that ideal place.
In the few months since I officially began as artistic director, it has been a whirlwind of activity. I’m fortunate to have a great partner in executive director Mark Hayman, as well as a highly engaged board of directors, world-class faculty, and devoted staff. My primary responsibility is to oversee all of the music-related activities at Meadowmount: matching students with teachers; arranging artist residencies; curating faculty and guest artist concerts; scheduling and programming young artist concerts; and programming all chamber-music-related activities and events for students, faculty, and guests.
For me, the most important responsibility is working with faculty to attract the best students and ensure that the chamber groups thrive together. The experiences that develop from the student-teacher interactions and within chamber groups often lead to lifelong relationships. These connections are at the heart of “the Meadowmount experience” and are what make the time spent there so meaningful.
My aim as artistic director is to continue many of the long-standing ideals that were put in place by founder Ivan Galamian—the structured and purposeful practice, the focused guidance from teachers and coaches, and the opportunities available to students. The Meadowmount mantra, “A year’s progress in seven weeks,” is evident summer after summer. It is also my aim to expand upon the performing and professional opportunities for students, and to incorporate activities that focus on the physical and mental well-being of young artists. More than ever, we must be mindful of helping students establish foundations that lead to greater longevity in their careers.
Many renowned artists, from Itzhak Perlman to Yo-Yo Ma to James Ehnes, remember their time at Meadowmount as being a vital part of their development. That they continue to speak about the impact Meadowmount had on them is a powerful testament to the impact of the school, and I hope many more generations of musicians will experience the same thing.