There is something about the Adirondack environment that appeals to artists of all genres and speaks to all nationalities. The abundance of natural scenic beauty seems to enhance the art, providing a perfect backdrop or environment. That is how a young celebrated violinist, Ivan Galamian, found it when he arrived in Elizabethtown to visit his friend, renowned Russian cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky.
A Little Background
Galamian was Armenian, born in Persia in the early 1900s, but brought up in Moscow where he studied violin and earned a post in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra. War time strife during World War I, particularly in Moscow, eventually led him to Paris. There he continued his violin study with Lucien Capet, a highly renowned Parisian violinist, concertmaster, and violin teacher. When Galamian immigrated to New York City in the late 1930s he was a relatively young man, but already had widespread recognition of his outstanding talent and his ability to coach and teach talented young violinists. Upon his arrival in New York, eager parents had their offspring at the ready, violin in hand, hoping for an opportunity for Galamian’s instruction.
Ivan Galamian enjoyed teaching and helping to develop the talented youngsters’ abilities, more so than actually playing and performing it is said. In fact, stories claim that he confided in friends that he wanted to become “America’s greatest violin teacher.” He accepted teaching posts at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City and The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and also provided private instruction at his home in New York. Many believed he achieved his goal right here in a remote Adirondack location.
The Lure of the Birch Tree
It is speculated that it was the birch trees that caused Piatigorsky to initially become enchanted and fall in love with this region. Our Adirondack birches reminded him of his homeland in Russia where birch trees are quite common. He invited his close friend Galamian to visit the Adirondacks and enjoy “this taste of home.” Galamian did, numerous times. This is where he eventually met and fell in love with his future wife, Judith Johnson. Galamian confided in his wife that he had a strong desire to start a music school. He saw this region of the Adirondacks as the perfect setting to do just that. He began by renting an apartment in the center of Elizabethtown while finding nearby lodging for his students. However, he couldn’t help but note that a more isolated location for their study would be less distractive — further away from bustle of in-town activities, yet remaining in the nurturing natural Adirondack environment that he had come to cherish.
In 1944 he found the perfect location in an unoccupied lodge owned by inventor John Milholland. It was outside the neighboring community of Lewis. Nestled in the trees against an Adirondack mountain backdrop, the main building looked out upon a restful valley landscape of open fields and pastures. It was a peaceful and serene setting, with a definite absence of community-center-type activities to distract young students.
Meadowmount School of Music
Beginning with 30 students during that first summer in 1944, the Meadowmount School of Music rapidly expanded its enrollment. Offering only the best expertise in training and instruction, students vied for acceptance in the intense, 7-week exclusive school of strings. Today the school can accommodate approximately 200, and also includes a piano program. Only the best, with the most potential and ability to meet certain standards of performance, are accepted into these prestigious programs.
The school began making use of the main, former lodge building, but now extends over an entire campus that includes, housing, practice areas, meals, laundry service, a concert hall, violin shop, and other necessities to address the needs of the students so that each gets to focus on developing their musical talent and skill without distraction.
Only the Best
Potential students must submit a recorded audition video of a minimum of 15 minutes. A certain portion of that must be of specific chamber music selections required by the school. It’s not a long process. Applications have to be in by the end of January. Notification to applicants is sent in March. The program begins near the end of June and ends 7 weeks later, in the middle of August.
The school sees students from around the world, but only students seriously interested in developing and refining their musical abilities in violin, viola, or cello attend. They must be seeking to train for a professional career. The program adheres to routine in a structured environment, all perfected by Galamian. It involves daily rigorous practice sessions and individual instruction from the most esteemed international faculty and guest artists. An essential part of the program is learning to work collaboratively with fellow students during chamber music recitals, which is part of each musician’s growth.
Over the years Meadowmount has been a summer home and concentrated training center for some outstanding string musicians in their early years. Many have gone on to great accomplishments and international recognition. The list of distinguished alumni is daunting, but I need to mention a few: Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Kyung-Wha Chung, Lynn Harrell, James Ehnes, Jaime Laredo, and Soovin Kim. Each summer program hosts guest artists, many of whom have trained at Meadowmount in their youth.
Today at Meadowmount
Ivan Galamian passed away in 1981, but thanks to his vision and dedication to the teaching of music, the Meadowmount School of Music goes forward with many of his former students as faculty.
I think of the trees that surround and are interspersed throughout the Meadowmount campus. Imagine the melodies and music they’ve witnessed for the past 70-some years. I suspect some are birches. I also suspect that they are grateful for their location and that they hold a mutual admiration to the man who made the world a better place through music; a man who contributed to the enchantment of the Adirondacks by sharing his talent.
If, like me, string music sings to your heart and speaks to your soul, you won’t want to miss one of the Meadowmount concerts. On-campus concerts are open to the public and are held Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday evenings throughout the summer program ( beginning July 1st and ending August 10th). Often highly distinguished guest artists perform as well. Watch the events calendar for dates and locations of special performances that are held off campus and throughout the region.
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