Most people associate the Brevard Music Center with summer classical concerts featuring world-class performers in an open-air auditorium. Away from the spotlight, about 400 teens and twentysomethings come from around the country to spend most of their summer studying classical performance at Brevard Music Center.
“I’m totally illiterate when it comes to pop culture, because my head is in classical music,” said Myles McKnight, an 18-year-old violinist from Hendersonville.
Brevard is the premier summer music program in the southeast. From high school freshmen up to conservatory and university graduate students, they come to study classical performance and voice, study with top teachers and size up their career prospects.
This is McKnight’s third summer studying at Brevard, and while very few of the students here come from Western North Carolina, directors consider him one of the top high school violinists here.
“Coming from Western North Carolina, which is not the biggest community, there isn’t during the rest of the year the place or opportunity where you can have that kind of rigor,” McKnight said. “So it was something I was looking for and wanting to do, so when I found it here at Brevard, it was something I always wanted to participate in.”
It doesn’t take a math major to read the trendlines. There are fewer full-time positions with American orchestras than ever before. Yet while Brevard’s offerings have evolved some to address the growing entrepreneurial nature of the business, the vast majority of students are still on the orchestral track that built the program -- then in Davidson, North Carolina -- in 1936. It moved to Brevard eight years later.
“Students, when they get out of grad school, the path isn’t just win an audition and play in an orchestra for the rest of your life. You have to build a career for yourself,” said Jason Posnock, concertmaster of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and the director of artistic planning and educational programs at Brevard.
Deanna Pyeon is a 21-year-old from Irvine who studies the flute at the University of California. She came to Brevard just to study with Dilshad Posnock, Jason’s wife. She sees that even the most revered orchestras in the country might employ two or three flutists, and turnover is rare.
“Wanting to become an orchestral musician is almost a delusional dream,” she said. “Being in school as a music major is kind of a nest, it’s like a safe cocoon. Half the time, I’d say you’re in denial about the future. When I’m in school, I think this is great, I love playing in an orchestra. It might happen, but it probably won’t.”
Everyone auditions just to get into Brevard, and they also audition for placement into certain orchestras and for the opportunity to choose a specific instructor for private lessons.
During the day, the atmosphere at Brevard is a lot like any typical summer camp. Students live in dormitories and string their bath towels on clotheslines, hanging like the flags of nations. The food in the cafeteria gets polite reviews. Walking along the paths between buildings, you’ll hear students practicing alone or in small groups, a random trombone or trumpet fading into a string duet.
Pyeon and other musicians also look to strike up friendships with composition students, so they can perform new, original music along with the standard classical fare.
“I love not being around just flutists, because flutists have a reputation of being divas,” Pyeon said. “So it’s kinda hard when you’re at a weeklong flute camp where everyone’s competing. Here, there’s more a sense of camaraderie.”
McKnight plans taking a gap year to travel and think more deeply about his professional direction. Pyeon is considering a career in arts journalism should her orchestral prospects dim.
Brevard’s artistic director, Keith Lockhart, studied here during the mid-1970s, and he says the students who turn their career paths away from music are just as important to classical music as those who continue their dreams of performance.
“Those are going to be the people who are going to be the core subscribers, the big donors, the heads of the board,” Lockhart said. “They are just as important to the cultural economy as the participants. We don’t need any more participants. We need committed audience members.”
The Brevard Music Center’s Summer Festival continues with concerts nightly through Aug. 4, and Bernstein’s Mass closing the season 3pm Aug. 5.