Music in the Hills

In Brevard, North Carolina, the summer months mean music.
Suzanne Powell Mills

When sounds of trumpets and flutes echo across the mountains, Brevard locals know that summer is officially here. Nestled in the hills of this small western North Carolina town, the Brevard Music Center gives many reasons to celebrate, both to locals and, this time of year, students from far-flung locations. For those kids in particular, the Brevard Music Center is a big slice of heaven.

"I absolutely love the place,” says Steven Cohen, a French horn player from Great Neck, New York, in the middle of his third summer at Brevard. “The environment is unbelievable. The whole area is gorgeous. You wake up in the morning, and there’s this scenic beauty. It’s like a perfect retreat, except it’s a summer camp.”

Steven fell in love with Brevard at first sight, and his admiration for the place has grown. “It’s overwhelming. And the friendliness of everyone here is why so many students come back and why the place is what it is. You have the world-renowned soloists who are guest artists and teachers, but you also have the setting.”

Shelly Suminski, now a professional musician, teacher, and grad student in a music program in Los Angeles, attended the Brevard Music Center for five years―first as a high schooler, then while she was in college, and later as a dorm counselor and teaching assistant.

“It was amazing, obviously. I just kept going back,” she says. “There’s a strong sense of camaraderie with the people that you meet there―the students as well as administrators and faculty.”

Music Toppers
Considered one of the best programs of its kind in the country, the center attracts many aspiring musicians to its summer institute. More than 2,200 high school and college students apply for approximately 400 spots during the school’s rigorous application process. Representing almost every state and even several foreign countries, those who make the cut participate in an intense seven-week program of musical training.

“I was a wide-eyed ninth grader when I first came here,” says Keith Lockhart, currently the center’s artistic advisor. “Since then I’ve stayed close and been regularly involved. It’s been a pleasure to see the center evolve artistically. It’s much more national in scope now.” Musicians like Keith, who is also well known as conductor for the Boston Pops, play an important role in the center’s success.

Hitting the Right Note
Studying with professional faculty members allows students to hear and be heard by some of the most well-respected people in the business. Between 10 and 20 special guest artists, all admired musicians, visit every summer to perform for and with the students.

In the highly competitive field of music, helping students decide their career path is what the center aims to do. “We hope the students will gain perspective,” Keith explains. “It’s a bigger pond. Coming to the center can help students decide where music sits with them.”

Campus Life Even though students diligently practice morning through night, they can’t help but enjoy the center’s “camp” feel. Small studios in the midst of the woodsy setting or a grassy bank by the center’s Sonata Lake offer perfect spots for them to focus on music. Gathering places such as The Lodge also give students areas where they can hang out and simply be kids.

The beautiful campus sits comfortably among 140 acres, giving plenty of room for housing the more than 60 summer faculty members and their families, plus the 400 students. The cost for all of this, however, isn’t cheap. Summer tuition is more than $4,000 per student―although most obtain financial aid.

Sessions in Season
Folks living in Brevard also benefit from this impresive institute. During its seven-week summer festival, the center hosts more than 80 concerts performed by students and professionals alike.

Each year, almost 50,000 guests attend symphonies or full-scale opera productions. The 1,800-seat open-sided auditorium offers the ideal atmosphere for patrons to sit back and enjoy the shows. For a more natural environment, 500 additional seats are available on the lawn nearby. “We always have a great audience; they really appreciate the music,” says Ashley Parks, an intern at the center.

The special environment brings together young and old, locals and tourists, musicians and nonmusicians―a wonderful mix of people who share a love for beautiful music. And thanks to Brevard’s moderate weather, soft summer breezes even seem to sing along with the orchestra.

For more information visit www.brevardmusic.org.

Brevard’s Musical Background
Founded in 1936 by James Christian Pfohl, the Brevard Music Center still strives to help develop talented young musicians. Other things, however, have changed. Originally at Davidson College, the school began as an all-boys camp. In the 1940s, Pfohl moved it west to Brevard and made it coed. In the 1950s, the annual summer festival was introduced. Since then, both the institute and the festival have grown in popularity.

"Music in the Hills" is from the July 2008 issue of Carolina Living: People & Places, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in North Carolina.