National Music Festival in Chestertown, MD

The National Music Festival at Washington College at Chestertown, MD is clearly one of the best kept secrets on the eastern coast. Thanks to a gracious invitation from our friends, the Reynolds of Maiden Lot Farm, Sheila and I were able to attend this delightful cultural adventure and rub elbows with people who make melodious sounds.

Talented musicians from around the world gather in this bucolic setting for two weeks to train and THEN entertain an appreciate audience with music that ranges from small duets playing music from 18th century composers to Japanese folk songs “reinterpreted” by a classical guitarist to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with 3 choral groups.

Some 120 young classically trained artists are competitively selected to attend a two-week bootcamp with roughly 70 hand-picked mentors and then pushed hard to perform in a series of public small ensembles and a full orchestra. Learning Beethoven’s 9th in a week is no easy feat, but we were treated to a nearly perfect and riveting performance. The musicians looked exhausted, but enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

Kurt Weill

While nearly everything comes off without a hitch, I was drafted into the orchestra at the last moment (see image above) to replace a sick guitarist in Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  Fortunately, it was a small part, but I had an opportunity after the performance to “jam” with my new found banjo buddy Don Vappie, who was playing beside me.

I was a little rusty on the guitar, but after a few drinks I was able to keep up with Don and the rest of his Creole crew.

Actually, it was the talented Brazilian guitarist Camilo Carrara who performed in Kurt Weill’s symphony – NOT ME!

As far as “jamming” with Don Vappie is concerned, Sheila and I attended a lovely evening of music which featured a selection of Creole jazz with several young musicians who have never played this genre of music before. Nevertheless, they seemed to grow in confidence during the performance. I was particularly impressed by a shy clarinet player.

Mr. Vappie is a charming and helpful mentor to these young artists and kindly talked the audience through the history of Creole music and its influence on Jazz and improvisation. It was an evening that I will not soon forget.

While every performance has its own special elements, my favorite was a concert performed at the Mainstay in Rock Hall by Camilo Carrara and Friends. For those unfamiliar with the Mainstay, it was a favorite venue of acclaimed jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd who first introduced Bossa Nova into the U.S. in the 1950s.

Camilo, seen in the video above, kicked off an eclectic mix of music that ranged from Japanese lullabies adapted for the guitar, to a quintet playing Boccherini and even Bluegrass music where Camilo starred with the Lions of Bluegrass.

My favorite piece was a lovely duet with talented flutist, Jennifer Parker-Harley. Jennifer is a mentor from the University of South Carolina. She accompanied Camilo in a moving piece, Sicilienne by Maria Theresa von Paradis. Maria Theresa was blind at the age of 5, but that didn’t prevent her from becoming an accomplished composer in 18th century Vienna. Jennifer informed me that that Jacqueline du Pré often performed the Sicilienne as an encore.

If you want to get involved to support this wonderful event, CLICK HERE so we can continue to encourage these fine young musicians.  Let’s keep the music alive.