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Bowdoin International Music Festival 2021

Bowdoin International Music Festival 2021: A Community Renewed

Halfway through the six weeks of the 2021 Bowdoin International Music Festival, this summer has been “so far, so amazing.” With the cooperation of our host facility, Bowdoin College, we have a festival community that is very nearly fully vaccinated, and 100% tested once per week. This enables us to conduct all our musical activities— individual lessons, chamber music coaching and rehearsing, and performing—without requiring masks or distance. At the same time, if any member of our community chooses to continue masking or asks that their teacher or chamber music group mask, we honor that request without hesitation.

As Soothing as a Long Drink of Water 

Making music together is one of the most powerful ways to celebrate our shared humanity. Being able to do so once again without barriers is as refreshing as a long drink of water after the drought necessitated by health and safety protocols. For nearly all members of our community, this is the first in-person musical experience without masks and without distance in 15 months. One of our artist faculty members even remarked that it was his first opportunity to perform live since December 2019! I find myself alternately delighted as I sit side-by-side with others in an audience absorbed by the passion of performers without masks, and amazed as I teach, coach, or rehearse as if nothing ever changed.

A Glass Still Only Half Full

While musical activity itself feels nearly fully back, there are some important things we still miss on our way to normal. We are not able to offer community concerts. In previous summers, our students have taken advantage of the opportunity to play three or four times a week in libraries, churches, museums, and other community centers in Brunswick and Portland, and beyond. This summer, we are still not able to open our concert hall to the public, including to our board members and festival supporters. We are also not able to have receptions or gatherings to connect musicians with supporters and audience or student scholarship recipients with their sponsors.

Creating Community With Technology

To connect as much as is possible, however, we actively and continually improve our video streaming capabilities. We purchased even higher quality microphones for this summer and use a multi-camera HD set up. This allows some of our board members to organize “watch parties” around our faculty chamber music performances. Moreover, we have chosen to offer all of our streaming without charge to enable family and friends wherever they are to view all of our faculty and student performances and engage with the festival.

Grateful to be Back

Bowdoin International Music Festival 2021

Notwithstanding the necessary compromises, for me, the 2021 Bowdoin International Music Festival so far has filled me with a sense of gratitude. Thankfulness, of course, that we can meet at all, and even more so that we can make music together without isolation or distance or barriers. But also renewed appreciation for the commitment of our supporters (trustees and patrons, parents, audience members, and community partners), the fortitude of our leadership (BIMF staff and Board), the trust of our musicians (artist faculty and students), and the cooperation of Bowdoin College for the use of their facilities and their guidance around health and safety protocols. It is only through the unified and sustained support of this entire team that we are able to realize an idyllic haven of musical discovery, inspiration, and growth in mid-coast Maine.

There is a sense of joy at our festival this year as well. We are built for human fellowship; in our case, fellowship borne of friends and colleagues from all over the world connecting and finding common ground through a shared love of music. This joy comes from a connection that is sweeter for the losses we have endured and that we now understand should not be taken for granted.

Nurturing One Another

Bowdoin International Music Festival 2021

Finally, it has been amazing to recognize the ways our community rises up to care for one another. Taking care of each other musically is the reason the BIMF has prioritized the study of chamber music throughout the festival’s fifty-seven-year history. Successful chamber music performance demands instrumental mastery and depth of musical understanding within the context of instantaneous give-and-take. Successful chamber music rehearsal demands personal maturity and mutual respect: the ability to listen and try other’s ideas as if they were your own and to look for solutions that are greater than any one individual. In other words, success is not just playing your best but doing what it takes so that everyone around you plays at their best. 

Mutual Care and Respect In Music and Health

What has been especially remarkable this summer is that this musical goal has also taken the form of caring for each other in health and safety: vaccines, regular covid testing of the entire community, respecting others without question when they choose to mask, gauging personal choices by the potential impact on others. If this summer is characterized by a time when we aspired to new personal and artistic heights by lifting each other musically, emotionally, and physically, when we measured our own success by the success of those around us, then we will have fulfilled our mission in a most profound way. 

More information about the Bowdoin International Music Festival can be found at:

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