The Seattle Piano Institute History
Seattle Piano Institute (SPI) is a summer piano program for students of classical piano. Our mission is “to offer gifted aspiring musicians opportunities to develop their musicianship and humanity through an intense set of experiential activities.”
Summer Piano Camp: Unlike other summer piano festivals that center activities around a piano competition, SPI has taken a collaborative approach, combining immersion in piano with exposure to a variety of other disciplines in order to educate the whole student and encourage lifelong learning. This holistic, non-competitive approach distinguishes SPI from other entities.
The student schedule includes a daily 2 hour individual practice time, private piano lessons, group discussion, and master classes with open critique and discussion following performances.
One of the educational purposes of the camp is to develop the technical and musical prowess of our students. However a broader goal is to create lifelong learners and promote the holistic development of our students. To this end a variety of interdisciplinary seminars have been offered, given by local scholars and experts. Presenters have been philosophers, aestheticians, poets, and journalists. Recent seminar topics have included “Psychology of Music Performance” by Dr. Steve Demorest, “Critical Thinking: What music critics wish you knew about playing and writing,” by Seattle critic Melinda Bargreen, and “Realizing Cosmology,” by Professor Bruce Balick, a University of Washington Professor of Astronomy.
Session dates have been chosen to overlap with Seattle Chamber Music Festival, which allows attendance at some of those performances and teaching collaboration (master classes given by world class artists). Advantage is taken of other cultural events in the Seattle area.
Sixteen students age 16 and older are accepted into the ten day Session I and twelve students aged 15 or younger into four day Session II . The limited class size ensures that each student will receive personal attention and have an opportunity to identify with peers during the program. Each summer there are a certain number of students who are not admitted to the Institute because they do not have the level of musicianship to benefit optimally from what we offer.
The summer camp takes place on the University of Washington campus at the School of Music. Space is limited by practice rooms, so acceptance into the program is a selective process. Each applicant must submit a recording of at least two piano pieces in contrasting styles for review by the principals, Dr. Robin McCabe and Professor Craig Sheppard. Dr. McCabe and Mr. Sheppard are distinguished pianists and teachers who enjoy international careers and recognition. They coordinate SPI’s activities and invite guest faculty to provide master classes for the students. Both donate a substantial portion (at least 50%) of the time they spend with SPI. Each student receives two private lessons from both Dr. McCabe and Mr. Sheppard.
Because of their extensive contacts in the music education community, McCabe and Sheppard have been able to attract exceptional talent in the form of guest artists to the SPI. In 2012 Christopher O’Riley of NPR gave a master class. In 2013 Nelita True of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York gave master classes that permitted her to work with each of the Session I students. This format was continued in 2014 with guest artist Jon Kimura Parker from Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.
SPI’s activities are funded through donations from private foundations and private individuals and through modest student tuition. A variety of volunteers donate their time to help the artistic directors run SPI. It is the goal of SPI to offer tuition support to maximize the attendance of gifted students.
Seminars, master classes, and the final concert are free of charge and open to the public. This gives an opportunity for community involvement and exposure of a variety of disciplines to young classical musicians (and vice versa). The master classes in particular offer a continuing education opportunity to local piano teachers, who can observe teaching points and style on a number of familiar piano pieces.
SPI established a non-profit organization in November 2012 to provide a unique learning opportunity for gifted young pianists. Our multidisciplinary approach promotes transfer of the legacy of classical music between generations, where it may continue to enrich lives. Seattle Piano Institute has the potential to become an international “magnet destination” for summer music study.