Ernest Richardson teaches his music students to train as if they were athletes.
Students are encouraged to challenge themselves physically and musically as part of his six-week program at the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory at The Lowell Whiteman School. They learn how to face and overcome doubt and accept failure as part of the musician's experience.
"It all overlaps and goes back to how one approaches life," said Richardson, who is the artistic director and chief executive officer of the Conservatory. "Art is about expressing the human condition."
The Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory is for music students ages 13 to 25. The Conservatory is aimed at aspiring professional musicians in the genre of chamber music. Richardson developed the program to reflect the skills he learned as a professional musician -- skills he never was taught as a student.
"The genesis of the program is constructing the best possible combination of experiences kids can have to address the whole person," Richardson said.
In addition to taking tae kwon do lessons and stretching every morning before class, Conservatory students train to climb a 14,000-foot peak.
"A lot of these students come from big cities, and we have students who have never been on a hike or in altitude," Richardson said. "We take them on hikes for aerobic conditioning and to formulate outdoor activities as fundamental."
The students learn how to channel their energy in positive ways and assimilate life skills into their musical toolboxes.
"We encourage them to face doubt and find the tools to go past it," Richardson said. "The process to get there is really what it's about, and understanding that music is also a process."
Richardson follows the paradigm and structure of the chamber music model -- in which musicians continually change roles and communicate with one another and the audience -- to help them understand the big picture.
"You have to free yourself from the notion that you are what you play," Richardson said. "That's tough for musicians because we have been playing since we were 3 or 4 years old. Our whole world is wrapped around our instruments."
Students are taught not to measure their self-worth based on how well they play their instruments and to remember that being a musician is being a storyteller, Richardson said.
"They need to beckon someone with a melody like they're telling a story with their instrument," Richardson said. "They need to communicate instead of playing notes to engage themselves as artists."
The foundation of the program also stems from the practices of early composers.
¤ Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory student, faculty and student solo recitals¤ 7:30 p.m. today (faculty recital), Saturday (student solo recital), Tuesday (student recital), Wednesday (faculty recital), Thursday (student recital)¤ St. Paul's Episcopal Church¤ Free¤ 879-1350, ext. 13
Many of the great composers would go for walks outside for inspiration and recall those images later to help them compose new works.
Richardson encourages his students to develop the same appreciation he has for the beauty of the Yampa Valley and said he feels responsible to impress it upon his memory.
"In my daily life, I (try to remember) what it feels like to be in Steamboat in the summertime at the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory. It's a magical world, and we don't take it for granted," he said. "I wish I could bottle it up, because all of my cylinders are firing when I'm here."