A violin and its owner rest between songs during a master class for the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservancy at the Lowell Whiteman School on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by Brian Ray

A violin and its owner rest between songs during a master class for the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservancy at the Lowell Whiteman School on Tuesday afternoon.

'Maintaining musical excellence'

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Key points

Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory "Summer Soiree"

6 p.m. Thursday

Cottonwood Grill

$135 a person

846-1499 to reserve a seat

RMSC student and faculty recitals

7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday

St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Free

Students and faculty put on the free concerts to highlight the work and progress made during the six-week RMSC program.

— Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory founder and artistic director Ernest Richardson admits Steamboat is better known for its ski hills than its chamber music, but that doesn't mean he isn't trying to change that.

"Our goal at RMSC is to maintain musical excellence above all else," Richardson said. "We also recognize the aspects that contribute to that excellence: physical conditioning, ambition and leadership."

The focus of RMSC is unique in that while working on music, students also learn about personal health and fitness in relation to their craft. Mandatory interdisciplinary classes cover a range of subject areas - including photography, musical theory and Tae Kwan Do - that help make a well-rounded musician, Richardson said.

"We're enhancing their mental diet," he said. "The benefits will come out in the students' music."

Unlike most summer music programs, RMSC focuses on chamber music, not orchestral or solo performances.

"Chamber music is the best of all teaching methods," Richardson said. "I love orchestral, but members of a quartet are responsible for the final product individually. It's about the students figuring out that connection with others on their own."

Annually, RMSC awards more than $60,000 in merit and need-based scholarships. Although some of the money comes from private donations, most of the funds come from any profits made from tuition. Scholarships are part of the primary application process, specifically in the form of an essay about what students wish to get out of RMSC.

"We really put them in a goal-setting mindset, right from the beginning," Richardson said. "We ask, 'Where do you want to be five weeks from now, five days from now, five hours from now?'"

Thursday's "Summer Soiree" is the first fundraiser of its kind for RMSC. It will feature live music throughout the night from scholarship students attending the camp this summer. Chamber music, jazz and mariachi will be featured, as well as a small concert at the end of the night by some of the camp's students. Seminars at Steamboat board member Belle Sawhill will speak at the event.

"It's anything you'd expect from a high-class benefit," Richardson said. "But we like to spice things up and throw a couple surprises in during the night."

All of the proceeds from the Summer Soiree will go to RMSC's scholarship fund. In exchange for weekly performances by students and staff throughout the summer, the Cottonwood Grill is donating the food for the benefit. An anonymous donor has offered to make a matching gift of $10,000.

"We're really excited to dip into that pool," Richardson said. "This is by far the biggest fundraising event we've had yet."

RMSC will use the funds to raise the number of students they're able to bring to Steamboat Springs.

"It's not only about raising money for our scholarship fund," RMSC fundraising coordinator Mary Jarchow said. "We're ready to establish ourselves that we're an important program within this community."

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