The Other “Perlman” in Perlman Music

So how is Perlman Music Program (PMP) 2013 different from other years? “Oh, is it ever,” sighs Toby Perlman with a broad smile that manages to express both joy and a bit of trepidation. “We’ve flipped the calendar.” No way, though, will the “monumental gamble” stand in the way of the enthusiastic, hands-on founder-director’s quest to ensure that the 19th summer of PMP will be a success. Of course, she hopes that even “steadfast” visitors, PMP “junkies” who’ve been coming to the workshops and concerts on Shelter Island, will approve of the calendar changes. The rhythm of the enterprise and the tone of this remarkable musical endeavor remain the same.

The changes were made, she says, in order to accommodate PMP students from the Metropolitan Area (a problem that doesn’t affect those coming from abroad). Under the old calendar, the city kids had conflicts with school or college orientation. The seven-week summer residency school for 12 to 18-year-olds is scheduled for June 29–August 18. The two-week chamber music intensives for those over 18, including open master classes and final concerts for violinists, violists, cellists and pianists, will run June 1–17. And the annual PMP Family Concert is on July 14 at 11:30 a.m., a move that should make this instrument “petting zoo” even more popular. “Educational, funny, light,” the Family Concert has also proved influential, as kids who come back to PMP say that hearing and trying out various instruments was a game changer for them; they now play.

The immediate effect of the calendar change has meant increased applications for the school’s 40 or so spots. However, Perlman will not increase enrollment. She no longer accepts anyone younger than 12 because it’s just “too exhausting” for them. As for those who worry about change in any form, the curriculum stays the same, and “everyone is expected to follow the rules,” the overarching one being that “everyone has to be here all the time.” “May I be excused to play with the Chicago Symphony?” No, you may not. But what a consolation—the fabulous faculty Perlman has recruited. Among the notable instructors is her famous husband, Itzhak Perlman, who teaches six afternoons a week but also prepares a welcome barbecue (and tell his notorious jokes). It’s high performance music, but it’s not all music all the time.

Central to “Toby’s Dream” is what its original name, Perlman Music Camp, implied—a mix of athletic and social offerings, along with professional guidance. The day includes four hours of practice—though a 10-minute break is given every hour—six days a week. At lunch, they get their phones back (“Do we want parents listening in on practice sessions?”) And then they’re free do what they want—get more coaching, rehearse, read chamber music, go to the beach or visit town with a chaperone. At 5 p.m., everyone assembles for chorale. PMP honors voice as an instrument, and toward the end of the summer, everyone—faculty, staff, students— sings under the inspired direction of Choral Master Patrick Romano, whose very presence evokes cries of joy. It’s all about community as much as it’s about excellence.

The Hamptons are a social place, with so many events taking place every weekend, but “we’re not the social scene,” Toby says. “We’re a school,” and that means PMP may be “last on the list of things to do.” Admittedly, for those who don’t live on Shelter Island, getting to PMP is a “schlep” but… The “but” starts her eyes flashing, her hands conducting her enthusiasm, “where else could, say, grandparents take their 9– or 10-year-olds where it’s free and where they can listen in as long (or as briefly) as they want?” Not to mention the wider adventure—taking a ferry, packing a picnic supper and wandering the grounds listening to song.

Public concerts are on Fridays and Saturdays, June–August; also held off-site during the summer. Visit perlmanmusicprogram.org or call 212-877-5045.   

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