Juilliard students: What they take back from Aiken
Their days are packed with studying, singing, dancing, acting and playing music, yet, they still make the time to sprinkle the arts throughout their communities.
The annual Juilliard in Aiken Performing Arts Festival and Outreach Program ended on Friday with its “Fifth Year Anniversary Celebration Concert.” Throughout the week, audiences were entertained by a wide range of songs and monologues from various Juilliard School ensembles, duos, trios, etc.
“They are fantastic,” Greg Smith, Juilliard in Aiken co-founder and co-chair, said. “These young artists give great hope for the future.”
The performances play a big part of the festival. However, the outreach portion has grown tremendously, having gone to 19 schools this past year, Betty Ryberg, vice chair, mentioned during the final event.
Juilliard Juniors, a new addition to this year’s Juilliard in Aiken line-up, was an outreach program that taught children about acting.
The program was the first event of the festival and had eight of Juilliard’s Drama Division students come together with local children for an afternoon of pretend sword fighting, “spell casting” and dancing.
“It takes a lot of energy to be with them, but, also, they are so simple and beautiful and almost complex at the same time,” said Brittany Vicars, a third-year drama student.
The importance of the outreach programs can be traced back to the school itself, so it seems.
“Students have a chance to teach in different boroughs throughout New York City and work with kids who don’t have the opportunity to get involved with the arts because its not in their schools,” Kerry Warren, a fourth-year drama student, said. “And I think President (Joseph) Polisi … tries to promote it within the school. I think every student sees that its important to give back, because there’s been a teacher that has been there for us or inspired us to want to do our art form, so it’s great to give that back.”
Going to schools is just only a bit of what these students have been known to do. They even go to caretaking facilities like hospitals, nursing homes and, even, psychiatric wards, according to student Samuel Lilja.
“My group performed at a psych ward. Afterward, we were told that the people participating the most never talked outside of (that). They just never speak or their unintelligible throughout the week, but, when the Juilliard students come, they are completely active and coherent,” he said.
And, at least the Drama Division group agreed, it is moments like these that makes being an upcoming artist worth it.
“Seeing the arts and theater have that affect on someone is one of the most gratifying things,” Lilja said. “That makes all the struggles we go through at school worth it, to see that affect on someone.”
The students have encountered some interesting situations. One fell upon Sarah Hunt before the Juilliard Juniors event, when one very nervous, little girl approached her.
“She was saying, ‘I don’t want to make any mistakes. I don’t want to anything wrong,” said Warren, who witnessed the encounter. “And Sarah was like, ‘There are no mistakes today. We are just going to use our imagination.’ And I think that is just so important, because in school, its always getting the right answer, and, here, at least what we are trying to do today, it wasn’t about … trying to impress anybody.”
The mission of the Juilliard School is to “provide the highest caliber of artistic education for gifted musicians, dancers and actors from around the world, so that they may achieve their fullest potential as artists, leaders and global citizens,”according to its website. With that level of education taught and level of expectation, one would think work, discipline and passion must live within the few selected to the school.
“A lot of the pressure was getting in, in finally saying, ‘Yes, I’m going to do something that’s always been a dream of mine, make it a reality,’” Hunt said. “But I would say the school itself is really supportive. We work really hard and work long days, but we are all in it together. So, while there is pressure, I think there is a release from that, from having to work so hard. (Also), having to trust the people you are on stage with and trust the faculty and building that relationship for four years, there’s just a support system there.”
The support system for the Juilliard students was extended from Aiken in 1996, when Steve Naifeh, Juilliard in Aiken co-founder and co-chair, and Smith opened up their Aiken home, Joye Cottage, to the students and staff. The school stayed in touch, doing on and off performances here until the first festival in 2009.
On Friday, all Naifeh and Smith’s support was recognized at the final celebration. They sat in the audience, as Betty Ryberg, Juilliard in Aiken vice chair, and Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh took the stage.
It was then, before many of Juilliard in Aiken’s supporters, that Cavanaugh took out a box with red-carpet red lining. In it sat a gold key; it was a key, Cavanaugh announced, to the City of Aiken.
“We are very honored,” Smith said to the Aiken Standard that night. “We lived here for 23 years and didn’t know Aiken had a lock,” he said, referring to the joke Cavanaugh made during the ceremony.
Looking back on this year, the festival had grown in performance numbers, but it was the outreach program that was most improved upon, according to pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe.
Among other things, Roe said outreaches and the arts help children gain confidence, discover themselves and can be very healing. Her partner, pianist Greg Anderson, and she have been with Juilliard in Aiken since the beginning.
“(I) cannot express how impressed we are with how it’s grown and blossomed over the years,” Roe said during final Juilliard in Aiken performance.
Audiences do not have to wait a whole year for another note of Juilliard talent.
The Juilliard Jazz group will be at USC Aiken from June 10 to 14 for a summer camp program.
For more information, visit www.juilliard.edu/summerjazz or www.juilliardinaiken.com/jazzworkshop.
For more information on Juilliard in Aiken, visit www.juilliardinaiken.com.