New Duke Arts Exchange Program Expands Opportunities for Duke Student Artists

Students of the Duke Arts exchange program

“Wonderful,” “loved every moment,” “extremely fulfilling,”

“rewarding,” “truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,”

“enriching,” “gratitude” and “really just so much fun.”

These are words from the early student reviews about their recent trip to Boston and the New England Conservatory of Music in the Duke Arts Exchange Program.

The new program was the brainchild of John Brown, Vice Provost for the Arts, and it was brought to life in collaboration with Hsiao-mei Ku, Professor of the Practice of Music and Caroline Stinson, Associate Professor of the Practice of Music and Director of Chamber Music. Both professors are members of the internationally renowned Ciompi Quartet as well. Ku and Stinson introduced a new class this semester, Meeting the World Through Chamber Music, and the seven advanced chamber music students in the class turned out to be the perfect group for the pilot program.

Students practicing with their musical instruments

This inaugural pilot came together quite quickly thanks to the connections of the professors with colleagues at other institutions. Nicholas Kitchen, a faculty member at the New England Conservatory (NEC), was a primary contact and enthusiastically worked with Ku and Stinson to build the itinerary for the Fall Break visit to Boston.

“Nick Kitchen is a local prodigy whose mother was the founder of the Duke String School,” says Ku. “He started the Borromeo Quartet, one of the very high-profile string quartets in the country and the Quartet in Residence at NEC.”

In fact, highlights for many of the students were Kitchen’s class on manuscripts and his quartet’s interpretation class. “The manuscript and Borromeo interpretation classes were especially eye-opening, and I can’t wait to bring these ideas and perspectives back to Duke to further our development as a quartet!” says Myles Bell, a member of the student group, Larkspur Quartet.

Students participating with their musical instruments

“What I noticed more than anything was that the level of what the students were doing individually and as ensembles absolutely skyrocketed after just two days,” says Stinson.

“They knew there were very high conservatory expectations and they really wanted to meet that demand, so everything was heightened—the delicacy, the ferocity, the colors. I noticed an enormous leap in level of playing. They need experiences like that to push them to actually see what they’re capable of doing.”

In addition to all the knowledge gained and the leaps made in interpretation and performance, perhaps the most powerful thing mentioned over and over, by both students and professors, was the bonding opportunities offered by a trip like this.

“Traveling creates a different kind of bond,” says Stinson. “At their age personal trust and musical trust are very much meshed together and that trust allows them to be more expressive, more comfortable, more daring and more engaged as ensemble musicians.”

“The time we had to spend with each other outside of music-making will be imperative for the future of our ensemble and collaboration,” says Lauren Simmons, student member of the Daphnis, Chloé et Aram Piano Trio.

Professor Ku liked having time to share her personal experiences in the music world so students could understand that all musicians have ups and downs and don’t just start out getting standing ovations.

“The weekend went exceedingly well,” says Stinson. And Vice-Provost Brown has been pleased with the feedback he has heard so far. “I love that students have built community and that they realize there are folks back on campus like Duke Arts that are thinking about them.”

“And in a program like this, the excellence of our students and faculty are also on display for the world to see,” says Brown. “Not only can we enjoy the gift of what the students experienced, but we can say that a program like this is yet another thing that makes Duke great.”

Introducing the Duke Arts Exchange Program