National Music Festival: Students’ First Impressions


“Musicians are ready to play, head-to-toe….”

One who had never been north of Tennessee loves our architecture. Another from Kansas is amazed at all the water around Kent County. All comment on the friendliness of the local people and the wealth of knowledge available to music students during these two weeks.

“The town is gorgeous,” says Olivia Windus from Bolivar, New York, who has returned for her second year with the Mana Saxophone Institute, part of the National Music Festival. “It reminds me of home, but it’s more glamorous. The campus is fabulous,” she adds.

“I was so nervous at first,” says Shannon-Kate Kelley from Smithtown, New York. “But everyone in Chestertown is so excited about us. The Emmanuel Church even raised money for our lunches!”

The Mana Saxophone Quartet has brought their largest group ever- 19 student saxophonists, known as apprentices, all of whom plan to make a career in music education or performance.

Windus plans to become a music therapist. “Unlike school, this is a real life experience. We get advice from a different perspective, from professionals as well as from our fellow students,” she says.

Jonathan Selmer is a sophomore at Glendale Community College in Arizona, where there are only three other saxophone education majors. He jumped at the chance to come back for a second year of the sort of instruction that is unique for students like him.

Diane Hunger, a saxophone mentor who is part of the Mana Quartet says, “These students are so enthusiastic and want to learn. They feed off of each other and are making really good use of their time here. After a performance last night we had a pizza dinner together and after that, several went to the College to practice. Dedication!”

Besides rehearsing together and instructing student quartets, the mentors take turns giving lessons on many aspects of music performance. As a change of pace, Michael Hernandez of the Quartet, who is also a visual artist, led one which he called “Drawing for Dummies.” He passed out paper and crayons and asked each musician to draw a glass, a basket, and salt and pepper shakers. Like a listener hearing music, each student ended with a very different interpretation of the same thing.

The Mana Quartet has just released its first commercially available CD, which includes a work written by Stephen Dankner and premiered in Chestertown in 2014. A new video profiling the ensemble can be seen at

They will be performing free concerts at several Chestertown locations, including at the Chestertown Farmers Market on Saturdays. Concert times and venues are listed at; new additions include saxophone performances on Monday, June 13, at 10:00am in Wesley Hall at Heron Point and on Friday, June 17, at 10:30am at the Amy Lynn Ferris Adult Activity Center, 200 Schauber Rd., in Chestertown.

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