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Music festival offers professional experience to students

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The Texas music festival offers more than 30 concerts in venues on campus and around the city, including the Moores Opera House and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands. | Courtesy of Dancy Lukeman

Music performance sophomore Matthew Baldridge sighs this as he’s shoveling down French fries during a dinner break after a rehearsal for the Helen and Imanuel Olshen Texas Music Festival’s grand finale, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Moores Opera Hall.

“I’ve only been here for two hours — I was at another festival before this for like, three weeks,” Baldridge said. “I just got in yesterday. Yeah, I got two hours asleep and was like — ugh.”

But the French horn player, one of nine UH students participating in the festival, doesn’t seem tired at all — he’s currently laser-focused, albeit on greasy potato strings, but of course this translates to his attitude toward playing music, too.

“I think that my musical intention, if that makes sense, is (getting better),” Baldrige said. “How I approach something — how I want it to sound — is, overall, improving. I have a better idea of how I want to sound.”

The festival, created in 1990 to give Houstonians a world-class music experience like those in Tanglewood, Mass. and Aspen, Colo., compiles 95 students from seven countries into an orchestra for six weeks. Programs —including piano, flute, opera and even high school jazz — scatter master classes, sectionals and performances throughout the rest of that duration, creating an elite atmosphere for musicianship at the Moores School.

“Basically, (students) live the life of a professional musician,” said Alan Austin, general and artistic director of the festival.

Austin likens the experience to summer camp, where students like Baldridge roam freely into playing music without abandon.

Already, Baldridge said he has found that opening his ears to teachers of other instruments can help him play his. And, it’s an escape from the humdrum of daily life. With no classes to attend, students can focus on refining their instrumental skills.

“I learn more in this month than I do in a year at UH,” said Aaron Griffin, a participant in the festival. “That’s not a slight to UH; that’s a compliment to this festival, because the level of playing is so high. All I’m thinking about is playing in orchestra and getting better at my instrument. There are no other distractions.”

Griffin is in his senior year of a bachelor’s in music performance and has played the French horn since the sixth grade. Last year, he worried that his audition tape wasn’t good enough, but the selection committee chose him and now, after improving immensely in the last year, he felt a need to return.

“I’m kind of getting a sense of where I need to be at a performance level,” Griffin said. “I’m surrounded by amazing musicians and I want to get a sense of if I can hang. It’s a good way to just test the waters.”

And he’s off to a good start. If he doesn’t make it his ultimate goal, performing in the Vienna Philharmonic, Baldridge won’t be too disappointed.

“Being able to wake up every day and be able to make something similar to a farting noise sound beautiful — I mean, it’s just, like mind-blowing,” Baldridge said. “Would I ever stop? No. Never.”

Tickets to the concert are $17 and available for purchase online.

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