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Dr. Eli Kalman

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For five weeks at 9300 feet above sea level, University Wisconsin Oshkosh Professor Dr. Eli Kalman blends his passion of teaching and music with the rustic life at Rocky Ridge Music Camp, situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Ridge Music Camp

Rocky Ridge Music Camp

Photo provided by Dr. Eli Kalman


Music and Beauty

For five weeks at 9,300 feet above sea level, University Wisconsin Oshkosh Professor Dr. Eli Kalman blended his passion of teaching and music with the rustic life at Rocky Ridge Music Camp. Under guidance of a world-class faculty of musicians, students from all over the country created and performed music at the oldest music camp in the United States, which is situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. This summer, Kalman shared the Rocky Ridge experience with three students from UW Oshkosh: Rebecca Ottman, Tanya Paulson and Luke Swanger, who was named a co-winner of the annual Young Artist Seminar Concerto Competition.

Kalman, a distinguished pianist and professor of music, has performed professionally in many venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in January 2011. Hailing from Israel, he was the recipient of the Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship for Excellence at UW-Madison.  Dr. Kalman earned the Diploma in Piano Performance at the Academy of Music “G. Dima” in Cluj, Romania, the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Rocky Mountain Way

In email interviews, we asked Kalman and his students about their experience at the Rocky Ridge Music Camp.

1.  How did you get involved with Rocky Ridge Music Camp?

Kalman: Working towards my doctorate at UW Madison in the summer of 2005, I got invited to be the collaborative pianist at Rocky Ridge Music Camp – a position I have filled with much easiness in the early fifteen years of my musical life elsewhere. I had similar positions in Romania and Israel and loved the sharing and the coaching I was able to do give to performing students. That specific learning phase is extremely important – it is the phase in which I could make such a difference as an older musical partner. Also the interaction was supposed to happen in a beautiful mountain setting at 9,000 feet altitude. The mix of mountains and culture is second to none for the simplicity of life in a rustic cabin and the sophistication of such classical training.

2.  What do you do at Rocky Ridge Music Camp?

Kalman: My first responsibility is to be the pianist of most of the students as their dedicated partner for performance. I am their musical coach and “older” pianist partner supposed to create an easy professional setting in which their performance would be greatly supported if not enhanced by my years of experience in the field. It includes performance in public concerts, master classes, coaching and a lot of rehearsals in individual lesson format.

My other responsibility is to be on the piano faculty, teaching students brought from UW Oshkosh or other places to this music camp. It is actually a continuation of my work from UWO with same challenges and gratifications. I was delighted this year to have three of my own students joining the camp as participants and representing UWO the way they did.

All three of them made me very proud of what we do here at our school and of our level of preparation and professionalism. All three have beautifully performed in the RRMC Concerto Competition and I couldn’t be more satisfied in regard to their performance.

 3.  What types of student applicants are chosen to participate?

Kalman:This is a difficult question to answer.  Of course musically, you want the best possible music students but given the intense community life for the 5 weeks you are also counting on certain human qualities, which can make their adaptation easy.

Compatibility and strong communication skills are very important although at times you see students acquiring those qualities out of necessity. Love of natural settings and hiking are important although we have seen many students and faculty lacking those tendencies and still doing very well. It is a mix of qualities we have learned to recognize for strength and weaknesses.

RRMC is a very rich experience with multiple ramifications of other-than-music ones. It is so much more that music only that it is tough to reduce it to a few sentences.

4.  Why did you decide to bring students from UW Oshkosh to the music camp?

Kalman: The Music Camp offers a number of professional advantages, which are essential to the participants.

First, RRMC enables the students to continue their work in the summer and to reach a different level of preparation just by meeting peers in the field from so many different schools.

Second, they have two piano lessons a week and multiple chamber coaching with different teachers and they are expected to rehearse on a daily basis when there is no assisted lesson.  

Third, they have a variety of evening lectures and mainly informal but direct interaction with many faculty. Their 5-week life is basically organized  as music around-the-clock.

Lastly, student exposure to other music faculty and students create a musical network in which they all learn a lot about the very nature of the music business.  In addition, there is also a social aspect, which is typical to all summer camps, and fun is everywhere one is capable of recognizing it.

5.  How has that experience benefited them musically/personally?

Kalman: My students Rebecca Ottman, Tanya Paulson and Luke Swanger greatly benefited of all-the above listed learning opportunities and to my assessment they have gained strength in all areas they needed and more. Their performance skills got stronger and more secure and although sometimes the learning starts in an uneasy way – they have made a journey which I believe that was useful in an immediate way. They had to earn their placement in the micro-society of RRMC 2011 session and prove themselves as worthy of respect for all professional and human qualities. Quite a challenge at times but what a thrill when you realize you did so well in multiple areas. They all did!

6.  What do students take away from the music camp?

Kalman: A combination of things from the higher intensity of instruction all the way to the plusses and minuses of mountain life. Social bonding with other musicians and  in-depth exposure to a musician’s style of life . For most students it helps in the decision making of staying or leaving the path. Some risk taking in actually bringing them to the camp, but so far it worked miracles for my students. Luke Swanger played with the orchestra as a winner in the competition and my other two students were – in my opinion – the closest to him. But that is a personal opinion, of course.

7. How is instruction at camp different from what takes place with music teachers/professors during the school year?

Kalman: There is no way to focus so much on piano performance during the school year although that would be the right thing to do. So many other courses and real life are taking us away from the piano. At the camp the illusion is that there is nothing else outside of your main goal.

No distractions…nothing else but your music. It is so amazing to discover how much one can improve when there is no distraction of any kind around. When you see that the other sixty students are also pushing hard for the same goal – you end up working twice as much.

8.  What makes Rocky Ridge Music Camp such a special place?

Kalman: The gorgeous natural setting and the isolation from all possible distraction. Great people all loving music and fantastic mountaineer attitude.  It's easy-going at surface but really serious about music.


The Music Camp Experience

Describe a typical day at the Rocky Ridge Music Camp.

Rebecca Ottman: Early start to the day followed by four hours of chamber practice --I was personally involved in two chamber groups. Each chamber group was assigned a 'new' piece of music to start from 'scratch' to later perform for the public at the end of the six week seminar. After lunch we had a couple hours to either continue with chamber practice or work on solo material. Evenings were generally reserved for orchestra rehearsal, theory and/or guest lectures and more solo practice time. Every Monday was a 'free' day in which we traveled as a group to nearby cities (Boulder, Denver), chance a hike in the Rockies, or just relax at the nearest lake.

Tanya Paulson: Although most of our time at camp is spent making, listening to, and learning about music, we manage to find time for other kinds of fun, as well.  One of my favorite aspects of Rocky Ridge is the mountains, which I try to take full advantage of by going on lots of hikes.  My biggest triumph so far is summitting Longs Peak, the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,259 ft.

Another important part of my time at Rocky Ridge was my work-study commitment.  This covered part of my tuition in exchange for a few hours of work every day.  My duties included setting up, serving and doing breakfast dishes with two other students.  This was often one of the most fun parts of the day, and resulted in two great friendships.

How has the music camp benefited you musically/personally?

Luke Swagger: Personally, I feel Rocky Ridge has helped me tremendously.  The confidence one gains from each performance is amazing and I feel Rocky Ridge has had a large impact in my development as a performer.

It has had a very big impact with my musical career.  I met Dr. Gallo at Rocky Ridge the year prior and he invited me to Georgia State for an audition. I now have a teaching assistant-ship and will be starting my graduate degree with him this fall.

Tanya Paulson: This was my third summer attending Rocky Ridge.  Every year, at the end of the session, I feel stronger and more confident than when I arrived. Being immersed in a community of passionate and supportive musicians provides tremendous inspiration and drive to achieve one's goals.  Going into this semester I am already planning and looking forward to the repertoire I will play next summer.

What are you taking away from this experience?

Luke Swanger:  Rocky Ridge has helped me gain confidence.  I have met and hopefully developed lasting connections with many talented individuals.  Because of this I feel Rocky Ridge will continue to impact me in the years to come.”

Rebecca Ottman:  A lot of stress accompanies performance, especially when you only have a few weeks to learn a lot of new material; however, I outperformed my expectations. I have more confidence in myself as a musician. I was exposed to many different types of musicians and music, I left a more educated and aware musician.

Tanya Paulson: Perhaps even more valuable than the musical experience I gain each summer are the life experiences.  Music camp is a crash course in communication, dealing with other people, making friends, and countless other skills.

Most importantly, Rocky Ridge brings together a small number of people who are all bonded by a love of music.  This leads to some incredibly special relationships which are hard to find anywhere else.  I have gained friendships which I will treasure for the rest of my life.


The following  video was shot by Dr. Kalman using his iPhone. The video is of Luke  Swanger playing the Rondo from Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Rocky Ridge Music Camp,


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