Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity      April 2001 • Volume XXIV, Number 1

The Greening of a
Summer Festival

by Michael Wilkerson

IU School of Music Professor Kim Walker has already packed more into the first half of her career than most people will in a lifetime. A virtuoso bassoonist and gifted teacher of master classes at IU Bloomington and all over the world, she is also associate dean of the faculties, chair of the IU Arts Coordinating Council, and artistic director of a revitalized IU Summer Music Festival that premiered in 2000.

After joining IU in 1994—following eighteen years as a performer and artistic director based in Europe—Walker became familiar with the richness and vibrancy of IU’s summer offerings. She envisioned a way to convert them into a more successful, summer-long event, with greater attendance, revenues, and publicity. Walker also saw possibilities for involving visiting master artists whose performance schedules usually prevent them from teaching at the university level.

“Bloomington is a marvelous, unique setting for music,” Walker says. “We aren’t distracted as we would be in a big city, but the quality is here. It’s a fantastic spot to create, harmonize, socialize, teach, and learn. We wanted to capitalize on that and offer something that no one else can.

“The most important innovation was the creation of a new structure and a new approach,” she continues. “Some of the changes were small, and many of the summer events already existed, but by unifying them in one brochure and advertising them as a group, we were able to increase attendance at all of them, opening the school’s faculty and students to new audiences from the community.”

Unified marketing for summer events gave the school the opportunity to highlight previously underpublicized recitals. Walker was able to persuade Music School colleagues to incorporate their planned concerts and recitals into the new structure and to add new events.

Master classes taught by renowned talents such as IU’s own Menahem Pressler were offered to select advanced students and were also open to the public.

For Indiana University Professor of Music Kim Walker, center, teaching provides "the greatest lesson" for her work as a professional bassoonist.
Photo © Tyagan Miller

“Each master class was a two-hour glimpse at the world of music making,” Walker says. “It’s an environment that is so gentle and sophisticated, yet extremely powerful. You can hear how one note or chord, played in a certain way by a great master, can change the feeling of an entire piece.”

Walker asked each concert planner to use a “sandwich” format, offering two major masterpieces surrounding a lesser known twentieth-century work.

“We wanted to ensure that audiences heard the standard repertoire, which is very important, but we also wanted to highlight new and modern works,” Walker says. “We tried to do something familiar and something new in every event, and we deliberately sought to match works that were related, even if they sounded quite different. It was very appealing to audiences.”

In her work as bassoonist and teacher, and as a member of the mixed faculty-student Summer Festival Orchestra, Walker finds that performance is often the only way to teach—and learn.

“You are traveling through the unknown at the speed of light when you perform, and you have to adapt,” she says. “A student can learn more by playing next to you than in a dozen demonstrations and lectures. The smallest nuances become clear—how you are able to sustain a soft note, how you achieve a particular richness of tone. It’s an irreplaceable form of teaching.”

For Walker, teaching is “the greatest lesson,” and her approach is different with every student. “You draw on everything in your life and in the student’s,” she says, “to reach a higher level.” In classes, Walker not only performs multiple roles to reach different students, she also brings in doctors, psychiatrists, and other outside experts to talk to the students about different perspectives on composers and the musical process.

“It’s all part of developing them to their own highest potentials as individuals,” Walker says. “This is the new way and the new generation of performers.”

In turn, rather than draining energy away from her performances, teaching actually enhances their quality, says Walker.

“As a performer, my impression of the piece is clarified by having tried to explain, demonstrate, and practice with my students. It adds to my completeness as a musician.”

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