Music in the Mountains Colorado

Music in the Mountains

The Colorado College Summer Music Festival brings together world-class instructors, the classical luminaries of the future, and extraordinary performances.

You can see—and, more importantly, hear—tomorrow’s classical music stars right here in Colorado Springs every summer when Colorado College presents its annual Summer Music Festival. This year’s festival, the 38th annual, happens June 5–24 on campus, and the public is welcome to attend these extraordinary musical performances.

Susan Grace has been a faculty member with the event since its inception. Her husband, Michael Grace, was a co-founder and still writes program notes and offers preprogram lectures. Susan is now the music director for the event.

A lucky and talented 54 music students from all over the country—and sometimes Europe and Asia—are accepted into the annual summer program. In addition to the written application, students must send a video of themselves playing their instrument, which include violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani/percussion, and piano.

A full concert schedule is available online at Some free concerts, such as the one for children, are included in the series. Most performances require tickets.

Top students from major music schools such as the Juilliard School and Oberlin Conservatory have participated to augment their education with three weeks of intensive work; students get about six hours a day of instruction and practice. But not all classes are about playing the instrument. Other topics addressed include how to prepare for and present themselves at an audition, mental toughness, improvisation, and talking to an audience about the music being performed.

“We have students leave here saying, ‘I’ve never learned so much in such a short time,’” Susan says with more than a little pride. In fact, many former students have gone on to careers as star performers at large metropolitan symphonies. While they are here, they participate in the concert series, including formal and informal chamber music concerts, plus five orchestra performances, including a free children’s concert and several off-campus outreach concerts. Six to eight students are chosen by audition for concerto readings. All are open to the public.

It’s not all work and no play for students. The festival players represent traditional instruments found in a typical orchestra, but occasionally they get to play something unusual. The horn faculty member sometimes takes students up to the mountains to play an alpine horn: that long, unwieldy instrument with a bell-shaped end. And although they stay on campus, they usually take a trip to Garden of the Gods and get to go on a mountain hike while here.

The faculty also is carefully selected and includes musicians who excel as teachers—Susan says “No divas, please”—from all over North America. They may be concert masters from such places as Montreal, Philadelphia, or St. Paul. Many of the same faculty members have returned year after year. For example, festival conductor Scott Yoo, host and executive producer of Great Performances: Now Hear This on PBS and chief conductor and artistic director of the Mexico City Philharmonic, has been coming for 20 years.

“It’s pretty intense, and the students are mostly here to learn,” Susan says. The experience also “gives students a lot of access to the faculty. They have lunch together and have great conversations. Now they are like family to me.”