When violist Elizabeth Power was leaving her hometown to study at the University of Hartford, her mother sent her on her way with two worldly possessions: a fully-stocked toolbox and a television set.
The toolbox was so Power would be equipped to make minor repairs should anything break in her dorm room.
The television was to ensure that her typically studious daughter would not get so caught up in practicing that she’d lose touch with the outside world.
“My mother always wanted to make sure I was prepared to take care of myself,” Power says. “She believed if you weren’t fully trained by the age of 3, you were doomed.”
She’s joking — kind of.
Power’s mother was an early childhood educator. Her father was a social worker, and her grandmother was a college English professor. A brainy 39-year-old with Juilliard training, Power is clearly the progeny of intellectuals, even on a day she claims to be feeling “loopy.”
She’s now in her seventh season as the executive director of the Perlman Music Program/Suncoast.
The program serves as the two-week winter residency for The Perlman Music Program (PMP) — an intense six-week music camp on Shelter Island, N.Y., that was founded in 1993 by Toby Perlman, the musician wife of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
A nonprofit organization, PMP/Suncoast is run by a skeleton staff and rotating cast of volunteers out of a small, unspectacular office near the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
Power, who prior to joining PMP/Suncoast ran Sarasota Orchestra’s education program, is the backbone of the operation. She does everything from setting up music stands to bringing in alumna ensembles that perform at area schools.
“You kind of have to be a unique bird to make this work,” Power says of her job. “I basically do everything: IT stuff, website stuff, whatever is necessary. It’s like a small start-up, where the owner is required to do it all. You couldn’t do this work without loving it.”
Naturally, Power loves her work.
She grew up outside Washington, D.C., where she studied the viola and dreamed of becoming a chamber musician.
She says she chose the viola over its higher-register counterpart, the violin, because it had a deeper, guttural sound, or, as Power likens it to — “deep, dark chocolate fudge.”
After receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Hartford, she moved to New York City for a year of post-graduate work at the Juilliard School.
She took a job in a violin shop across from Lincoln Center, where she met two struggling musicians and in the spirit of breaking form, formed a rock band that played acoustic sets at dive bars and coffee shops in the East Village.
“These guys didn’t even read music,” Power says. “It was very fun and very freeing for me.”
She was having so much fun as a rock musician that she even ordered an electric viola to play with the band. However, by the time the instrument arrived, she was working in the education department at the Sarasota Orchestra.
Like a lot of musicians who pursue a career in education over performing, Power hasn’t looked back. She’s an idealist, a go-getter and an impassioned big-picture thinker.
She says PMP — a program built on nurturing young artists in every aspect of their lives, not just in musicianship — is setting an example for other music curriculums across the country, be it at the middle school or conservatory level.
“Let’s be truthful,” Power says. “So much of the model in the past has been built on competing to survive. I met people at Juilliard who spent all their time in a practice room, afraid that if they made friends they’d get distracted. Wouldn’t it be a friendlier place if we all just supported one another?”
After seven years with PMP/Suncoast, Power feels like she’s watched the program and its young protégées grow up.
“The students have become my family,” she says. “I’ve seen some of them go from sixth grade to college.”
She’s speaking of one student in particular — a violinist, now in his 20s, who performed his first Sarasota concert dressed in pajama pants.
“It was what he felt comfortable in,” she says. “Toby is all about cultivating a performance experience that’s safe and nurturing. To this boy, it meant wearing his P.J. bottoms. It was unusual, but sweet.”
IF YOU GO
The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 7, on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. The program’s annual Celebration Concert is at 5 p.m. Jan. 7, at the Sarasota Opera House. Tickets are $35 to $75. If seats remain an hour before the show, tickets are offered to students and educators for $10. All PMP/Suncoast rehearsals are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule of events, visit perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org.
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