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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 8 years ago

Violist invigorates Perlman Music Program

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Viola instructor Laura Seay still gets mistaken for a Perlman Music Program student. She is, after all, barely 25, small and bubbly — and just one year past the age cutoff for PMP’s winter residency in Sarasota.

But Seay is OK with it. She says she’s old enough to find it flattering.

A PMP faculty member for three years, Seay was accepted to the program’s winter residency when she was 17 years old. She has spent every Christmas in Sarasota since — not that she’s lamenting it. Last year she spent New Year’s Eve sight-reading chamber music for fun until 2 a.m. with violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and former Cleveland Quartet cellist Paul Katz.

“Not a shabby way to spend the winter break,” says Seay, a Denver native, who was also in Sarasota this fall touring middle schools with the LK String Quartet, a New York City-based string ensemble formed in 2002 with fellow Perlman students Areta Zhulla, Jordan Han and Sean Lee.

Seay holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in viola performance from The Juilliard School, where she studied with viola pedagogue and Sarasota resident Heidi Castleman, also an instructor at PMP.

Now a faculty member at The Juilliard School Pre-College, Seay is pursuing her doctorate in music education at Teachers College at Columbia University, an impressive trajectory that Seay says was made possible through the structure, support and guidance she received as a Perlman student.

“One of the things the Perlmans did a fantastic job with — and they continue to do this today as I turn to them for advice — is to emphasize a well-rounded lifestyle,” Seay says. “They’re not interested in training little music-making machines, but really growing whole, happy people.”

She counts Itzhak Perlman and his wife, Toby, the program’s founder and director, among her closest mentors. In 2003, she received national recognition when she and other PMP members performed in concert with Perlman for the Emmy Award-winning program, “Live from Lincoln Center.”

“PMP has totally become my second family,” Seay says. “It’s the only lifestyle I’ve ever known.”

Like the faculty members that came before her, Seay teaches with humor and verve. While touring schools with her string quartet, she’s just as apt to play the Beach Boys’ “Surfing in the U.S.A.” as she is Mozart and Haydn.

“Enthusiasm is contagious, “ Seay says. “I think playing music is the most fun I have. I’m glad I don’t play a wind or brass instrument because half the time I’m playing, I’m laughing.”

‘Perls’ of wisdom

• There are only nine violists this year in the Perlman Music Program’s winter residency.

• PMP students begin their day with four hours of private practice.

• All students and faculty must participate in chorus. At 5 p.m. every day during the residency, there’s mandatory chorus rehearsal.

• Each summer, PMP students convene on Shelter Island, N.Y., for a six-week summer music school and two-week chamber music workshop.

• Only 40 students may participate in the program at one time.

• The PMP residencies are scheduled during winter and summer breaks, because most of the children in the program are not home-schooled.

• The PMP Orchestra rotates its principal chairs to keep the program less competitive and more supportive.

The Perlman Music Program’s winter residency runs through Jan. 2. Recitals and rehearsals take place under an outdoor performance tent at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and are free and open to the public. The program’s celebration concert and gala dinner is Saturday, Jan. 2, at the Sarasota Opera House. For tickets or more information, visit

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