Sound, Mind and Body: Alan Harris’ New Summer Cello Institute

Eastman Cello Institute faculty: Alan Harris, Kathleen Kemp, Cora Swenson Lee

by Andrea Schuler, Summer@Eastman Program Coordinator

Distinguished Professor Alan Harris knows a thing or two about longevity at the cello: he has been performing and teaching at celebrated universities and music festivals virtually non-stop since 1959. He first arrived at Eastman in 1965, performing as principal cellist of the Eastman Chamber Orchestra and the Rochester Chamber Orchestra in addition to his teaching duties; from 1965 through 1969 he was the assistant principal cellist in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He has taught generations of students at Eastman, Northwestern University, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, focusing always on healthy technique as the foundation for artistic development.

This July, Professor Harris will present the Eastman Cello Institute, a new program he created with Kathleen Kemp (ESM alumna, Harris student, current RPO assistant principal cellist, and coordinator of Eastman’s Orchestral Studies Diploma Program) and Cora Swenson Lee (current ESM DMA student and author of The Alan Harris Studio Technique Book, which will be used for study and practice during the institute). They invite talented high school, collegiate, and adult players to join them for three weeks of intensive study and performance. Through group technique classes, private lessons and study of solo repertoire and orchestral excerpts, students will refine their musical skills and learn about the importance of good posture, efficient muscle use, and healthy playing.

A physically healthy approach to the cello facilitates a beautiful sound and also helps the player avoid injury. Harris, Kemp and Swenson Lee will work together to address students’ physical concerns (tension, posture issues, muscle strain) and develop a comprehensive therapeutic program for each student. Harris studied anatomy while in college and is incredibly knowledgeable about the physical workings of cello playing; he can explain exactly which muscles are involved in every aspect of cello technique and what needs to be adjusted in order to fix a problem. A massage therapist will present a lecture about “Maintaining Physical Health at the Cello” and will be available for consultations during the institute.

Summer is the perfect time for musicians to focus and think carefully about playing: without the distractions and added stress of school-year responsibilities, students can take time to practice thoughtfully and work toward lasting improvement. The instructors aim to make each Eastman Cello Institute student “a strong, healthy player” by the end of the class, physically and musically prepared for a lifetime of cello playing, says Kemp: “We want to help you become the best comprehensive cellist you can be.”

The Eastman Cello Institute runs from July 1-21, 2017. Participants are chosen by audition; auditions must be received by April 3, 2017. Visit for details and application requirements. Special thanks to Kathleen Kemp for her help with this story!