Devoted festival audience members get an inside look

Each year the Southeastern Piano Festival attracts hundreds of people to concerts by guest artists and the young winners of the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition.
Then there are those who spend the week in total piano immersion. They not only attend the big concerts, but sit in on classes, come to all the talks, watch the entire 10-hour Fraser Competition and get to know the faculty, students and guest artists.
“We come for the whole week and don’t let anything interfere with it,” said Skip Minchey who attends with his wife Barbara. The couple who live in Bluffton, SC. began attending about five years ago. Fellow music lovers in the Savannah and Hilton Head area told them about the Festival and they decided to see and hear what all the fuss was about.
“When we first attended we came to several of the concerts, but we could tell there was a lot we were missing,” said Skip Minchey, who began taking piano lessons after retiring from his work as a pharmacist.
“The level of performance is very high and the young people are delightful,” said Barbara Minchey.
While she’s most taken with the concerts, her husband is engaged with the behind the scenes activities, attending most of the classes with students and faculty as well as master classes and lectures.
“Sitting in on the classes is really my favorite part,” he said. “I’m a nuts and bolts person.”
And he sometimes picks up tips that improve his own playing.
Naomi Farber, who had studied piano seriously when she was a young woman, heard about the festival when she started taking piano lessons again.
“I went to a wonderful lecture (by Peter Takács of Oberlin Conservatory) and immediately started looking into what else was going on at the festival,” said Farber, a professor of social work at the University of South Carolina. “Pretty soon I started going to recitals and the competition. I’ve been a fan ever since.”
“I try to commit as much time as I can. I plan my week around attending the concerts, guest lectures and master classes. I just love the competition and watching the kids play. I spend days there. It really has become the highlight of my summer in Columbia.”
She also likes what it does for the city she calls home and the university.
“I feel it brings to Columbia a high level of excellence and is an impressive presence of the university in the community.”
Ralph Rynes has been taking part in the festival since its first year. He was an early supporter and helped out with all sorts of things such as picking up students at the airport.
Rynes considers himself a piano music fanatic and can usually be found at any significant piano concert within a reasonable driving of distance of Columbia where he lives.
“I used to be involved all days with classes and going to the competition,” said Rynes, a substance abuse counselor. “I really enjoyed going to the master classes and watching the interaction of the students and faculty.”
His schedule no longer allows such deep involvement, but he’s a regular at all the night time events. Among his favorite concerts over the years have been those by Olga Kern, Oxana Yablonskaya, Edisher Savitski and Ann Schein.
And he’s stayed in touch with those kids he used to pick up at the airport.
Like the Mincheys, Jackie and Colin Stewart travel several hours to attend the festival. The Savannah couple has been attending since 2007.
“We were converted immediately once we came and it has become our favorite vacation,” said Jackie Stewart.
Retired from the automobile industry and teaching and computer programming careers, the Stewarts go to everything.
“The uniqueness of the festival is you’re able to go to attend the lessons and master classes and get to know the students, parents and teachers,” Colin Stewart said.
But even with a full schedule, he said, “it’s very relaxing and low key.”
“There’s never a dull moment – and there isn’t a moment we don’t enjoy,” Jackie Stewart said. “We do not miss a note.”recept2

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