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A Perfect Day at the Juilliard in Aiken Festival

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Imagine spending your spring break in South Carolina horse country, performing and socializing in plantation mansions and also doing outreach at schools and community centers. That’s what tenor Miles Mykkanen and almost 40 other Juilliard students did in March as participants in the 2013 Juilliard in Aiken Festival, staying with local families. Juilliard’s connection with Aiken began in 1996, when local luminaries—and 2012 Juilliard honorary degree recipients—Steve Naifeh and Greg Smith bequeathed the use of their lovingly restored estate, Joye Cottage, to Juilliard. Over the years the School’s presence in Aiken increased; this was the fifth Juilliard in Aiken Festival. Mykkanen recounted the last day, March 15.

Miles Mykkanen
(Photo by Jared Slater)

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8:25 a.m. Good morning, Aiken! After hitting the snooze button a couple times, I roll out of bed. Today is the final day of the festival so I head out on a jog to help wake up and take in the town one last time. Clear blue skies and a slight breeze—it’s a perfect spring day.

9:20 a.m. After a great run, I arrive back at my cottage to get ready for the day. Aiken is known for its equestrian training centers, and my hosts, Anne and Cot Campbell, are two of the leaders in American horse racing. I’ll be rooting for their horse, Palace Malice, in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

10:15 a.m. My ride arrives to take Mary Feminear Thomas, Daniel Fung, and myself to our dress rehearsal for the Juilliard in Aiken Fifth Anniversary Showcase Concert. As we head to the theater, we discuss how enjoyable the concert by the Anderson and Roe Piano Duo (featuring Juilliard alums Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe) was last evening. A particular favorite of the three of us was the Don Giovanni Fantasy.

10:45 a.m. Daniel and I take the stage at the Etherredge Center on the Aiken campus of the University of South Carolina. We have performed William Bolcom’s “New York Lights” numerous times this week, so our rehearsal basically consists of walking around and clapping to try to find the acoustic “money spot.”

11 a.m. From the sidelines, Mary is singing “The Trees on the Mountain Are Cold and Bare” from Floyd’s Susannah. Geez, she sounds fantastic!

11:30 a.m. There’s a fabulous restaurant in downtown Aiken called Takosushi. After we finish our dress rehearsals, Mary and I decide to indulge in a meal of Southwest and Asian cuisine—a surprisingly delicious combo. It’s nice to catch up with Mary; our action-packed schedules at school often keep us on the run.

1 p.m. Lunch number two, but this time at Joye Cottage (a 65-room estate built by William C. Whitney). The owners, Steve Naifeh and Greg Smith, have graciously invited us to join them for lunch. I’m enjoying a B.L.T. with homemade bread while looking at an original Jackson Pollock. Pinch me!

3:05 p.m. Impromptu jam session with Rachael Wilson and Davone Tines at the Pink House, where Rachael is staying. We enjoy having some time to relax and play cards in the backyard. Meanwhile, the house is getting prepped for tonight’s final soirée.

5 p.m. Rachael suggests we eat at the Willcox (which Travel + Leisure rated one of the top 50 hotels in the world). We walk into town and sit down for another great meal before our final show tonight.

5:35 p.m. Rachael is asked to sign an autograph. Look, Mama—I’m sitting next to a superstar! 

6:30 p.m. Not one, but two dates! I feel like I’m going to prom when I pick up Mary and Pureum Jo from their house. They both look stunning and have their game faces on.

7:20 p.m. We’re back at the Etherredge Center, but this time, we’re dressed to perform. The energy backstage is bittersweet because no one wants to leave Aiken. To help pass the time, I have an amateur photo shoot with my pals Brandon Labadie and Mary. It may sound vain, but we’re looking good!

7:35 p.m. I’ve just discovered sliced apples and caramel on the snack table. My guilty pleasure ...

8:15 p.m. Juilliard415 just finished playing the Chaconne from Muffat’s Armonico Tributo Sonata No. 5. A stellar performance of a gorgeous piece.

8:33 p.m. Daniel and I perform “New York Lights” from Bolcom’s A View From the Bridge. Having grown up in rural Michigan and dreamt of living in New York City, this song always touches me.

8:47 p.m. Intermission! More caramel apples.

9:08 p.m. Charles Yang and Peter Dugan perform one of the most beautiful renditions of “Over the Rainbow” I’ve ever heard.

9:40 p.m. Curtain call!

10:15 p.m. The party is hopping at Paddy Ann’s, a.k.a. the Pink House [Paddy Ann Burns is a Juilliard in Aiken board member]. The fires are blazing, the food is out, and people are hyped after tonight’s show. Paddy Ann asks me to perform “Danny Boy” in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I have to look up the words on my iPhone, but I’m happy to oblige. 

11:45 p.m. One last midnight stroll back home. I’ll miss the dirt roads (they remain unpaved because of all the horse training that happens in Aiken).

12:35 a.m. My bags are packed and now it’s time to get some sleep because we are leaving at 7 a.m. for the airport. Thank you to the incredible people of Aiken for a wonderful week—until we meet again!

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