As director of “The New Year Parade,” Tom Quinn had seen his film many times.
But he still was nervous last week when his award-winning independent production was being screened for high school students attending the 2012 Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center.
During the screening, his nerves brought him outside the theater to take in the scenic mounds of rock and glistening lake that make up the resort's striking campus.
“I came back in for the last five minutes, and it made me wish I was here the whole time, because they were laughing where you would dream they would laugh and they were cheering,” Quinn said. “They were the best audience you could ever have.”
Quinn, who has worked with film and video students the past two weeks as an arts institute faculty member, had worried about how the students would respond to his film. Now he wonders why he had doubts.
“They're excited, which makes us excited, and stuff we thought might be a little bit above their level they're totally diving into,” he said. “It's great.”
Passion for expression
For more than two weeks this month, top arts students from across the state have gathered in southwestern Oklahoma to focus on strengthening their talents. The students' disciplines range from dance and performing arts to visual art and photography, but they are all united in a shared passion for self-expression.
The students' final performances will take place Friday and Saturday at the camp, which is near Lone Wolf. The performances are open to the public.
This year, more than 1,300 students auditioned for the camp's 271 spots. Selected students spend six to eight hours a day practicing their discipline while at Quartz Mountain, where they study under the camp's long list of accomplished faculty artists. Additional time is spent attending demonstrations and presentations in the evening.
Annina Collier, director of public relations and outreach for the Oklahoma Arts Institute, said the amount of time and dedication the students put into those intensive weeks makes it an experience not easily replicated.
“Because all the students are talented, they can play more music, dance more difficult steps, and learn more challenging techniques than they can at their own school, where the students have different ability levels,” Collier said.
Collier attended the camp in high school. She gives her Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute experience credit for developing her career path and introducing her to friends she still keeps in touch with.
Collier isn't the only staff member at the Oklahoma Arts Institute to have participated in Quartz Mountain. Many of the institute's permanent staff and camp counselors were Summer Arts Institute students at one point.
“I think we all recognize how important OSAI was to our development as artists and as people,” she said, “and we want to have today's students have the same meaningful experience we had.”
Here are some of their stories.
Andrew Hamilton, vocal, Altus
Many young men have high career aspirations. Very few dream of the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Andrew Hamilton, a recent graduate of Altus High School who is in his second year at Quartz Mountain, is one of those people. In an age when Kanye West is considered the height of musical genius, Hamilton still rocks out to “La Boheme.”
“I don't work out to opera though,” Hamilton said. “That'd be weird.”
Hamilton's path to hopeful opera singer was an unlikely one. Before junior high, he had never been a member of any choir, nor had he considered joining one. The only reason he took a choir class was because his friends were in it.
“Honestly, I didn't think I was going to like it,” he said, “because the teacher — it was her first year, and she didn't seem to like kids at all.”
Not only did Hamilton end up enjoying the class, he excelled in it. That year he was his school's only representative on the all-state choir in Oklahoma City.
For Hamilton, continually discovering things about his voice and his capability is an addictive element to one of his favorite activities.
“It's mind-boggling because it's something you've always had but you've never actually known about, so it's a part of you that you just keep discovering, and it's fascinating,” he said.
A choir boy is nothing without his choir though, and Hamilton realizes that. In fact, he longs for it.
“My favorite part and what keeps me coming is when you sing eight-part harmony or 12-part harmony with everybody,” he said. “You can hear the reverberations and the vibrations, and you just get tingles down your spine.”
Reagan Collins, ballet, Tulsa
As a ballet dancer, recent Tulsa Union High School graduate Reagan Collins is subject to a variety of critics. Separate pressures from her instructors, family, friends and audience all demand something different. While these things can be dodged or blocked out, Collins' toughest critic is one who cannot be escaped: herself.
“I'm always thinking about corrections, what I need to work on, every little step I'm taking,” Collins said. “I'm always thinking ahead for what I can perfect.”
Ballet is often perceived as demanding and sometimes grueling in its teaching and practice. Collins can attest to that.
“Ballet — it's all competition,” she said. “If you want to do well — you may love all the people in your class — but if you want a solo you have to get yourself out there and you have to be not afraid to be different from everyone else.”
Still, in Collins' mind, there's no reason wanting to be perfect should carry a negative connotation. Collins actually strives for the intensity and discipline involved in perfecting her craft, as well as everyday life.
“I think it's a very good thing,” she said. “When it comes to real life, I think it makes me more focused and more determined to do whatever thing I'm doing. Whether it's homework or even a different sport, I really want to do well and perfect my technique for that sport or homework or whatever it is.”
Collins' dedication to her craft is perhaps most evident in the number of years she has attended Quartz Mountain — five including this one. She was able to try out the summer before her freshman year of high school because she was old enough to meet the program's age requirement.
The Oklahoma Arts Institute has recently changed its requirements to include only students who have already experienced high school. Collins will be one of the last five-year students.
Collins' last year at Quartz Mountain will be bittersweet. In her five years, she has grown closer to the arts than ever.
“As one of my friends is quoted, ‘It's magical,'” she said. “Everyone here is really nice, and since we're all with the arts, we all understand each other on some level.”
Bailey Evans, modern dance, Tulsa
When Bailey Evans dances, she isn't striving for self-perfection but for self-expression.
The Union High School senior-to-be first participated in modern dance three years ago during her first year at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. Before that, Evans had a background in several other types of dance, including ballet.
“I'm involved in ballet too, and it's very competitive,” Evans said. “In this, you want to be competitive and you want to be the best, but then I think there's more of a sense of unity and acceptance. There's room for personal flair.”
Evans' love for dance is two-sided. On one hand, she loves the amount of artistic expression it affords her. Still, dance is more than just a form of art — it can be a sport as well.
“I like coming out of the studio dripping with sweat,” she said. “I accomplished something today, I feel good. I know I'm going to be dead tired and sore the next day, but it's worth it.”
Evans began dancing several years ago when a new studio opened up near her home. Her mother persuaded her to take a class, and Evans loved it from the beginning. She still dances there today and participates in the studio's dance team, which was invited to nationals last summer.
The fact that Evans took to dance so fast should not be a surprise. Her grandmother was a dancer, and her mother was a professional figure skater.
Evans was born to perform, and it's something she dreams of doing professionally some day.
“When I go to see performances, I'm like, ‘I want to do that,'” she said. “I want to be on stage hearing crowds applaud. Not even so much just for the crowds but just for myself.”
Though dance is her true love, Evans is involved in a variety of artistic endeavors. She plays piano. She sings in her school choir. She acts. She even “dabbles in doodling.”
“To me, real life is boring,” she said. “I don't want to have to grow up and have an accounting job or be a doctor. I guess that's what lures me into the arts.”
Marcos Alvarez, orchestra, Oklahoma City
The gentle strumming of his father's guitar echoed through the house of a young Marcos Alvarez. The music entered his ears, occupied his thoughts and filled his heart.
“Ever since I was little I would hear music around the house, and I was just like, ‘Well, I want to play something,'” Alvarez said.
Alvarez's parents emigrated from Mexico in their 20s to pursue a better life for themselves and their children. The result has been a son who is free to commit to his passion — music — and practice it at a very high level.
“Music is my life,” he said. “I don't think I could do without it. It's just a part of me. That's what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to perform.”
Alvarez got his first shot at organized music in the sixth grade when he joined band. His first instrument was the flute, but he later moved to the piccolo, which has been his instrument of choice since.
Though at Quartz Mountain Alvarez participates in the Institute Orchestra, his high school, Western Heights in Oklahoma City, doesn't have an orchestra program. Alvarez's only choice is the school band. While he enjoys playing for his school, Alvarez welcomes the challenge that beckons at the Summer Arts Institute.
“I like playing with other people who are at the same degree of playing as me,” he said. “In school, we all have fun and play, but we can't play some of the stuff that I'd like to play because some of them just can't play that kind of stuff.
“When we come here, we're all around that same level, so we get to play that really fun, challenging music that I've always wanted to play.”
Alvarez said the Quartz Mountain orchestra experience is one of the toughest musical feats he's faced — and he loves it. The difficulty level of the pieces they perform, combined with the short time they have to learn them, makes for an intense two weeks, but Alvarez thrives on the challenge, which is new and exciting.
In the future, Alvarez will be setting the bar even higher.
“I want to be in one of those big orchestras,” he said. “I want to be one of those musicians that I look up to right now. I want to be one of those people to someone. That's what I want to do.”
Although Alvarez has other interests, including friends and travel, his true identity is as a musician.
“I do good in school, I'm an AP student, but music is what I do. Music. That's me,” he said.