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By Akosua Haynes

I loved my first (in person) year at Sphinx Performance Academy. For the past two years, I attended Sphinx Performance Academy (SPA) online, and I had high expectations for in person camp. SPA at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM)  far exceeded those expectations. When I first got there, I acted super awkward since I didn’t know anyone, but people started reaching out really fast. The first person who spoke to me also played cello.

Akosua and friendsSPA has an intense practice schedule. We had four hours of practice time right after breakfast, from 9 to 1. It seemed impossible at first, but after sitting down and making sure I remained in my chair, I could easily focus. Every other day I had a lesson with my teacher, Mary Ann Ramos, who I’d had lessons with online from SPA CIM in other years. I really enjoyed finally meeting her! She enforced her rule of no yawning, and whenever I did she’d make me do five jumping jacks in the corner. During many of our lessons she showed me how to practice more efficiently. Once, she had me practice a section I couldn’t get for 40 minutes straight, but I ended up understanding it afterwards. She reinforced the importance of slow metronome practice for me, as she’d have me go up 2 metronome markings instead of 5 like I’d normally do during practice.

I’ve always loved chamber, but the SPA experience made me love it even more. The piece we played, “The Jovial One” by William Grant Still, comes from a group of three movements titled the Lyric Quartetto. The Lyric Quartetto consists of the Sentimental one, the Jovial one, and the Quiet one, all based on three of Still’s friends. My quartet and I practiced it too fast and we had to work it back down to speed. Our first violin couldn’t get one of our cues so we had to work on it for an hour and a half, but it paid off when we did it correctly in concert. A group of awkwardly placed eighth notes kept tripping me up. I could not get it. Our chamber coach, Jen, really supported us throughout the entire two weeks and we loved her so much for it. For two hours out of a four hour practice, I worked on that part and got it right during the concert. I smiled directly at the second violinist – we both shared that section. She and I had this little understanding of why I ended up smiling in the middle of our performance.

I worked up my performance piece, the Henri Casadesus Cello Concerto, third movement, but I didn’t get a solo performance. To be fair, a lot of really good instrumentalists didn’t get to perform their solos, but it still made me a bit upset. One of my friends didn’t get to do it because she had an injury, but I just didn’t get it because I wasn’t ready. It really hurt, but I understood that next time I just have to work on it even more. There’s always next year, and I can always improve. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t good enough, but it meant I just needed more time and preparation.

Dorm Life

Akosua groupFor starters, our fridge/freezer simply did not work and we had to put Roen’s (one of my dormmates) ice cream in another girl’s room. We each had our own room, but for the first week, we all slept in the living room for a sleepover-type thing. We each eventually went back to our own rooms later on in camp but I enjoyed it. I made a LOT of ramen. I haven’t really used a microwave before, but we had one in our room so I used it almost every day. We had thin walls and could hear everything downstairs, above us, and next to us. The lounge was the same; whenever we played music or danced in the lounge, our counselors sat right below us and could hear EVERYTHING. Sometimes we felt bad for them because it must have been loud and really annoying.

I made many new friends. We grew so close so fast, and after check-in every night, we’d go up to the third floor lounge (what we called 3L) and watch movies until lights out at 10:30. Other days, we’d blast music (which would probably annoy the few college kids that had just moved on that floor with us). On the third day, about 20 out of 30 kids went up to 3L and we just turned the lights out and played “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Mariah Carey while playing ping pong. My friend Kenji hit the paddle against the table by accident so loudly that the paddle snapped in half. My friend Giah beat me in ping pong ONCE, and never did it again. I have to go next year for a rematch. At the museum for a field trip, they had a $40 stuffed animal stegosaurus, and Donald bought it, named it Jamal, and Jamal became the camp mascot from then on. Fast forward to the last night of camp, we played “All I Want for Christmas is You” at about 12:00 am, in the dark, and we all almost cried together. Then we had to go to bed and finish packing, but everyone stayed awake for another hour.

Final Thoughts

I NEED to return next year to SPA CIM for multiple reasons.

  1. To show Dr. Ramos that I can attend and improve for 4 years in a row
  2. To see my friends again
  3. To beat Giah in that one ping pong tournament
  4. To play in the solo performance
  5. So that some younger kid looks up to me
  6. To say that I’ve attended SPA CIM for 4 years in a row

I just hope that I can grow enough musically in the next year. Well, I KNOW that I can grow musically, but I want exponential growth. An hour and a half to two hours shouldn’t be impossible to do now that I’ve done four hours. I don’t even know how I managed that, and my hands are still aching a day later. Typing this even stings a bit. I learned so much from Dr. Ramos and Jen. Even though I’d already heard “practice slowly” they took it to another level. I’m supposed to do two measures starting at 32 bpm, for 2 minutes. After that, I can move onto 34 bpm, and when I mess up, I go back down 6 bpm. With all that I’ve learned, I can improve and I can’t wait to come back next year! (Confidence forever!!!)

As I write this, I am sitting on my bed, without my friends, and without blasting Mariah Carey. I’ll miss them so much and I loved this experience.

You can view a video of Akosua’s chamber group here.


Akosua at SPA CIM

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