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Home for Musicians: Kies at Spontini Institute in Ascoli Piceno, Italy

By Susan Dumais
February 24, 2010

If home is a nurturing environment, then UNH music students and professors have found a home in Ascoli Piceno, Italy.

The UNH-in-Italy program has been in existence since 2002, but last semester was the first in which the program catered specifically to the needs of music students. A cadre of 19 UNH students, 16 of whom are music majors, participated in the study abroad program under the resident directorship of UNH music professors Chris and Arlene Kies.

Though the Italy program is used to providing materials and classrooms for the visual arts and other liberal arts disciplines, music students bring a special set of challenges—the need for rehearsal rooms, a piano, a performance venue, and music faculty.

All four needs were in danger of being unmet until a new relationship was forged—with Istituto Musicale G. Spontini, or the Spontini Institute, a community music school in Ascoli under the artistic direction of Nazzareno Allevi. The partnership not only brought the appropriate space and equipment, but also provided a community that fully embraced the UNH group.

In fact, the Kies’s without hesitation will tell you:

“The single most important thing that happened for both of us was that Maestro Allevi adopted us.”

Allevi and his family took the Kies’s on sight-seeing trips, hosted dinners, and exposed them to unique cultural experiences such as olive oil tastings and sausage-making parties.

“Italians are very hospitable, but Maestro Allevi went way over the top. He gave us an insider’s view of Italy,” says Chris Kies.

The Kies’s could hardly keep up with the social schedule, given the responsibilities of the Italy program. But the gestures made them feel welcome and warm—a treatment they’ll not soon forget.

In turn, the Kies’s and the Institute, under the expert guidance of UNH’s administrative director in Italy, Cristian Muscelli, provided a nurturing environment for student learning. Arlene Kies points out that the relatively small number of students in the program in Italy compared to Durham meant that she could devote more time to each student.

“For example,” Arlene Kies notes, “all students received private piano lessons—we had the time.”
Not something that would have happened back in Durham due to constrained schedules. As a somewhat surprising result, a few students who would not otherwise have done so are now working piano instruction into their future course schedules. One student, Zach Onett, changed the instrument requirement for his major from voice to piano.

The small group also meant that the Kies’s could plan group outings to concerts and spend more time talking to students about everything from career aspirations to personal dilemmas. Over the course of the program, they witnessed an increased confidence in many of their students—as world travelers and as musicians.

The Kies’s expressed their deep appreciation of their colleagues at Spontini Institute, and particularly Nazzareno Allevi, by offering their own performance, which included pieces by Mr. Allevi’s son, Giovanni Allevi, a pianist and composer, and something of a phenomenon in Italy and world-wide. In the last few years, the younger Allevi has performed at the Beijing Olympics, Carnegie Hall, and other venues in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as at some of the most prestigious public events in Italy. Chris Kies performed four of Allevi’s works, after which, Kies says, “Maestro Allevi seemed very touched.”

It took a fair amount of planning to transplant two music professors and 19 students to Italy. And it is not likely an experience that will be repeated soon. But clearly the Kies’s wish that it could be. They are overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of those they met in Ascoli and quite proud of how the program fostered a tight-knit, supportive group of students who challenged themselves and grew in important ways.

“Our experience in Ascoli was simply stunning,” say the Kies’s, “and we hope that more UNH students will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. Non la dimenticheremo mai!!” (We will never forget it.)

Listen to “Il Bacio” by Giovanni Allevi, performed by Chris Kies and Arlene Kies at http://www.vimeo.com/8970669. Video produced by Sergio, Vincenzo, and Walter Cantalamessa, with editing by Vincenzo Cantalamessa.

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