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28 August 2014

New Frost faculty reunite to showcase musical talents

Photo Courtesy Julia Berg

Photo Courtesy Julia Berg

Photo Courtesy Janell Yael

Photo Courtesy Janell Yael

Pianist Evelyne Brancart and violinist Charles Castleman are no strangers to the music world, or to each other. 

The duo previously worked together in performances and now their paths are overlapping once again at the Frost School of Music.

The two left their old universities to join Frost’s staff this fall. Though both at times have strayed from their musical roots, they are now hailed as two of the top musicians in their respective fields.

Their appointments to Frost came after a two-year international faculty search in response to the retirements of longtime faculty members Frank Cooper, Ivan Davis, J.B. Floyd, Paul Posnak and Rosalina Sackstein.

According to Dean Shelton Berg, who has helped hire Frost’s faculty for the last seven years, the first step of the search was asking, “Who is the best person for the job?” Afterwards he said, “We reach out to people who everyone has identified as the best.”

Both musicians have played since childhood, and surprisingly, despite growing up in different parts of the world they’ve had similar paths that have brought them to the university.

Castleman, 74, grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and started playing the violin at age three. By the time he was six years old, he was performing for large audiences as a soloist.

He continued through traditional schooling after skipping two grades before he graduated and became a full-time musician.

Brancart, 60, grew up in Belgium and began playing the piano at age six. When she was about ten years old, she left school to advance her music education.

“I wanted to have a different life from my parents and piano was always my friend,” she said.

Achieving a different life required a high level of commitment from the young musician.

“From the ages of 10 to 21, I practiced at least seven hours every day… no vacation or anything,” she said. “It becomes a second nature.”

Brancart said there were plenty of times when she grew overwhelmed with the lifestyle of a musician. At one point, she decided to quit playing the piano all together and go back to school to study ceramics. After eight months however, she realized that she had already found her passion, and she returned to her true calling – the piano.

“It’s good to stop sometimes so that you can look at what your doing so that you can think of whether or not this is really what you want to do” Brancart said.

Castleman also had a time where he felt that maybe violin wasn’t all he wanted to do. 

“It turned out I would’ve been a very good lawyer,” he said. Instead of studying something he knew he would be good at, he took a different route. Castleman said, “I studied bio because I wasn’t very good at it.”

Castleman said he wanted to challenge himself to see if he was capable of doing something other than music. Though he eventually quit, he found that his time away made him much more appreciative of his gift and made him a better teacher.

“The violin is a means to live my life in various ways,” he said. “The violin doesn’t limit me.”

Studying biology also made him a better teacher. The information he gathered in his studies allowed him to help a student with epilepsy to learn how to overcome his condition to better their craft.

He hopes to make his students the best performers and people in general by showing them all of the doors playing the violin can open.

“A music teacher doesn’t only teach skills, they also teach you how to express yourself as an artist, so you really have to trust the person. Some of my best relationships have been with music teachers,” said Elijah Kirkland-Andrews, a sophomore majoring in media writing and production.

The challenges Brancart and Castleman have faced as well as their love of music, have made it possible to form close relationships with their students. At times this has both helped and hindered their abilities as teachers.

One of the problems Brancart has noticed with becoming so close to these students is that sooner or later, the relationship becomes so close, it’s almost like a bond between a parent and child.

“You have to be there 100 percent, but you don’t want to get hurt when it’s time for them to leave,” Brancart said. “They always leave.”

This special bond however, has helped her to save the life of a student.

“One time there was a girl who told me she was going to commit suicide so I told her not to move, and I went up the highest building in Bloomington. I talked to her and took her to my room … today she’s doing well,” Brancart said.

Both Brancart and Castleman hope that through their one-on-one teaching, they will be able to strengthen their students’ weaknesses so that they can achieve their dreams.