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Grace Bell, director of admissions and operations at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, says she loves, “helping the next generation of young classical musicians in their artistic journeys and bringing people with a shared passion together to experience music.”
Every summer, the population of Brunswick swells by more than 300 as the students, faculty, and staff of the Bowdoin International Music Festival travel to Maine’s oldest college campus to study, compose, and perform chamber music. At the center of it all — conducting student admissions and the operations of the world-renowned, six-week summer music program — is Grace Bell, the 2009 Mitchell Scholar from George Stevens Academy and a 2013 graduate of Middlebury College.
As director of admissions and operations at the nearly 60-year-old Bowdoin International Music Festival, Bell is responsible for annually recruiting 250 students from more than 20 countries and nearly every state to attend the Festival and study with distinguished faculty and guest artists, developing print and digital communications for student recruitment, and overseeing operations of the Festival, which runs from late June to early August.
That’s the capsule description of her job. Ask what it means to her, and you’ll hear Bell frame her work — and a large part of the Festival’s mission — as building community.
“We are grateful to be part of such a terrific community here in Brunswick and the Midcoast region,” she said. “It’s ultimately our community both here and around the globe that make what we do possible.”
The Festival’s purpose is twofold. The first aim is to provide an outstanding music education to 250 students ages 13 to 33 who come to study with faculty from leading conservatories across the U.S. and around the world. And second, to share chamber music performances by the Festival’s students, faculty, and guest artists, with 10,000 concertgoers annually in communities statewide.
“There are lots of exciting, and free, ways to experience the Festival beyond what people might be aware of. If you’re new to classical music or not up for a traditional concert-hall experience, you might like to get pizza at Flight Deck or Maine Beer Company and hear our students perform as part of our Community Concert Series,” she said. “Or if you are looking to share music with your kids, we often hold concerts at the Children’s Museum in Portland and the Brunswick and Topsham libraries. We also have a great partnership with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, where we hold several concerts, including a family day where kids get to experience both music and the visual arts in the same morning.”
In addition to Bowdoin College’s Studzinski Recital Hall (upper left), students and faculty at the Bowdoin International Music Festival annually perform at other on- and off-campus venues, including Mayo Street Arts in Portland (upper right), Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick (lower right), and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
And for those who cannot attend either the on- or off-campus performances, Bell said the Festival live-streams all student performances as well as the faculty concerts and master classes.
“We believe music is best listened to in person and together. The energy of the communal concert experience is incredibly special,” she said. “But live-streaming allows anyone who can visit our website to see and hear our performances from anywhere. It’s a tremendous service, especially for our students, so their teachers, family, and friends can tune in from around the globe. Live-streaming is also completely free, and bringing music to people who might not otherwise experience it or have access to our world-renowned artists is also an important part of the Festival’s mission.”
Bell’s path to the Bowdoin International Music Festival began in her hometown of Blue Hill — and runs through Middlebury and Bates colleges.
“I grew up playing cello and piano and I started going to concerts at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival when I was 4 or 5,” she said. “So, I was surrounded by this exact type of music — string quartets, piano trios — and then when I was old enough, I started participating in Kneisel’s program for Maine students. Having the opportunity to play alongside other dedicated young musicians was incredibly rewarding. It certainly instilled in me a love of chamber music.”
When it came time to consider colleges, music was an important factor.
“Middlebury has an incredible chamber music performance series,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Mitchell Scholarship.”
Although she chose to major in architecture and environmental studies, music remained a prominent part of her academic life. At Middlebury, she formed the string quartet Kizuna, which became the source of enduring college friendships and nurtured her love of chamber music.
Bell (center) formed the strings group Kizuna while she was a student at Middlebury College. Here, she and members of the group pause during rehearsal outside the college’s Museum of Art in 2012.
After Middlebury, Bell’s first foray into the world of work was with Bates’ Office of Advancement. As assistant director of annual giving, she worked with alumni volunteers to plan and execute class giving and engagement strategies; organized and managed the college’s “Great Day to Be a Bobcat” month-long giving challenge that routinely nets more than 3,000 contributions from alumni, parents, and friends each year; and managed marketing, logistics, and programming for reunion weekend events that annually draw thousands of alumni back to campus.
But Bell longed for work in service to music and music education in Maine. The opportunity at the Bowdoin International Music Festival hits all the right notes.
“The work feels very purposeful. I love helping the next generation of young classical musicians in their artistic journeys and bringing people with a shared passion together to experience music,” she said. “I’m grateful to be here.”