The Sunflower Music Festival had been in existence for six years when the principal players of the Festival Orchestra approached Kirt Saville, Washburn’s then-Chairman of the Music Department, to organize a new student component to our prestigious festival.
With all the world-class talent available during the two-week festival, together they decided to launch an educational and performance experience for budding classical musicians. A campaign was initiated throughout the United States that attracted a large number of eager musicians between the ages of 16 and 26 to audition. The Sunflower Music Festival Sunflower Institute (SMFSI) faculty selected twenty-one students to participated, and in 1993 the first Sunflower Music Festival Summer Institute appeared. The original SMFSI faculty consisted of Charles Stegeman, violin; Janna Lower, violin; Peter Stempe, oboe; Mark Tanner, cello; Bryan Kennedy, brass; James Rivers, piano; and Kirt Saville, High school woodwinds and Institute Director.
The estate of Blanche Bryden, who was a nontraditional piano student at Washburn University, lent its financial support to this new endeavor in 1994. In recognition of this new commitment, the Institute was renamed The Sunflower Music Festival Blanche Bryden Chamber Music Institute. To date, approximately over 400 students have been coached by Sunflower musicians and have performed in White Concert Hall under the tutelage of their esteemed mentors.
In 2008, Charles Stegeman introduced a new international collegiate string quartet institute under the Blanche Bryden Institute’s umbrella. The Russian-born Atrium Quartet now living in Berlin, coached the collegiate string quartet, as well as the high school string divisions. Also in 2008, the high school activities were increased to include both strings and brass every year, mirroring the woodwind component that had existed since the Institute started in 1993.
The future of the Blanche Bryden Institute is bright and the student talent that graces the White Concert Hall stage today includes some of the more gifted players of the future of classical Music. Future plans may include Jazz chamber music and Continuing Education courses for the region’s music educators.