Mercer University wasn't on Matthew Cohen's college radar.
That was before he and 15 other high school students, all top music students, spent a weekend on campus studying with some of the country's best concert artists. Cohen, a junior who studies in Vancouver, Wash., says Mercer is high on his list of prospective colleges now.
"The kids have been great. The teachers are incredibly nice and incredibly friendly," Cohen said after a sound check in the recital hall at Mercer's McCorkle Building. "It makes me feel really wanted here."
The students performed Sunday at a concert capping the three-day Robert McDuffie and Friends Fall Festival for Strings. McDuffie, an internationally renowned violinist and a distinguished university professor of music at Mercer, brought in four accomplished concert musicians - AndrŽs D'az, David Halen, Christopher Rex and Sabina Thatcher - to serve as master teachers.
Don't let the festival name fool you. The sessions have been intense, with students studying and rehearsing from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, McDuffie said.
The festival focused on chamber, solo and orchestra repertoire. The instruction reflects the school's emphasis on personalized teaching and on bringing in distinguished artists as master teachers, McDuffie said.
"We just wanted to give them a taste of the strong music education Mercer will be giving," McDuffie said. "It's about having the absolute best here. This week is a way to introduce Mercer in that way to juniors and seniors in high school."
Giselle Hillyer, assistant professor of violin and viola at Mercer, said the festival is an excellent recruiting tool. Hillyer and Nathan Cook, assistant professor of violoncello at Mercer, also served as festival instructors.
Most of the students were from the Atlanta area, but a few came from as far as Oklahoma and, in Cohen's case, the Northwest.
"The campus is gorgeous," said Cohen, "and the facilities are great."
The teachers and campus also made an impression on parents Karen Thomas of Beaufort, S.C., whose son Conrad studies violin under Hillyer, and Clare Mansell of Roswell, whose son Zachary plays cello.
"We had no idea this facility was so beautiful, as well as so innovative," Mansell said.
Mansell, a violinist, was particularly impressed with the acoustics in Fickling Hall.
"It makes me want to play in there so much," she said. "This music school is a very big asset to Macon and to the community, and it will be in the future. And Mr. McDuffie's role in this is impossible to overstate."