Sixth Annual McDuffie and Friends Labor Day Festival

Sixteen talented high school strings musicians from 13 states have been selected to participate in the Sixth Annual Robert McDuffie and Friends Labor Day Festival for Strings. The intensive musical-learning extravaganza takes place Sept. 2-6 at the Townsend School of Music in Macon.

The festival provides the students an opportunity to study at Mercer with world-renowned violinist and Distinguished University Professor of Music Robert McDuffie, as well as some of the nation’s foremost concert artists who serve as distinguished artists of the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer.

It also provides a preview of the academic offerings of the McDuffie Center, a highly selective program within Mercer’s Townsend School of Music that prepares strings students for success in the real world through an innovative approach to music training. The center’s unique program allows students to study with some of the nation’s renowned string musicians, receiving music instruction of conservatory quality, while also earning an academically well-rounded education from a comprehensive, nationally recognized university.

In addition to McDuffie, the following distinguished artists of the McDuffie Center will serve as faculty for the festival: Julie Albers, renowned soloist and chamber musician; David Halen, concertmaster, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Rex, principal cellist, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Sabina Thatcher, principal violist, The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; and Paul Murphy, associate principal violist, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Selected Students
The students selected to participate in the McDuffie Labor Day Festival are Preston Barbare of Pelzer, S.C., viola; Lauren Benner of Magnolia, Texas, violin; Kallen Bierly of Columbus, violin; Julia Brandenburg of Warwick, R.I., violin; Kathryn Dark of Haddonfield, N.J., viola; Jessica Fellows of Mounds, Okla., violin; Sarah Harmsworth of Corvallis, Mont., violin; Zenas Han of Marietta, viola; Victor Huls of Jacksonville, Fla., cello; Sofia Kim of Granada Hills, Calif., violin; Leah Latorraca of Monona, Wis., violin; Olivia Pavco-Giaccia of Arlington, Va., cello; Grace Elizabeth Sommer of Marietta, cello; Sylvia Wehrs of Auburn, Ala., violin; Joel Wilkinson of Dalton, violin; and Shing Ann Yeh of Ellicott City, Md., cello.

The application process required students to provide an audition CD and letters of recommendation. All students accepted to the festival receive a full scholarship, covering tuition, housing and meals.

Opening Concert by Faculty
The Artists Concert, scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 2, will feature the Festival faculty performing a variety of chamber music selections by Schubert, Arensky, and Piazzolla. The concert will be in Neva Langley Fickling Hall of the McCorkle Music Building on Mercer’s Macon campus. Tickets are $10 for general admission, free to Mercer faculty, staff and students. Tickets can be purchased through Mercer Ticket Sales at (478) 301-5470 or online at

Festival Offers Free Concert
The Festival Concert, scheduled for 3 p.m., Monday, Sept. 6, will feature the students performing classical chamber music selections in small ensembles and also performing alongside their master teachers in a string orchestra led by David Halen. The concert will be in Neva Langley Fickling Hall of the McCorkle Music Building on Mercer’s Macon campus. Seating is limited and tickets are required for admission. Free tickets are available through Mercer Ticket Sales at (478) 301-5470.

Master Classes Open to the Public
The master classes will be free and open to the public for viewing. Students participating in the Festival perform solo pieces and receive instruction on stage in front of other class attendees from the distinguished artists and faculty leading the classes. Family, friends and the public are invited to attend these classes to watch the one-on-one training.

The master class schedule is as follows:
Friday, Sept. 3, 7-9 p.m.
Violin Master Class with Robert McDuffie, Fickling Hall
Cello Master Class with Julie Albers and Christopher Rex, McCorkle Room 120
Viola Master Class with Sabina Thatcher and Paul Murphy, McCorkle Room 110

Saturday, Sept. 4, 7-9 p.m.
Violin Master Class with Robert McDuffie and David Halen, Fickling Hall
 (All master classes take place in the McCorkle Music Building on Mercer’s Macon campus.)

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