Castleton plans to bring music to schools

The Castleton Festival is a favorite destination of classical and operatic music lovers as it enters its sixth year. This year, however, the festival organization has plans to reach out to schoolchildren in Rappahannock and surrounding counties.

As part of a renewed effort to shape the next generation of musicians and music lovers by having them meet and learn from the professionals at Castleton, students will be taken by bus to master classes, workshops and rehearsals at Castleton Farms, where the annual summer opera and classical music festival is held, or be treated to in-school appearances by Castleton’s performers.

Thirteen educators discussed ideas on how the Castleton Festival can assist the music programs at area schools with festival general manager Nancy Gustafson (foreground) on March 6.
Thirteen educators discussed ideas on how the Castleton Festival can assist the music programs at area schools with festival general manager Nancy Gustafson (foreground) on March 6. Courtesy photo

The school programs will connect to both Castleton’s month-long summer season and its fall-winter Castleton in Performance series. All will be at no cost to the individual students or their schools.

“We want to help educate young musicians of all ages,” said Nancy Gustafson, general manager of the Castleton Festival. Castleton is already a training ground for those between the ages of 18 and 30 pursuing careers as singers, orchestral musicians and conductors. They represent a resource that can be tapped to train the next generation of music professionals, she said, or at least prepare the next generation of audiences by instilling an appreciation of music and stage performance.

The students will be exposed to not only what goes on onstage, but off as well, by learning what it takes to put on a show in terms of set and costume design, box office management, stage crew duties and more.

Public and private schools in Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Fauquier will be included in the Castleton Alive! initiative, which was the focus of an inaugural meeting attended by about a dozen representatives of local schools at Castleton’s Theatre House March 6. Homeschooled children in the four counties can participate as well.

“We’re trying to help everyone in the arts, and the schools. We told them we would love to hear how we can help them,” Gustafson said of the educators present at the meeting. “Each district has its own challenges and what it needs or would like. In the summer, we have 250 musicians here to help.”

During the school year, the festival can provide master classes “to help increase music education and arts education in the schools.” Those classes can be held at the individual schools or students can be bused to Castleton, Gustafson said.

During the summer, students can attend master classes or take in a rehearsal at Castleton when the performance season is in full swing.

Castleton has been developing a “menu of activities” for teachers to choose from. The menu is available online at the Castleton website ( It includes acting improvisation with Dietlinde Maazel, wife of maestro Lorin Maazel, singing classes with Gustafson and members of the Castleton Artists Training Seminar, instruction by Castleton in Performance artists, classical and musical theater performance, orchestral and operatic dress rehearsals, and a behind-the-scenes look at how the opera “Madame Butterfly” is staged. That opera will also serve as a window into Japanese culture.

Gustafson said the students will be exposed to such things as costume design work, box office administration and building sets.

She said 200 students from Culpeper County will be coming to Castleton June 9 to see an orchestra and stage rehearsal and participate in an acting improvisation and receive singing instruction.

Gustafson is handling the scheduling of school events. She can be contacted at by schools wishing to get on the schedule.

“Maestro Maazel would love it if our audience is filled by everybody under the age of 25,” she said. “The most exciting thing for us is to help educate young people about music.”

Rappahannock resident Hal Hunter has had a hand in many civic organizations, including the Rappahannock Food Pantry, and has taken an interest in the Castleton Education Coalition, the group of educators that met with Gustafson on March 6.

Hunter said he tried to drum up interest for the meeting. “My role has been to spread the word and tell people you really ought to attend this thing.”

He sees pluses from having Castleton close by.

“Where else can you go to get to see internationally recognized musicians in their early 20s and 30s? Here they are in Castleton, Rappahannock County, Virginia, population 7,000. It’s a terrific thing,” Hunter said.

Castleton board member Susan Strittmatter said: “The community outreach can expose those children of people not exposed to Castleton to the joy and happiness that music can bring.” The outreach effort “lets the community know what resources there are in terms of what Castleton can do. Nancy [Gustafson] really got it organized.”

Strittmatter sees the effort paying off by “developing future musicians and audiences and bringing it to the next generation. They’ll [the students] be put in touch with the various components of a performance and it will be part of their lives.

“There are a lot of ways that Castleton can be part of our community,” Strittmatter said, and the education initiative is one of them.

Traci Dippert, music teacher at Rappahannock Elementary School, attended the March 6 meeting.

“I love the concept. I’m very proud and excited” to be involved, she said. Unless young children are exposed to music performances “we won’t have audiences in the future,” she said.

She envisions being able to have her students participate in master classes and take field trips to Castleton. And since “not everyone wants to be a performer,” students can also learn about behind-the-scenes work of stage crews and audio staff.

“For dress rehearsals we can fill the auditorium for free so that the performers can rehearse in front of an audience,” she said.

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James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at