Young pianist ‘finds her tribe’ at elite camp

Posted: May 14, 2014

The Winchester Star

“I thought I would play as a hobby, but it became bigger,” says Lydia Jessee, a student at Powhatan School in Boyce. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Powhatan School seventh-grader Lydia Jessee, 13, will attend the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan, where she will spend six weeks studying advanced piano. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)


To get into the summer camp of her choice, Lydia Jessee had to master Mozart, Gershwin and Chopin.

After submitting a video of this feat, the seventh-grade Powhatan School pianist was accepted into the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp in northwest Michigan, where she will join about 2,500 other aspiring artists in grades 3-12 and will be one of only eight students studying advanced piano in the camp’s intermediate division (grades 6-9).

Last year, Lydia attended the program in the junior division (grades 3-6).

“I was amazed by all the music and different people there,” she said. “They were all good.”

The quiet 13-year-old began playing piano when she was in kindergarten, and shortly after, she began taking lessons with classically trained Mardon Sharipov of Washington, D.C. She plays about an hour a day throughout the week and seven to eight hours each Saturday and Sunday.

“She’s tremendously self-motivated and disciplined,” said her father, Ronald Benschoter Jr.

After coming back from Interlochen, where she learned alongside leading artists and instructors, Benschoter and his partner, Glenn Jessee, realized their daughter had “found her tribe.”

In addition, her technique became better and the time it took for her to learn musical pieces decreased.

“It’s a great opportunity for her to really continue to sharpen her skill,” Benschoter said.

Although she can memorize a piece after two weeks, Lydia doesn’t know exactly why she is so tickled by the ivories.

“I thought I would play as a hobby, but it became bigger,” she said.

The camp includes programs in ballet, creative writing, dance, music, documentary filmmaking and screenwriting.

Camp alumni — including singers Norah Jones, Josh Groban and Rufus Wainwright — have been awarded nearly 100 Grammy Awards, and about 10 percent of the nation’s professional orchestra musicians have attended the camp.

For the six-week program that Lydia is attending, tuition is about $8,100. She is currently working on Chopin’s Etude No. 4, which she is hoping to play at the camp during a live, regional audition.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at