Each summer, Beth Vanderborgh and John Fadial pack up their car in Laramie, Wyo., for a 1,700-mile trip east.
For five weeks, the husband-and-wife musicians return to the city where they lived for 10 years, raised two children, taught and played for the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and Eastern Music Festival.
They moved in 2008 to teach at the University of Wyoming. Yet they still played with the Greensboro Symphony until 2016.
But they have not left EMF. This marks their 20th year with the classical music festival that began 58 years ago.
Vanderborgh, a cellist, and Fadial, a violinist, help teach 270 young student musicians from around the world during the five-week festival based at Guilford College.
They perform in the faculty orchestra of 75 professional musicians under the direction of Gerard Schwarz.
Although it’s an intense schedule from morning until late at night, “Everything about it is great,” Vanderborgh, 54, said from their campus apartment.
“Students who come are fabulous and it’s fun to teach them,” she said. “Our maestro is absolutely, astoundingly amazing. The orchestra sounds fantastic. The chamber music is great. And the friendships we have formed over these 20 years are remarkable.”
Fadial, 53, enjoys seeing familiar faces in the audience, from his years at EMF and UNCG and as concertmaster for the Greensboro Symphony.
“On the days you’re not playing, you have a chance to meet and greet,” he said.
Violists Diane Phoenix-Neal and Chauncey Patterson grew up in the Triad. Now Phoenix-Neal teaches in Virginia, Patterson in Miami.
But they return each summer to teach and perform at EMF.
EMF violinist and Greensboro native Courtney LeBauer regularly comes from Germany.
Other professional commitments kept LeBauer away this summer. She will become a violin professor at Converse College in South Carolina this fall.
These musicians are no strangers to travel.
They make their careers and livings by performing across the U.S. and abroad.
When Phoenix-Neal returns home to McLeansville for EMF, “It feels like a wonderful homecoming, a family reunion,” she says. “My colleagues are like brothers and sisters ... I am very proud that the festival has continued to thrive for more than 50 years.”
In 1961, Sheldon “Shelly” Morgenstern began laying the groundwork for what would become EMF. Its first concert took place on July 16, 1962.
“I stood on the steps of Dana Auditorium and watched with wonder and pride as the crowd started pouring in,” Morgenstern wrote in his book, “No Vivaldi in the Garage.”
Morgenstern spent 36 years as its music director and conductor. He died in Switzerland in 2007 of complications from stomach cancer.
Patterson and Phoenix-Neal remember Morgenstern well. Before they were faculty members at EMF, they were students.
Patterson, 58, was born in 1961.
“I joked with him that I felt like he started the festival for me,” Patterson said.
He began playing viola at age 8 in Burlington public schools. He joined the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra. While attending Williams High School, he was accepted into EMF as a student in 1977. He stayed for four summers.
To Patterson, EMF was “an oasis.”
“I wouldn’t say there was lot of racial tension in my school,” he said. “When I got to EMF, there was none of that. It was all about music and people from everywhere. There were no cliques of people. ... So many things that happened later in my life were a result of those summers. ... Everything I play and everything I hear, I heard or played for the first time at Eastern Music Festival.”
Fast forward to 1984. A graduating student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Patterson had just been hired by the Denver Symphony in Colorado. He was free for the summer. Then he learned of an opening on EMF’s faculty.
Morgenstern hired Patterson. There he stayed until 1991, when he joined the Miami String Quartet. It had a busy summer schedule. He reluctantly left EMF.
But Patterson got to return. In 2012, he filled a slot when his replacement left. “I couldn’t believe my luck,” he said.
During the school year, Patterson teaches at Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Fla. He plays solo viola for Florida Grand Opera and principal viola for the Palm Beach Symphony — where Schwarz soon will add more duties as its music director.
Patterson built a studio apartment behind his mother’s Burlington home. On summer days, he drives his 2004 PT Cruiser up U.S. 70 to Guilford College.
He passes his father’s grave at Alamance Memorial Park.
“I get to speak to him every day, twice a day,” he said. “I always look forward to that.”
Once at Guilford College, “I love passing on to these students my love for music and the love that my teachers had for music,” he said.
Like Patterson, Phoenix-Neal fondly remembers her student days at EMF, when she lived in Greensboro.
Now 54 and a married mother of four, she studied viola there for two summers at ages 14 and 15.
“It was the beginning of me falling in love with music as a career,” she said.
After the first summer, Phoenix-Neal auditioned for what is now UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.
“I said, ‘I want to do what I’m doing at EMF all year,’” she said.
She graduated from high school and college there, while playing for the Greensboro Symphony. She headed to the Juilliard School in New York for her master’s degree and to UNCG for her doctorate.
As she returned to Greensboro for her doctoral studies, Morgenstern hired her for EMF.
Her teaching career has meant lots of commuting. She commuted to Fayetteville State University to lead the strings program. Then she spent four years in Iowa, teaching at three colleges.
Now she’s back on the East Coast, teaching at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
EMF has remained a constant. Phoenix-Neal has been there for 22 years, minus a leave of absence last year to spend more time with family.
Nine years ago, Phoenix-Neal found another way for EMF to benefit Greensboro.
She created EMF Encircling the City. It brings String Fellows quartet performances for children and families to Greensboro Public Library branches.
They play free short concerts of major works from classical literature.
“It’s an amazing offering and so fitting for a city that has so many valuable cultural arts activities,” she said. “EMF can be a part of that.”