THANK YOU!!! I had the MOST AMAZING educational & musical experience this year at Idyllwild Arts!

I am incredibly grateful that I was able to spend my Freshman year at Idyllwild International Arts Academy! Thank you for making this dream a reality. I would like to tell you about my year. I hope my story will make you proud of this team effort!

~Composition & Theory~

I had the wonderful opportunity of studying Composition with two brilliant teachers, Kevin Michael Sullivan and Mark Carlson. Kevin Michael Sullivan taught me theory and composition at Idyllwild. Composition class was one of the highlights of my week. We shared our compositions, studied composers and technique, argued, and ate a lot of food! Composition class was my family away from home.

In addition to studying composition and theory at Idyllwild, I got to go to L.A. every Wednesday to study composition with Mark Carlson of UCLA. He challenged and inspired me every week! We studied compositional techniques, and did many different exercises such as writing melodies based on a random set of five notes, harmonizations, and how to use what you’ve already written to create new music.

In the Fall, I wrote a set of three pieces for string quartet, a trio for flute, viola, and bass called “Vox Fossoris”, and film scoring projects. During the spring, I got really interested in the music of the 20th century. Through my exploration of 20th century music, I deepened my understanding of musical relationships and structures. I wrote a piece for voice and piano that was performed at Idyllwild by Dr. Jeanette Yaryan on piano, and Marja Liisa Kay, soprano. I also started writing sets of music. I wrote “Three Miniatures” for Cello and Piano, and “Three Preludes” for Celeste. My Compositions can be heard on my YouTube Chanel.

~Piano & now Celeste, Harpsichord & ORGAN!!~

My piano teachers at Idyllwild are excellent. Each week I take private lessons with Dr. Jeanette Yaryan. Dr. Yaryan has a version of synesthesia where she sees colors upon hearing sound. She also has perfect pitch and perfect click (tempo). SO, nothing gets past her, ever. She helped me improve sound production, posture, technique, rhythm, mental preparedness and concentration.

Dr. Yaryan is an awesome teacher and performer. Her performance of one of my friends pieces was so dazzling, we started a fan club in her honor. During the Fall I worked on Beethoven Piano “Sonata Op. 31, No. 1”, Muczynski “Toccata Op. 15, and Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 8. During the Spring I worked on Bach WTC 1 “Prelude and Fugue No.8 in Eb minor”, Carl Vine “Five Bagatelles”, and Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 2.

I had piano performance and collaborative piano classes with Dr. Yaryan and Parvati Mani. In performance class we would perform our solo pieces for each other and get feedback from our instructors. In collaborative piano class we would play piano duets and accompany vocalists and instrumentalists. Even though I am a Composition Major, my teachers expect me to keep up with the Piano Majors.

Parvati Mani is a fantastic pianist and teacher. Parvati has the softest voice, but isn’t afraid to tear your soul out. She went to Interlochen for high school, and studied at Eastman and San Francisco Conservatory. Listening to her performances over the year at Idyllwild was inspiring. Parvati has helped me improve sound production at the piano, how I think about melodic phrasing, and has provided me with performance opportunities.

Another one of my piano teachers is Doug Ashcraft, the Head of School at Idyllwild. He is a very good teacher and leader. He takes a personal interest in all the student at Idyllwild, and has written recommendation letters of my behalf.

Idyllwild has little A frame practice cabins called the TROYS. My favorite Troy has the only Mason and Hamlin piano on campus, which is my favorite kind of piano. I spent countless hours composing, practicing, and sometimes napping in there.

During the Spring Semester, I started to play the Harpsichord. I learned how to read figured bass and improvise, just like they did in the Baroque era. I got to play harpsichord on my friend Alexander’s Senior Recital (picture 1st page). I had the time of my life! My composition teacher had a celeste, so I also started playing this instrument. And my goal for the summer is to learn to play the organ. I had a couple of lessons with Marilyn Schempp from Augustana College in Sioux Falls as soon as I could when I got home. I also am very grateful to Colleen Tucker and Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, for allowing me to practice on their organ.


Idyllwild is also a college preparatory for academics, and is very demanding! I studied Algebra, Language Arts, French, World Current Events, Physical Education, and had a Life Skills class. We got to take hikes through the woods each week for PE. I shredded my tennis shoes to bits during the first semester, so my mom sent me back with hiking boots for the Spring. I felt comfortable in this rigorous academic environment and enjoyed being challenged. I made the Honor Roll each semester and earned all A’s and one B for the year.

Many of my teachers are also musicians or supporters of the arts. My algebra teacher LOVES Bach!!! We had great discussions about the mathematics in Bach’s music. He has me working ahead and completing my geometry course over the summer. I also have a summer reading list.

The four main musical studies at Idyllwild are classical, jazz, singer/songwriter and composition. There is also dance, visual arts, film, fashion, and theater. The student body is diverse and talented beyond my wildest imagination! I feel fortunate that I got to be a part of this magical world!! And I am so excited to be going back this Fall for my Sophomore year!


Idyllwild was home to 300 students from 30 countries this school year. I am very happy to say that I made some very good friends! My roommate, Howard, was from China. He plays clarinet. I helped him with his English, and he taught me some very choice words in Chinese. My best friends at Idyllwild were Quincy, Alec and Rafael. Quincy and Alec were in my composition class. Quincy is a Jazz Guitar Major, Alec is a Singer/Songwriter Major who plays mandolin, and Rafael is a Jazz Performance Major. Rafael is from Mexico. Quincy is from California. Alec was born in Singapore, and has lived in Japan since he was four years old. Alec will be going to New England Conservatory of Music this Fall. Idyllwild has a strong reputation for placement in conservatories and top universities nationally and internationally.

While our musical and academic studies kept us very busy, we also had great fun. My favorite things to do were improvising with Rafael, writing music with Quincy and Alec, and hanging out with K-Dog (our nickname for Kevin Michael Sullivan). I really enjoyed the Idyllwild Pizza Company and burgers at the Lumber Mill in town. I mostly stayed on campus and practiced during my free time, which I loved.


During my first year at Idyllwild, I have experienced the most incredible musical opportunities! Living and learning in an artistic community has been challenging and inspiring. I have played on student recitals at Idyllwild and in Hemet, CA. I have also gone to many concerts at Idyllwild and in Los Angeles. I have heard awe-inspiring musicians this year, and actually got to work with a few of them. At the end of this newsletter, I prepared a list of the groups/people I have gotten to hear and or work with. I included links so you could read more about them if you are interested.

~Summer Festivals~

I applied to several summer festivals for composition. I was accepted to Curtis, Brevard, and Walden, and on the wait list for Tanglewood. I was also invited to play harpsichord with the Early Music Ensemble at the Philadelphia International Music Festival. Even though I was offered generous scholarships, my family and I decided that our financial priority was getting me back to Idyllwild for my Sophomore year. Therefore, I chose to attend the Dakota Sky International Piano Festival, right here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I just finished the festival, and had a thrilling experience. I got to play for Dr. Humphreys from Eastman School of Music, and Dr. Gregory DeTurck from the University of Pennsylvania. Both clinicians encouraged me to perform the music I played at Dakota Sky, so we decided to have a little recital in on June 27th, at 10:30 am At Schmitt Music in Sioux Falls. I will spend the rest of the summer digesting everything I learned during the school year, practicing, and composing right here at home with my family.
This spring, I made it to the finals round in the BMI Young Composers Competition. That was pretty exciting! And I have applied for a student fellowship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Keep your fingers crossed for me! That fellowship would be an remarkable learning experience and give me further opportunity to work directly with world class professional musicians, learn about their instruments, and how to write for them.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to study composition and piano at Idyllwild International Arts Academy. I have worked very hard to do my very best this year, and feel a real sense of accomplishment. I have high hopes for my future. I am also excited to be returning next year.

I have so many people to thank for this opportunity, and am humbled by your interest in me. Thank you to everyone from my GoFundMe Campaign last summer! I still can’t believe that I heard from people from around the world, who wanted to help me and share kind words of support! I want to thank the people in Madison and other parts of South Dakota who really care about me, and jumped in and supported me! Dr. John Walker from SDSU, my first piano teacher, gave me a strong foundation. I want to thank the Pauli family!!! Josh Pauli stopped and talked to my mom for about five minutes last summer, and the next thing I knew I was actually going to Idyllwild!!! Without the encouragement of Josh and his wife Samantha, I don’t think I would have made it to Idyllwild. Mickie Kreidler and Gary Zay sponsored a recital for me during Winter Break in their home. Donna Fawbush, who is one of the most patient people I know (and sent me lemon drops). Mrs. Freitag and Mrs. Richards, and all my teachers from Madison Middle School.

And last but not least, my family. My Gramma Nana, Lawrie Porter, who drove me a bazillion miles to get to and from Idyllwild. And who also fed me quite well!! Our road trips are some of my favorite memories! My Gramma, Gail Sharp, for sharing her friends at JB’s, card games, and laughter. I couldn’t have done this without my family in Phoenix!

A huge thank you to my dear departed Aunt Jane, who knew I had it in me! And to my Uncle Jed Shilling, for always being willing to help. Kaile Shilling, her husband Vince Beiser, and their two children always had a bed waiting for me if needed! It was so nice to have family in Los Angeles I could count on and adore!

And of course, my family in Madison, SD. Maegan, thank you for telling Mom and Dad that I should go to Idyllwild, and for sacrificing on my behalf! You are an amazing big sister!!! Thanks Dad, for sharing all your theory knowledge, and improvising with me! You helped me so much! And Mom, thanks for being my first teacher, and doing everything you could to get me with the best teachers in South Dakota and now at Idyllwild.

A most sincere thank you to all! You made a huge difference in my life. ~ Benjamin Champion

Sound Cloud link:
YouTube link:

  • Doug Knowlton 
    • $100 
    • 82 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 82 mos
  • John Shilling 
    • $500 
    • 83 mos
  • Bob Ravenscroft 
    • $500 
    • 83 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 83 mos
See all


Benjamin Champion 
Madison, SD
  • #1 fundraising platform

    More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more

  • GoFundMe Guarantee

    In the rare case something isn’t right, we will work with you to determine if misuse occurred. Learn more

  • Expert advice, 24/7

    Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more