Something for Thursday Friday

[Sorry, folks, but I had an unplanned hiatus from blogging, just because it’s hot and unpleasant and I just didn’t feel much like blogging.]

[Oh, and now I’ve edited the post after originally posting it. Sorry.]

I’ve mentioned the music camp I attended as a high school student, and was later employed by as a counselor. There were a number of ensembles for students: a full orchestra, a string orchestra, a small vocal group, a full chorus, two jazz bands, and two concert bands (one for junior high kids and one for high schoolers). Being there for two weeks was always a heady time — you’re away from home without parents, for possibly the first time in your life, and you’re working very hard on music, probably harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. And…well, there are girls there. Yes, I had a few crushes there myself. No, I won’t tell you about them! (Let’s just say that in high school, my skills with the Fairer of the Genders were, shall we say, less than smooth. Luckily, I got to college and perfected my powers of hypnosis, which is how I managed to convince a certain girl there that I wasn’t totally crazy. By the time she figured this out, it was too late! We were already married! HA!)

I had some passing familiarity with music camps from my sister’s experiences with them when she’d been in high school some years before. Her music camps were always in college settings; campers stayed in dorms and performed in auditoriums. My camp, however — called the Bristol Hills Music Camp — was your canonical summer camp, located out in the woods. The land and the buildings were owned by the 4-H people. The camp was located in the hills above Canandaigua Lake, south of Rochester, NY. We lived in cabins, and were cautioned each year to make sure our bags of chips and candy bars and whatnot were secured lest the raccoons get them. The concerts were given in the main lodge, and outside the front door of the main lodge was this view. You know those stereotypical summer camp bonfires where the campers all gather to sing “Kumbaya”? We did that. For real. Sounds cheesy, but when you actually do it, it’s awesome. And each night ended with an hour-long “mixer”, at which there were games, refreshments, and dancing. The big thing there was doing the “Time Warp”, from Rocky Horror. Everybody came sprinting for the dance floor when that came over the speakers.

Another memory? They’d get a couple of local bands once or twice each year to play a full-fledged dance. One band was awful — those guys never came again — but there was another band that played every year, fronted by one of the camp’s actual faculty members and featuring a lead singer who looked like she belonged behind the counter at a truck stop diner. Her voice was lower than mine, but man, that crusty broad rocked. (I know, “crusty broad” isn’t a flattering term, but it’s what she was, and she was totally proud of it.) One year, they brought in a different band to play, and they were actually pretty good — except that on this night, there was a total lunar eclipse that nobody had known was going to happen beforehand. As the moon faded from view, every camper ditched the band inside to watch the moon outside. I always felt a little bit bad for that band — I hope somebody told them what was going on and that the kids weren’t exiting the hall because they sucked. (I was actually the first person to notice the little brown spot on the edge of the moon that heralds the beginning of an eclipse, huzzah!)

Oh, and for some reason, I spent two years at that camp wearing a fedora. I have no idea why. Overalls, no. Fedora? Yup.

But the music? We played some amazing music there. The first time I sat down in my seat for the first concert band rehearsal, I was in something of a state of awe. It was the biggest ensemble I’d ever been part of. I’d never been a part of a group capable of producing that much sound before. It was just amazing. Over two weeks, we’d prepare one fifteen-minute-long program each week, to be performed at the concert at the end of the week. (I think the camp only operates one week now, which is a shame. Those two-week-long camps were extraordinary.) Each week would be under the direction of one of two different conductors; the first tended to gorgeous, Romantic works full of lots of melody, while the second tended to more cerebral — but equally awesome — works. (This second guy would, after a few years, start bringing in his own compositions, which I always enjoyed playing.) Music-making at a summer camp in the woods was just amazing; who else but a bunch of music geeks would, while rehearsing Sousa’s Liberty Bell March, would discover that the steel pillars supporting the ceiling of the Main Lodge produced a perfect B-flat, and thus decide to station a percussion player right by that pole, armed with a mallet?

I wish I could remember every piece we played there, but sadly I can’t. But several have stuck with me, including this set of variations on “Simple Gifts”. Here’s Chorale and Shaker Dance by John Zdechlik.

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