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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 5

Postcards from Music Camp

by Shira Gilbert / February 1, 2014

Flash version here.

I had the good fortune to spend several blissful summers at Interlochen, a summer arts camp in Northern Michigan. I still remember those summers as some of the happiest times of my life – 8 weeks away from home filled with music, inspiring teachers, intense friendships, and blue corduroy knickers (ask anyone who’s been there!). It was an opportunity to learn and practice what we loved while surrounded by like-minded, and like-gifted, peers — some of whom would become life-long friends. And, while I was mostly occupied with activities like rehearsing a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta or learning choreography for South Pacific, I always remember the evocative sound one would hear while walking past the practice cabins at the edge of the woods – a violin playing scales, or a clarinet practicing orchestral excerpts, peacefully wafting upon the summer breeze. While it’s unusual these days for a parent to send off their offspring for two months at a time – even Interlochen’s longest session is now just 6 weeks – there are a myriad of opportunities close to home to nurture your child’s interest in music, often with a healthy dose of more traditional camp activities.

Now all grown up with two camp-aged kids of my own, I was thrilled to hear from Matthias Maute that those music camp halcyon days need not be over. Maute, an award-wining conductor, recorder and flute player, reserves two weeks each summer to teach at CAMMAC, a summer camp for amateur musicians based at Lake MacDonald in the Laurentians. Along with his wife Sophie Larivičre, also his artistic co-director of Ensemble Caprice, Maute has been teaching at CAMMAC for over 15 years. “Those two weeks are very important in my year as a musician, and as a musical family,” says Maute, whose children, now 6 and 8, play violin and cello. Integral to the music making are the personal relationships that develop over the course of the week, accelerated by living, eating and playing together in a setting far from the distractions of regular life. “There is a cross connection through different generations,” says Maute, from babies to the elderly, who are “fused together by music.”

Starting from age four, children can take part in music lessons, spending their mornings singing in choir and taking classes in Orff, dance and world percussion. The kids’ concert is a highlight of the week.

Despite the amateur status of the participants, Maute says that the actual musical result is very high, noting the previous year’s memorable Mozart Requiem with full choir and orchestra. This summer, Maute will direct the Bach Mass in B minor. There are also nightly concerts led by the professionals brought in to teach. For Maute, these concerts – often featuring new collaborations – have a significant impact felt for the rest of the year, influencing the chemistry among musician colleagues back home in Montreal.

“Meet Lifelong Friends” urges the home page of the website for the National Music Camp, based at Camp Wahanowin, 90 minutes north of Toronto. For almost 50 years, NMC has offered a packed one-week session for young musicians of all levels from ages 9 to 18. When participants aren’t at band practice, orchestra rehearsal, or working on a Broadway musical, they might be found waterskiing, doing arts & crafts, or trying out what the camp calls “Canada’s only permanent trapeze.”

For Alexandra Lavkulik, a 20 year-old McGill education student, who also happens to teach my daughter piano and who attended NMC for 5 summers, the camp was an opportunity to meet different types of people and to be inspired by her gifted peers. While the camp is only one week per year, the connections made are lasting, with camp friends often reappearing online, at university, and on the horseback-riding circuit. “It was always something special to look forward to at the end of the summer,” says Lavkulik.

Of course, there are also many summer options for the serious young music student – from the National Arts Centre’s Summer Music Institute to Quebec’s Domaine Forget festival – who doesn’t want to be distracted by lanyards or canoeing. My friend Lisa Barg, an assistant professor at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, has accompanied her two children to the Suzuki Summer Institute for a week for the past three summers. This intense week of musical immersion takes place on the Concordia campus. What continues to floor me about the Suzuki method – and Suzuki parents – is the requirement that a parent attend the summer course full time along with his or her child. Barg concedes that it is “a lot of work to give up a whole week” to attend lessons, masterclasses, chamber music and orchestra rehearsals, not to mention “electives” like fiddling and Dalcroze (a method of learning music through rhythmic movement). There is also practice time required each evening at home. However, Barg was convinced that this way of learning was right for her children, noting that a close community forms amongst the parents. For her 12 year-old daughter, a gifted violinist and self-described “classical music geek”, the Institute was a “real eye opener,” says Barg, “ it was really fun for her to be with kids her own age who loved playing as much as she did.”

Meanwhile, if your daughter leans closer to Lady Gaga than Hilary Hahn, you will want to check out Montreal’s Rock Camp for Girls, which counts several cool moms I know among its passionate fans. This week-long day camp for girls ages 10-17, based in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, hawks leadership and self-esteem alongside music instruction and coaching on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals. Affiliated with similar “rock camps” based in Portland, Oregon and New York City, the week culminates in an exuberant showcase concert.

Talking about music camp has been a welcome reminder that these frigid temperatures won’t last forever. And Matthias Maute has me primed to sign up the family for CAMMAC this summer. His overall assessment matches perfectly with my own memories of Interlochen from so many years past:  “It is more than camp. It is paradise.”

(c) La Scena Musicale