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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 4

CAMMAC : Fifty Years and Counting

by Wah Keung Chan / December 6, 2003

Version française...

All art enriches life," said 80-year old Madeleine Little, co-founder of CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians / Musiciens amateurs canadiens). "And people have always had the fundamental need to make music." A little over fifty years ago, while watching a four-hour snowstorm in a northern retreat on a day between Christmas and New Year's, Madeleine Little, husband George, brother-in-law Carl and his wife Frances hatched the idea of creating a place for people to make music in a relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere. Using the principle that playing music in groups creates a bond between people that transcends age, language and cultural differences, the four finalized the idea of CAMMAC on the train ride back to Montreal.

With a growing membership of over 2000 members--30% of whom live outside Canada--and with its capital campaign well underway, the organization is poised to bring its vision to music lovers for another year.

In its first summer in 1953, CAMMAC served twenty-six people for two weeks of music making (choral singing, solfège, theory, and French and English classes) at Otter Lake in Huberdeau, Quebec. "We had no money and convinced the hotel there to give special prices at the end of August," said Little. "We borrowed $200 to print brochures and mailed them to people we thought would be interested. Attendance doubled the next year and kept doubling every year. We then increased the activities to include chamber music, orchestra and folk dancing over a three- to four-week period. A lot of volunteers helped and the organization was supported with gifts and interest-free loans. Now 1000 people come for the weekly programs over two months every summer.

"From the start, we believed that the camp should be bilingual, and that being an amateur musician does not mean you are inferior; the word amateur comes from 'amore' which means 'love.' Maureen Forrester and Louis Quilico gave one of their first recitals there."

The driving force of CAMMAC can be traced to the musical heritage of brothers George and Carl Little. "From early childhood days, music played an important role in the life of our family," wrote Carl Little in the CAMMAC magazine. "A small den housed our modest upright piano which was seldom silent during early morning and late afternoon hours. Life without music would have seemed strangely empty." George and Madeleine have also successfully passed on their passion for music to their three daughters, two of whom are professional musicians (Margaret, cellist and viola da gamba player, and a founder of Les Voix humaines, and Elizabeth, CAMMAC's current artistic director, a professor of music at CÉGEP Lionel-Groux). "We always believed that the secret to a good life is to work at what you love," said Madeleine.

"CAMMAC is family fare. There are activities for adults, adolescents and children. Now it's not uncommon that there are four generations at the same time; children come back with their children." It's also not unheard of for romances to come out of CAMMAC: it is there that Margaret Little met husband Réjean Poirier, Dean of the Faculty of Music at University of Montreal; and Isolde Lagacé, Director of the Montreal Music Conservatory, met husband Douglas MacNabney, Artistic Director of Domaine Forget.

There is something exhilarating about spending a week in the summer making music with passionate musicians of all ages in the woods-and-lake side setting. But CAMMAC's regional branches provide opportunities beyond the summer months. The Montreal branch, for instance, organizes six sight readings a year, most recently the Bach Christmas Oratorio with Christopher Jackson, a fifty-member orchestra that meets weekly, and an adolescent choir. Run by volunteers with a limited budget, these activities are not well publicized.

Help may come in the wake of the organization's Special Project to rebuild its facilities. When the organization moved to its present location at Lake MacDonald, one hour's drive from Montreal, the White Forest lodge was not winterized. After forty-three years of use, the ninety-three-year old main Lodge needed to be upgraded. Rather than renovating, the organization has opted to rebuild a modern facility that will be accessible year-round. "George's vision was to have a centre for all the arts, and we are now having sketching and dance," said Madeleine. "Now with the reconstruction project, it will be closer to a reality."

The project recently got a shot in the arm in September 2003 when Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced a $250,000-grant toward the building of a 240-seat concert hall at Lake MacDonald on the site where concerts currently take place. The facility's other features will include sixty bedrooms, a recording studio, two studios (one large and one medium), two small practice rooms and a cushioned floor for dance. The organization's campaign is now in the final stretch: $2.7 million of the $4.1 million budget has been secured from government, with the remaining to be raised from private sources. If all goes well, ground breaking is scheduled for September 2004. According to CAMMAC's executive director Raymond Sealy, "Currently, many groups (youth orchestras, community choirs and specialized workshops) use the facilities in the fall and spring for weekend resorts and workshops. There has been a lot of demand for an arts centre that operates year round. We are open to many different possibilities." With the new green building set to open in June 2005, CAMMAC's next fifty years of motivating music making looks bright.

Version française...

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