Every camper, ranging from the creative writing major whose craft it is to distil experience into words, to the excited instrumentalist regaling their parents with an entire summer’s worth of stories on the car ride home, all try to universalize our Interlochen moments.
There are clichés which are rooted in truths. The mosquitoes are terrible. The practice huts are primitive at best. We simultaneously love and hate the uniform. The mornings are shockingly cold and the nights are hot and humid. Sand and dust find their way into every crack and crevice of your possessions (especially when you live in a cabin). And who can forget all those camp meals in the cafeteria.
Yet, in spite of its rustic edges, Interlochen shines bright in our collective consciousness. There are tranquil mornings that contrast the excitement of world-class concerts. People who begin as complete strangers become life-long friends in a matter of weeks. Interlochen is an unforgettable blend of work, play, and most distinctly, a sense of wonder that lingers throughout your year leaving you questioning if it really happened or not.
This summer I had the privilege of serving as the Interlochen Cello Institute’s assistant working with twenty-three high school students and four faculty members: Crispin Campbell of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Dr. John Marshall of East Washington University of Spokane, Astrid Schween, the newly appointed cellist of the Julliard String Quartet, and special guest John Sharp, Principal Cellist of the Chicago Symphony.
I felt like a camper in the sense that my experience was so real that it was almost surreal. It is not every day that one plays Purple Haze with the principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony or that you sit at the helm of a twenty-six piece cello ensemble conducting your arrangement. This is all part of that Interlochen magic. These things only happen at Interlochen. But the highlight for me was to watch and learn from the instructors that impacted my adolescent years. Crispin taught me for almost 6 years through my middle school and high school years and introduced me to John and Astrid in the summer of 2007. John gave me some free lessons and let me play in the large cello ensemble. And Astrid and I reconnected in the summer of 2013 at St. Olaf’s Cello: An American Experience. Operating day-to-day with the faculty seemed less like work and more like hanging out with cello these mentors.
The institute’s students were total troopers. Morning technique class always started the day while masterclasses, orchestra repertoire, bow class, and cello ensemble filled the rest of our time. An enormous amount of information was thrown at these cellists and they took it all in and came back every day looking for more. It is incredible to see how quickly they absorbed the information though the most impressive quality of the group was their great attitudes.
In the flurry of events that transpired, I spent a good amount of time reflecting on my own development. How far have I come since I was their age? Perhaps the impetus behind this was also seeing the teacher who taught me through elementary school, Jean Coonrod. I made a point of asking both her and Crispin during that week, “why on earth did you ever keep me as your student?” I wasn’t patient. I didn’t listen. I didn’t really practice for more than an hour every day until my senior year of high school. In effect, I wasn’t a what you would call a star student.
From what they told me I came to the following conclusion: I have never been and I never will be “the best” but my strength is that I always improve. Progress, not perfection, is the same quality I look for in all of my students. The ability to move your butt from Point A to Point B is perhaps the single greatest tool both in musical development and personal development. And no place on earth showed this to me more than Interlochen. It tested my potential and pushed me beyond those limits. The level of artistry, the closeness of community, and yes, all of the rugged-outdoorsy aspects, makes you aspire to the kind of “sky’s the limit” attitude that is the life-force of all creative artists.
So, what was your favorite Intelochen memory that inspired you? And if you didn’t get to go to Interlochen specifically, what was your favorite music camp experience?