This post was written by Chorale staff member and 30 year Concert Choir Camp veteran Anne Quaintance Stylianou. Read her take on all things Concert Choir Camp!
Concert Choir Camp 2011 is in the books, so to speak, after a wonderful three days in beautiful Deer Creek with 95 young singers, 17 high-school aged graduate assistants, and 10 staff members. Camp is always one of my favorite events of the year, from the morning the excited and nervous campers are dropped off to the final demonstration performance that astonishes parents and staff alike, and always brings tears to my eyes. Actually, my tears usually start during the morning run-through of the show because, despite many, many (many!) years of camp, I am always so, so proud of these amazing young performers and everything they have learned in such a short time. Camp is also special to me because I love watching and working alongside our graduate assistants. Many of these “grads” graduated from the Chorale as 8th graders only a few months ago, while some of our grads are veterans whose leadership is a crucial element to a successful camp. We have known these young adults since they were quite young, and love watching them mature and thrive right before our eyes. We also know how very hard they work, how much they enrich the experience of Concert Choir members, and how camp could simply not function without them! Most of all, it is a tremendous privilege to be a member of such an outstanding staff. I continue to learn so much from Mary Louise Burke, Debbie DeSantis, Emily Crile, Travis Branam, Stacey Smith, Michele Ienna, Mark Hardcastle, Tad Koriath, and Janet Wright. This team has been working together for years, and I am so proud to be a part of it. We all have several years of Concert Choir camps under our belts, but as I was packing last week, I realized that this year marks 30 years for me, as I first went — to this same camp — when I was in Concert Choir in 1981.
Much of the camp experience is exactly the same as it was 30 years ago. The kids are dropped off at our rehearsal site in the morning, with lots of hugs and usually a few tears; often this is the first time these young singers have been away from home. We check for bandanas, gratefully accept snack donations, line up suitcases and sleeping bags, and then head inside for a short rehearsal. As the kids check in, they are given note cards which contain information on the various groups they’ll be in throughout the weekend. Concert Choir Rookies are usually bewildered by a card that may read, “B2 Green, Snitsquat, Knees, Double File, Thunderbird,” but Vets help explain what it all means (choir section, nonsense group, posture group, rules group, cabin). Among the many items I kept from my own Chorale days is my camp card. I was an A2 Yellow, a Shazbot, and in Mistletoe (a cabin that has since been renamed Moose), but our groups and their functions have changed somewhat in 30 years, and I no longer remember the purpose of the other groups (composer group : Pergolesi; half-composer group: Pergie; critter group: Fly; Jabberwocky group: Slithy Tove). The excitement builds as we board the bus, and reaches a crescendo when we finally arrive at camp, welcomed by grads and staff lining the drive, bandanas vigorously waving.
Time-honored camp traditions still remain, with the daily schedule looking very much as it did in 1981. A Concert Choir Camp day still begins with Torture, followed by rehearsals, rotations of classes, Dummm Stuff (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), Quiet Time, and of course, campfire. We still enter the dining hall silently (though perhaps not always on the first try), sing together before starting a meal, and try to learn as many names as possible through silly name games and other fun getting-to-know-you activities. “Getting to Know You,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic from The King and I, is one of our standards, as is the special “Getting to Know You” handshake. I don’t believe we were singing this in 1981, but it’s definitely a tradition now, and a part of every camp since before I joined the staff in 1994. Grads still marshal nearly 100 campers through showers with the precision and timing of military drill instructors, and all campers anxiously await the daily verdict of the Cabin Inspector. Those of you from my era may remember the agony and the glory of cabin inspection reports, where the best decorative efforts of a cabin could be undone by a towel hanging just a teeny bit lower than all the others. A more recent development in cabin inspection is the disappearance of monkeys brought by campers, who later turn up in the employ of the Cabin Inspector. Apparently, “Monkeys in the House” make a terrible mess, but Monkeys in Cabins like things nice and neat. We do stay in the same little A-frame cabins spread throughout the beautiful Deer Creek woods, and use the same lodge, dining hall, and gymnasium. And of course, no camp is complete without the annual Bandana Fashion Show and Cabin Operettas.
Many alumni ask me if we still have Torture at camp, and I am happy to report that we do. Torture is actually stretching exercises and a physical/vocal warm-up that allows us to start our day with focused attention to the physical demands and expectations of being a singer. It is also a chance to target and perfect specific dance steps. I do find, however, that Torture is less torturous than it was in my day, as we did it before breakfast, and I can tell you that walking past the incredible smells of freshly baked bread or cinnamon rolls wafting from the dining hall was torture indeed. Nowadays we breakfast first and then torture the children. (It seems to me that we also had to walk uphill both ways to Torture. Does anyone else remember this?) It is during Torture that we use our nonsense groups. Kids are grouped by height, and groups have specific lines where they stand so that staff can move easily though them checking posture or dance steps. In addition to the aforementioned Snitsquats and Shazbots, there are Flügelsnorks, Screebobs, Boolinks, and Filigreeps.
We spend much of our day in at least two rotations of classes, including sectionals, voice classes, score-reading classes, dance classes, stage movement classes, and games. The posture groups come in handy for voice classes, and are a good way to remind the singers how hold their head, position their tongue, bend their knees, etc. Rules groups are used during Dummm Stuff, a playful period before lunch in which we discuss our various Chorale rules — including being on time, clean uniforms for performances, not chewing gum, and being respectful guests in every facility we use. Groups have a very short time to create two tableaux — one demonstrating the rule being broken, and the other showing the rule being followed correctly. Dummm Stuff is also time for the long-standing and very popular tradition of rules skits performed by grads.
The Bandana Fashion Show, I believe, has been a feature of Concert Choir Camp from the very beginning. This decades-long tradition gives each child a moment to shine and show off his or her creativity with a unique look or character created entirely with bandanas. Kids walk down the runway and wow us with their fashions on stage in the glow of footlights and spotlights. They sign up individually or with a buddy by writing a description of their fashion and any special requests for music on a card. The kids are truly in the spotlight on this night, but after so many years experiencing the event, I also love the fashion show because it is an excellent example of the wonderful collaboration and talents of the staff. This year Mary Louise Burke compiled the cards and arranged the show order, striving to achieve a balanced mix of Rookies and Vets, and boys and girls, and to spread out the many ninjas (2011 was a big, BIG year for ninjas). The grads help kids think through their fashions, operate the spotlight, and “sponsor” the program with clever commercials. Mark Hardcastle managed the on-deck/backstage area, and it is no easy feat to maintain order among the excited young ninjas, hula girls, policemen, bandits, Miss Americas, etc., while also keeping track of the show order and helping them with their extra bandanas. Travis Branam emceed the show, providing a running commentary of all fashions with verve, humor, style, and an incredible knack for describing ninjas in at least 20 different ways. Travis’s quick wits were matched by those of Michele Ienna and Janet Wright, who teamed up at the piano to orchestrate the show, and interpreted the kids’ musical requests with amazing versatility and skill. The musical requests are sometimes specific and straightforward (Star Wars music, Pink Panther music), but are more often ideas, rather than specific tunes (“dog-walking music”, “ninja picnic music,” “old lady music,” “hospital beeping noise,” and “mystical with a funny ending” were some of the actual requests made this year).
While the staff joins forces to produce the Bandana Fashion Show, the Operettas, also a Concert Choir Camp staple, are entirely created and produced by the kids and their grads. When I was in Concert Choir, these were melodramas; later they were operas, with every line sung. No matter what the format, this is a fun performing opportunity for the kids, and an exercise in collaboration and teamwork. Operettas are written, directed, cast, and performed by the individual cabins. Usually they are centered around a theme or an object that must be incorporated into the plot. Every person must have at least one line, every operetta must have at least one song, and all must take a bow at the end. It is our opportunity to sit back and watch the hilarity and magic. Every child in Concert Choir loves to perform, and it is so fun for the staff to watch all of their individual personalities and burgeoning skills onstage.
Another beloved tradition is our campfire, where we end each camp day gathered around the fire and doing what we all love best: singing together. Some songs have changed over the years, and some new songs have been added to the tradition, but three songs have echoed around every campfire I remember: the medieval canon “White Sands and Gray Sands,” “America the Beautiful,” and of course, the lovely “Goodnight Canon.” Each new year when we sing these same songs I can almost see the unbroken thread that connects generations of the Chorale family through 30 plus years of camp. This thread of song weaves each new group of Concert Choir singers into my own story, and that of every other camper and staff member. After 30 years, I cannot imagine September without camp, and I’ll be there again in 2012, adding my voice at campfire.