Camp Alumna Shares Her Lifelong Connection

Just before the end of my freshman year in high school, my mom suggested I attend Interlochen’s National Music Camp as a summer program. I had just acquired a new violin, an 1888 Giuseppe Sgarbi, which I wanted to play as much as possible. I use the same instrument today, which speaks to my affinity for this fiddle, and it will someday become a scholarship instrument at Interlochen Arts Camp and Academy. 

Although the options of Chautauqua or Meadowmount were proposed by my teacher, Emily Mutter Adams-Austin, a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), I knew intuitively that I was not likely to become a professional musician, probably because practicing six hours a day was not in my DNA. Notwithstanding that my neighbor and concertmaster of the DSO, Mischa Mischacoff, was in residence at Chautauqua and the renowned Ivan Galamian was the violin guru at Meadowmount, I was interested in a much broader music education. Little did I suspect that the subsequent three summers would prove the most formative experience of my life, providing a musical baseline and forever friendships.

The landscape of northern Michigan and the Interlochen campus became my inspiration with its stately pines and the ever-sparkling Lake Wahbekaness (Green Lake). The concerts I played or witnessed at the Interlochen Bowl and Kresge Auditorium under the camp’s motto, “Dedicated to the Promotion of World Friendship Through the Universal Language of the Arts,” still fuel my idealism. I can recall founder Joseph Maddy on the podium of the National High School Orchestra, flourishing his baton and holding aloft a huge portrait of Jean Sibelius to get his young artists psyched for a performance of “Finlandia.”  

The fact that I had the opportunity to perform twenty-four wide-ranging symphonic programs during my three years as an eight-week high school camper was the catalyst that committed me to playing with a community orchestra during my entire adult life, including the Evanston Symphony Orchestra and the Highland Park Strings in Chicago’s northern suburbs.  

One thing was strangely absent from my early musical experiences – chamber music. Would you believe there was no chamber music instruction at Interlochen when I was a high school camper? I learned orchestral and string orchestra repertoire, studied violin privately, took a conducting class and even learned harp basics (my goodness, seven pedals). I learned to sail, swam the lake and went on canoe trips. I met my first love. I indulged in Melody Freezes too often. But I never played a string quartet until my late 20s! 

At the University of Michigan where I majored in history and English, eventually teaching high school, I played constantly even though I was in a liberal arts curriculum. In addition to seven hours of orchestra rehearsals each week, I played in the pit for operas, Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theater. But I never encountered a string quartet! Only after I moved to Chicago as a newlywed from Detroit was I invited by fellow amateurs to play my first Haydn and Mozart quartets. The rest, as they say, is history, or more precisely the story of a journey that is as fulfilling as it is unfulfilled given the infinite breadth of the repertoire.  

Then I heard about the Adult Chamber Music Camp, a week-long program for amateurs of all levels to gain repertoire exposure and receive coaching by outstanding Interlochen faculty and a nationally renowned string quartet-in-residence. For more than 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of being coached and hearing performances by the Cleveland Quartet, Manhattan Quartet, Concord Quartet, Pacifica Quartet and currently, the Enso String Quartet. 

The stimulating week of organized ensembles, pedagogy classes and hours of afternoon and post-concert ad hoc sessions with old and new friends leaves me exhausted and exhilarated, but mostly anticipating the next summer. The unique camaraderie of participants has the added bonus of being able to talk music at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I never imagined that my Interlochen background would translate into an avocation that went far beyond playing violin. Although I eventually established my own public relations firm, I cultivated this amazing sideline of teaching adult music appreciation classes and seminars, presenting preconcert lectures and speaking on a potpourri of musical topics at a variety of venues. 

With general focus on “The Art of Listening,” I currently serve on the faculty of the Newberry Library and the Music Institute of Chicago, offering eight-week seminars on Chicago Symphony, Ravinia Festival and Grant Park Music Festival programs. But it should come as no surprise that my greatest enthusiasm is reserved for teaching “Introduction to Chamber Music” with audience development as my mission. 

Now each summer, as I pull up to main gate, I can't wait to begin a week of jump-off-the-world and total immersion. I register quickly, unpack and walk through the campus reveling in the trial-and-error sounds emanating from dorm basements and the stone practice cabins, still intact from 1928. I get all warm and fuzzy when I see staff in the same corduroy knickers I wore as a camper – the great equalizer for scholarship students who were indistinguishable from those paying full tuition. The Interlochen connection for me is a continuous thread that has nurtured my being for a lifetime.