“It feeds the soul”: Interlochen Adult Choir Camp conductor and participant share the joy, camaraderie of singing

Choir conductor Jerry Blackstone and participant Kris Young discuss the joys of singing in community and the unexpected friendships that can form.

Adult Choir Camp 2019 more singing glasses

Conductor Jerry Blackstone, left, and participants in the Adult Choir Camp experiment with singing glasses.

Adult Choir Camp more singing 2019

Adult Choir Camp participants rehearse a piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Jerry Blackstone conducting 2019

Jerry Blackstone conducts a rehearsal at Adult Choir Camp. 

Adult Choir Camp singing 2019

Adult Choir Camp participants rehearse in preparation for their performance. 

A requiem sparks a friendship

Kris Young stood in the wings, getting ready to walk onstage. The year was 2014, and the culminating performance for the Interlochen College of Creative Arts Adult Choir Camp was about to begin. When Young struck up a conversation with the woman who stood across from her, she had no idea that she was about to form a bond that would last over the next eight years and beyond. 

The two swapped some small talk. Then, as Young listened, the woman shared about a personal tragedy she’d endured in the past month. She’d found solace, she said, in the piece the choir would be performing that night. The choir was singing Maurice Durufle’s Requiem, Op. 9, which offers rich, soaring melodies playing on the traditional Latin mass for the dead. 

“She mentioned how meaningful that was,” Young remembers. 

Young offered her new acquaintance a few words of comfort. When the camp drew to a close, it was time to part.

“We sang it and we said goodbye,” says Young. 

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Over email, Young reconnected with her fellow choir member. The two decided to rent a house together for their stay at Adult Choir Camp the next year. The year following, they did the same. 

Eight years have passed since they first met, and the two women have forged a lasting friendship. They correspond and continue to rent a house together every year. 

“We became good friends, but that would have never occurred had it not been for Choir Camp,” says Young. 

People from all walks of life

What is it about the simple act of singing that brings people together? When Young reflects on her time at Adult Choir Camp, a few important aspects of the experience are immediately apparent. 

For one thing, communal singing has the power to transcend differences of any kind. The Adult Choir Camp draws a wide variety of individuals to Interlochen. This year, the choir included 99 singers, the largest group in its history. Some are skilled sight-readers, while others are just getting started. Some have an amateur’s interest in music, while others have been professional musicians for their entire careers and are now enjoying the chance to perform without the pressure. 

Today, right here in this piece, we are starting to sound like a choir. We’re singing as one. We’re breathing as one.

Kris Young, Adult Choir Camp participant

Some have attended Interlochen Arts Camp or Arts Academy; some have not. The camp also draws a diverse mixture of ages. Often, family groups of parents and their adult children will attend together. 

Though a few choir participants are Michigan natives, many come from other states.  

“​​It's people from all walks of life, people that you probably wouldn't meet in any other setting,” says Young.

For her, the highlight of Adult Choir Camp is a moment that usually occurs sometime around Thursday afternoon. That’s when the individual voices finally begin to “click” as a unified ensemble.  

“Before, we sounded like a bunch of sections rehearsing,” says Young. “But today, right here in this piece, we are starting to sound like a choir. We’re singing as one. We’re breathing as one.”

Regardless of skill, region, generation, or occupation, Adult Choir Camp brings everyone together. As voices rise and blend, personal differences matter less and less. 

Time to make memories

Young appreciates the many opportunities for choir participants to make connections with each other. While most of the day is taken up with singing, there is plenty of time for everyone to meet and socialize. 

Mornings and early afternoons are devoted to vocal warm-ups, sectional rehearsals, and full-choir rehearsals. Later in the afternoons, participants can attend optional interest sessions. They might enjoy a talk from a guest speaker, or watch a film together. 

On Thursday night, the group assembles for the ever-popular talent show. According to Young, the acts range from “the sublime to the ridiculous.” Friday night sends everyone to the lakeshore for an evening bonfire. The program culminates with a final public performance on the last day.

The joy of singing 

Grammy Award winner Jerry Blackstone, conductor of the choir, loves watching his singers enjoy their time at Adult Choir Camp. When asked what his favorite part of conducting is, Blackstone answers with a smile. 

“I enjoy their joy. I love to see their faces shine,” he says. 

Why do participants keep coming back year after year?

“I think it feeds their souls,” says Blackstone. “I think they can put the real world at bay and, for the space of five or six days, be immersed with friends and wonderful people in a very beautiful setting.”

Young, who has attended the program for nine years now, can’t help but agree. For her, singing in the choir offers a multitude of joys.  

“The setting there at Interlochen is just so beautiful,” she says. “The exposure to all of the arts, the things that are going on around campus while you're walking around, the energy of the kids, the beauty of nature, the camaraderie of your fellow choir members, and just the amazing talent and expertise of Jerry [Blackstone]—I don't know that you can distill it all down.” 

“There's nothing like it,” she adds, and then echoes Blackstone: “It feeds the soul.”

For more information about Adult Choir Camp, please visit the Choir homepage or contact Gary Gatzke at gary.gatzke@interlochen.org.