From the Archives with Byron Hanson: February 2014

Crescendo issue: February 2014

FEBRUARY 18th, 1869: The birthday of Thaddeus Philander Woodbury Giddings ... or was it 1868?

With the passing of each year it becomes ever more difficult to sort out truth from the cloudy myths that surround the creation of what we call Interlochen, but it’s certainly fun to do and worth the effort. Even the year of TPG’s birth is uncertain: it appears both ways in various sources. Many of us know that Joe Maddy, himself a high school dropout, teamed up with a peculiar fellow from Minnesota and produced the “Universal Teacher," a method for teaching all string instruments in a single class and all the winds likewise. Less than four years later, these two men managed to organize hundreds of kids into a series of National High School Orchestras, prompt the development of national solo and ensemble contests, and start a summer camp here in northern Michigan. Giddings, then superintendent of music in the Minneapolis Public Schools, is often credited with being the validator for these events: the man with an impressive track record whose participation would denote credibility and reassure the skeptics that Maddy, the enthusiastic “pied piper,” might actually have some good ideas to share with the world.

So, it surprised me greatly not long ago to learn that although Giddings had gained a strong position in the fast-growing field of music education, he didn’t have a college diploma either! Yes, he spent a few terms at the University of Minnesota and three different summers earning certification from the American Normal Institute of Music, but his rapid rise to a position of authority seems to have been fueled largely through an imposing degree of self-confidence combined with the knack of autocratic organization. While his ability to transform chaos into order with those gargantuan orchestras of teenagers in the 1920s goes without question, when named “Director of Instruction” he constantly ruffled the feathers of artist teachers by openly criticising their methods with the presumption that his way was better.

Putting it all together, it boggles the mind to realize that the institution which has profoundly influenced the lives of thousands was built on a foundation no building inspector would ever have approved and in an unpromising geographical location, by two men and their disciples whose faith in the possibilities was a magnet that drew the financiers, teachers and students together to make it all happen. Information about T. P. Giddings was elusive even at his death in 1954, and I am greatly indebted to Dr. Charles Maynard McDermid for his 1967 doctoral thesis which provided substantial background on Mr. Giddings.



Considering that our alma mater was incorporated as “National High School Orchestra Camp” and that the very first concert program added “and band,” it has puzzled generations of alumni that it took so long for us to “get it right” in finding a name that describes all that we are. By 1932, allowing that there were choirs, pianists, and college-level music classes thriving, we thought “National Music Camp” would cover it, but even then there had been at least some music theatre, journalism and visual arts activity, if not structured “majors” in those areas. By the end of the 1930s we had formal programs in radio drama, theatre, visual art and dance but we were still only “the music camp," officially. Even then, the mere mention of the word “Interlochen” served pretty well to identify “that place up in northern Michigan,” yet when talk of year-round programming surfaced in the 1940s, we stumbled for a while with cumbersome names like “Interlochen School of the Arts,” “National Arts Academy at Interlochen,” “The Interlochen Academy of Fine Arts” before finally settling on Interlochen Arts Academy only a short time before it actually opened. Our second president, Karl Haas, doesn’t often get much credit, but his vision was clearly on mark when he proposed what he termed the “umbrella“ idea of “Interlochen Center for the Arts," but even then the “National” aspect had become so endearing that 20 more years would pass before the Interlochen Arts Camp’s name would finally state what it does.

Now, the prologue - or perhaps we should say “prequel” with a nod and a smile to our filmmakers -  is over and I’ll confess that this ramble all started with a notion to have a look at the record of Shakespeare performances that started in 1947. Dealing with the style of language and with words that are unfamiliar today and/or that bore different meanings 400 years ago is only one challenge of playing these works in the timeframe of summer camp. Yet, the college actors and later those in the high school divisions appreciated the opportunity to present these masterworks with the same fervor that the music ensembles felt in facing the symphonies of Brahms, the Verdi and Berlioz Requiems and the ballets of Copland and Stravinsky.

Between 1947 and 1982, only 9 years passed without a Shakespeare production and six plays served for all 28 productions in those years: The University division presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night; the high school program offered these also, plus The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. The 1980s introduced A Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labours Lost, and The Tempest, plus Julius Caesar in 1998. 

In the meantime the Academy had joined the Interlochen family and among a wide range of plays produced in its first 25 years, the Shakespeare offerings jockeyed back and forth through the same plays the Camp had presented through 1982.  

In more recent times the newcomers in both summer and winter have ranged from some familiar Shakespeare to the more obscure: We’ve been treated to Othello, Two Gentlemen of Verona, All’s Well that Ends Well,  Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen, Measure for Measure, A Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, Cymbaline, and even Two Noble Kinsmen, written in collaboration with John Fletcher. The seventh season of fully professional productions in the Interlochen Arts Festival will present The Tempest, and the legacy of Shakespeare at Interlochen marches ever onward.