From the Archives with Byron Hanson: June 2014

Crescendo issue: June 2014

DIVERSITY: The International Presence at Interlochen Since 1928

The “Universal Language of the Arts” phrase painted on the Kresge wall and World Youth Symphony Orchestra are terms we’ve tossed around for a long time now, but neither the Camp in 1948 (the year Kresge Assembly Hall was dedicated) nor the first “World Youth Symphony Orchestra” twenty summers later were particularly international. True, our first composition teacher was born in England, and the Australian pianist Percy Grainger introduced campers to Asian and early European music during his five visits here (1930-1944) but the first “International” camper we can find is a 1934 college student from Winnipeg, followed by a handful of Canadians over the next decade. The first South American was a pianist from Columbia in 1944.

After the war ended, things moved a little faster and, by 1947, we had seen eight Canadians plus campers from England, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama. The next five summers brought students from China, Israel, Pakistan, and Norway, but, in 1953, we had no international students at all. A few Canadians on staff and a counselor from Cuba were about as exotic a crew as we could muster.  

The Kresge Foundation donated a guest lodge in 1954 to produce funds for international campers, but the net income from scholarship lodges never amounted to more than a fraction of a single scholarship and could not alone account for the surge of international campers just over the horizon. While the Canadian delegation grew by leaps and bounds, reaching an amazing peak of 120 in 1959, the numbers from other nations were still very modest indeed. The summer of 1966 closed with the meeting of the International Society for Music Education and, while we welcomed more than 400 delegates to their first meeting in the Western Hemisphere, the camper population included only 18 Canadians, 6 from Germany, and 1 or 2 campers from each of 18 other countries, including our first campers from Ethiopia and South Africa. The next 20 summers saw steady growth and, despite the absence of the University Division, the international component reached 160 from 30 countries joining the 1100 from the United States.

From 2 Canadian students in its first year (1962-63), the international number at Interlochen Arts Academy reached nearly 7%  of the total by 1988, and since 2006 it has been just over 100 students, or about 20% of the total student population. Save for the opening comment about Messrs, Skeat and Grainger, this article has dealt with only the student population, so in closing, it seems fitting to consider Benjamin Yu who was born in China, joined our faculty when nearly 70 years of age, and deeply influenced the lives of us all for years.