Camp Alumna Remembers How Interlochen Changed Her Life

Linda VanSickle Smith’s (IAC 57-60) life was changed by a kiss at Interlochen in 1959. But this kiss wasn’t at date gate or during a co-rec: it was on the stage of the Bowl, delivered by composer Howard Hanson, after he conducted the National High School Symphony Orchestra in his Symphony No. 2, op. 30, “Romantic.” Linda was playing the challenging first horn part. “When the performance was over,” she remembers, “Dr. Hanson gave me a bow, walked up the risers of the stage to my chair, gave me a kiss on the cheek—to my delight and embarrassment—and then offered me a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music.” 

It was Linda’s fourth summer at the National Music Camp. “It was just heaven on earth to me,” Linda says. “I didn’t always fit in at my high school, but at Interlochen I found friends and teachers who shared my interests and values and who supported me in the things I cared about.” A horn player from Cleveland, she was able to attend Interlochen because of the scholarship money offered to her each summer.

Interlochen opened the door to Eastman. Then, during her last year at Eastman, Dallas Symphony Orchestra conductor Donald Johanes heard her senior recital and offered her the fourth horn job in Dallas. She eventually moved up to the associate principal position in Dallas and then joined the Fort Worth Symphony when her first child was born. “None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for Interlochen,” Linda says of the many opportunities that enhanced her career as a professional musician.

Linda recently established the Linda VanSickle Annual Camp Scholarship to help high school horn players attend Interlochen Arts Camp. A consistent donor for many years, her focus on giving back came into sharper focus after her retirement from her second career as a clinical social worker. “While I was earning a living, I was maxed out. But since retiring, I’ve had a chance to think about other things,” she says. As she reflected on her own Interlochen experience and heard from others who attributed their success in the music world to Interlochen—and the scholarships that made it possible—she realized that she wanted to do more.

Linda lives in Dallas with her husband, Tom, and serves on the boards of the Dallas Symphony Association and the Dallas Opera. Her commitment to Interlochen and to the arts in general transcends her personal experience: it’s rooted in her belief that creativity is one of the things that differentiates humans as creatures of higher intelligence. “There’s a spirituality to it. The joy that springs out of artistic expression is very meaningful,” she says. Recalling a recent performance of Carmina Burana by the Dallas Symphony as an example, she adds, “You’re a different person after you’ve participated in that.”

Linda hopes other alumni will join her in giving back. “Somebody had a lot of faith in us and believed that we would benefit from what Interlochen had to offer,” she reminds fellow alumni. “We had our turn. Now it’s our turn to put our faith in Interlochen and help others benefit from all that Interlochen offers today.”