From the Stage to the Classroom

It certainly is no secret that Interlochen Center for the Arts recruits some amazing talent. Interlochen houses, cares for and educates some of the most inspiring and talented youth in the world, so it should come as no surprise that the Camp and Academy also host many outstanding teachers.

Crescendo sat down with two perfect examples of this fact, from the singer-songwriter program. Both of these teachers have left their mark here at Interlochen, of that there is no doubt. But they’ve also made quite an impression in their own right.

Erin Zindle is a newly-minted mother and lead singer of the touring troupe The Ragbirds and Seth Bernard is one half of the duo Seth and Daisy May. Erin is known for her ethereal presence, her enchanting voice, her talent on the accordion and violin and her impressive songwriting skills. Seth is much-loved for his songwriting as well, in addition to his masterful guitar skills.

These two musicians embody the dreams of many singer-songwriter students and have been eager to share their hard-earned knowledge of that life and the skills that go with it. It all began with Dick Siegel, who launched the singer-songwriter program at Camp just a few years ago. 

Three years ago I received a phone call from Dick Siegel inviting me to join him in teaching a songwriting class at Interlochen,” says Erin. “It was the first year of the program and as we talked about the class I grew really excited about the idea of spending two weeks discussing the art of songcraft and listening to singer-songwriters as their songs are being born. I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

My friend Dick Siegel invited me to join the summer faculty and I was able to make it work with my touring schedule,” echoed Seth. “Dick is a dear friend and a musical hero of mine and Interlochen is one of the most enriching, inspiring and truly magical places on the planet for me, and it happens to be close to home, too, so it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to take.”

Once Siegel had convinced his friends to join him, the journey truly began in earnest.

The first time that I saw the students perform their songs for each other was almost magical,” says Erin. “Songwriting is such a vulnerable thing to do and to share your song with others can be terrifying, but it can also be cathartic. There was just so much mutual respect and deep listening, so many inspiring songs and encouraging words shared between these students. It made me realize that I have as much to learn from them as they have to learn from me.”

I had such a wonderful time working with these kids,” Seth continued. “There were numerous teaching experiences that stood out, from the one-on-one sessions to the group workshops. My four groups of eight each co-wrote a song together in class and they had to navigate the terrain of true collaboration with me as their guide. The songs they wrote were all very unique and nuanced and it was very rewarding to see each of these bright young songwriters share the very personal experience of songwriting with one another and be surprised and delighted with the results of the process when shared.”

What keeps successful touring artists coming back to Interlochen as teachers? 

There are many things about Interlochen that I love,” says Erin. “But the most enjoyable part about teaching there is the quality of the students themselves. They are so talented and  just wonderful to work with. I have seen some amazing songs come out of this program, and have seen the students' skills and confidence grow exponentially in such a short time because the environment is so conducive to growth.”

“Why come back?,” muses Seth. “There's being back in touch with all of the nostalgia and mythology surrounding my time as a student at Interlochen Arts Academy (98-99, post grad), and my many visits as a child and young adult. Being able to honor my mentors by mentoring these bright, talented young people is very meaningful and enjoyable as well, as is being creatively inspired in new ways by my colleagues and the campers. Interlochen itself is this big, active, vital manifestation of the tremendous enrichment that the arts provide to all of us. My experience of being alive is deeper, more enjoyable and more connected to others through the arts, I know this, and I feel this all day every day at Interlochen. It's a wonderful and honorable thing to be a part of.”