A couple of weeks before Summer Sonatina, an international camp for pianists between the ages of 7 and 16, was to begin, I took a look at the enrollment flow chart for the weeks that we were hosting our summer season. Camp was scheduled to run 5 weeks this past year (an upsurge of a week after reducing in 2009 to match the economic downturn) and I noticed that week 3 was looking a little thin in regard to those who were committed to attending. I wondered as Director and Owner of the camp as to what we should do.
Our student body count was down 30% for week 3 and yet weeks 1 and 2 were completely booked and weeks 4 and 5 were nearing 95% at this time in late May. Having the third week have such a considerable dip makes the contracting for faculty and staff very difficult. I had faculty I really wanted to hire but I couldn’t afford to hire them without the numbers being a little higher. Yet, if I didn’t grab them for the time that they were available, I’d be without some stellar teachers as they’d most likely find work elsewhere.
I didn’t sleep that night.
But, come morning, I came up with a plan. A little history needs to be inserted here. Back in August of 2011, Vermont was reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. I felt paralyzed by the enormity of the destruction and I didn’t know how to help. Some of my friends were shoveling sand and mud while others were moving drenched furniture. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to do either of these things but I had a concert coming up and had some concern about my hands and arms doing heavy duty manual labor.
So I put out a call. A little one, at first. I went to computer and wrote my piano friends who attend the Sonata Piano Camps. They had all seen pictures of Vermont struggling from the raging waters. I told them about my town and the problems that we were having. True, other towns were hurting even more than Bennington, but, every person who has ever attended Sonata Piano Camp considers the town of Bennington their second home. I asked them to donate to the Town of Bennington, towards the water pipe project that had been severely damaged in the storm.
Within seconds, my friends started making pledges. In just 10 hours, over $10,000 was raised. I offered updates minute by minute on FaceBook and on our yahoogroups forum. I couldn’t contain the sheer exhilaration I felt from observing the outpouring of help and support to our town. It kept me at the computer for hours. By the end of the week, $22,800 was raised and sent directly to the town offices. One Sonata member learned of the Pianists Pledge just before he was going to embark on a trip overseas. At that time, I didn’t know what organization we were going to support so he mailed me a signed blank check of $500, trusting me to fill in the dotted lines and promptly jumped onto his plane.
A few months later, the Town of Bennington honored me, together with the co-owner of the Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery who had set up food banks and a clothing drop off. Shortly after that, I received a letter from Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders.
A month later, I took my family to Washington D.C. for some sight seeing and dropped by Bernie’s D.C. office. We enjoyed meeting him and telling our story in person and got a giggle out of the fact that his office was the furthest away from the elevator: a true Vermonter’s location!
All of this is a long winded way of telling you that I have friends in really good places. Going back to the sleepless night in May of 2013, I decided to kickoff a campaign to raise funds for students from Bennington to come to piano camp to help the enrollment problem. Back to the computer I went, to call upon my special pianist friends. I explained to them that our town is hurting economically for many; that there are local kids who would thrive and flourish in a creative and educational environment. The basis of the campaign was that they had a desire to learn piano, needed financial assistance or had pianistic talent that needed some guidance. Again, without hesitation, the funds started coming in. Another $9600 was raised in a few short days. I loved that the adults who attend the Sonata camps wanted to give to youngters who wanted to attend the Summer Sonatina camp.
Elizabeth Conkey wrote a wonderful article in the Bennington Banner about the scholarship fund since we were on the hunt for potential recipients: see the Article . Eight students were found, although two were Vermonter’s but not from the immediate area.
However, what shocked me were the negative comments that were posted on a FaceBook page about the article by local readers. In fact, I was so stunned by the reaction that I could not bring myself to write a blog post for several months. I lost faith in the goodness in trying to do a good deed. The complaints included scathing remarks about camp being for the elite only, that scholarships should go only to those in need and that I was selfish for fundraising for my own business.
What these individuals did not see were many other important economic values that greatly impact the town of Bennington beyond having some local students come to camp: increasing the enrollment for that third week meant that I could hire more faculty and staff, it meant that more local food had to be bought, more kids shopping downtown for our weekly excursion, more parents, friends and relatives traveling to town to attend the twice-weekly concerts, hiring a local bus company to take us to Tanglewood and Saratoga Performing Art Center, more gas bought for car trips, more taxi and/or limo service needed to pick folks up at Albany airport, more people swimming at Lake Paran or the Mount Anthony Country Club, more people dining in area restaurants and more tourists coming in to hear us play at the Bennington Center of the Arts. But, more than anything else, it is the experience of a lifetime for the youngsters who come, and, for that, there is no better reason to give the gift of music.
Here’s a picture of some of the happy recipients:
One of them was a total beginner on the piano and after having only played the piano for four days, was featured on WBTN radio (she’s facing the camera on the left):
Here’s a group having fun promoting our summer concerts in the vault at Fiddlehead at Four Corners.
I received wonderful letters from these students. Here are a couple particularly adorable ones followed by a few others (typos included):
This year at Camp Sonatina was amazing. I made a lot of new friends, new counselors and faculty and I was having too much fun to even be homesick. Piano is the instrument that I was born to learn, each song that I play has a different feeling then the other and a different meaning or story. My experience at Camp Sonatina taught me how to love the piano. If I ever were to rate Camp Sonatina it would a 9.5 out of ten. It was really cool when we went to see Joshua Bell play Violin I had never heard a more beautiful Violin in my life, it’s tone was so rich and colorful, it felt like I was eating a chocolate cake with vanilla swirls In it, I wish we could of stayed for the whole concert. The New York City Ballet was the best! Of course, the dancers were so graceful in their turns, twist and jumps it looked as if they were dancing on clouds, but the best part was the free ice-cream not only was it free it was so good! If someone were to ask me whether or not I would want to go back next year that would be a yes! My Thanks goes to Miss Polly Vanderlinde, Miss Andrea And all The counselors and Faculty including Jody! Sincerely, VE (age 11)
CAMP SONATINA My first week at Camp Sonatina was really fun. I did arts and crafts for almost the whole time I was there. S and V were my best friends especially V. On the second week, when M and D came they were my best friends toand the thing is almost every day, they took showers at 6:00.in the morning.We had secret meeting and talked about things like if we were having trouble we would try to help each other. After lessons, we would try to meet under the picnic table, but usually we would forget to meet under the picnic table we would just find each other and play together. Then sometimes I cried on the second week because I missed my parents a lot, but my sister would tell me it will be all right so I would calm down and go on playing. I really, really, really, enjoyed the Joshua Bell’s concert. I wished we could stay for the whole thing. I would love to go again next year! From JE (age 8)
To Everyone at Sonatina, I first would like to thank you for giving me a Scholarship. I think Sonatina was personally one of the best piano camps I’ve ever been to. It had a lot of interesting things, including a piano in (almost) every room, the piano teaching techniques, and the great music I got to hear from other students. It was fun how I was able to spend a week at Sonatina away from my house. Since the day I have left, I have missed it and I look forward to coming back next year. It was great to meet other kids like me who liked music as much as I do. Thank you once again, HM (age 12)
This summer I attended the Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp. It had been recommended from a number of teachers and friends. I found SSIPC most rewarding and a very rich experience. What’s great is SSIPC is open to kids just starting the piano to very talented young adolescent musicians. This makes SSIPC a healthy, creative environment for learning. I learned at SSIPC that the real way to succeed at piano is a full commitment to practice and I have returned home feeling like a greater, more competent pianist. I believe that the scholarship was incredibly helpful for my family and I, as well as the other scholarship recipients. To study an instrument is very costly and when a scholarship to a camp like this is available, it opens up opportunities for many more kids of different backgrounds which varies the types of kids attending. This makes the camp more conducive to a fuller and richer atmosphere. I’d like to thank the donors for making it possible for me and so many others to attend SSIPC and hope that the scholarship continues. JS (age 14)
And from a parent:
Summer Sonatina: The enriching and memorable experience S received at your camp was priceless. We are grateful and honored to have received a scholarship to your camp. It was a wonderful experience that S ranks as the best vacation she ever had. We never thought practicing piano three hours a day would be considered a vacation. Polly, you are a miracle worker! The first words said when picking S up were, “Can I come back next year?” Her piano playing and attitude towards her practicing improved tremendously. On every surprising effect from camp is her love of singing. She never sang around the house before the camp. Thank you again for offering S this scholarship. She knew how fortunate she was to receive the scholarship to Summer Sonatina and worked even harder because of it. Sincerely, parents of SC
So, despite being incredibly dejected after the feedback from the article in May, I have come out of my shell and have found that it’s best to stick to the good things that make me tick: the students who are so excited about learning piano, the incredible gifting of the Sonata participants, the positive and lasting impact piano camp has not only on the hundreds of pianists who have come through my doors, but, also on my little town of Bennington whether a few not very nice souls see it or not.
I won’t let this kind of negativity hit me quite so hard again. And, if it comes (which can happen with any form of publicity), instead of cowering away, I’ll write about it. Might as well be honest about what’s going on inside of me. Isn’t that part of what writing and blogging is all about?
I’d like to finish with a public thank you to all who have given so generously. It’s been written before, but, I can’t agree more: the beat goes on.