Every summer, for the past 44 years, Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp has been in session for young pianists between the ages of 7 and 16. Imagine, if you will, up to 44 pianists living and breathing piano all under one roof! Students staying between one and five weeks and the sounds of pianos coming through every nook and cranny in an old historic mansion. This summer will be our 45th season.
Students look forward to yearly reunions, meeting old and new dorm mates, remembering the routines of the Daily News and scheduling, the practice and chore wheels, the trips to Tanglewood and Saratoga, the twice-weekly concerts, the delicious food, the recreational activities, the lessons they have with the piano faculty, and the practice buddies they have with the junior counselors.
As camp director, I’m always thrilled to welcome everyone back, including our faculty, some of whom have come back year after year as well. I’m proud of their various talents, offering encouragement and support to the young pianists day in and day out. Many of our staff and faculty have grown up through camp, having attended during their youth. However, occasionally we hire staff who are brand new to camp.
A few weeks ago, I received an extraordinary handwritten letter from someone who was a Junior Faculty member, only weeks shy of having graduated from high school. In her letter, she shares her experience being a brand new member of our piano camp family. Her letter epitomizes the philosophy that we have at Sonatina – that we can learn from each other, even if we don’t have all the answers right away.
Piano camp has a way of stirring up our inner souls; fostering us in creative ways that help steer us towards needs, goals and desires that are untapped. It’s fascinating to watch this process of development with individuals at piano camp no matter if they’re in a position of authority or a student attending. I was given permission to share her letter here on this blog. Names have been edited for privacy purposes. Letters like this, keep me doing what I do. Enjoy:
As 2013 comes to a close and I look back upon the events of this year, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to become a part of the Summer Sonatina Family. I also realize through this reflection that in all the craziness of my first semester of college, I never got to thank you for three amazing weeks this summer. I truly don’t think it’s possible to thank you enough for allowing me to be a part of something so special, memorable, and moving.
What you do and have done for children is incredible and you do it so flawlessly. Daily I was struck by the organization of everything that went on in the household and how smoothly everything was dealt with when issues did arise, which was rare. You took the time each week to check in with everyone on how things were going and showed genuine concern for the well-being of the campers, counselors, faculty and staff, making 5 Catamount Lane become a true second home for everyone, including myself.
During those three weeks I met some of the most amazing musicians I’ve ver met in my life, but also some of the most amazing people. The kindness that everyone shared made the experience one that I will never forget.
I’d like to share with you a little piece of Summer Sonatina that I took home with me. Every day I put on two colorful string bracelets made during week 5 of Summer Sonatina by two more difficult campers. Yet, to me, these bracelets symbolize not only friendship, but, determination, patience and a love for music. The first bracelet was made by T, who came to us with so much anger and frustration in her life, which she expressed during her first lesson with me. I remember she sat in front of the piano in the Harry Potter room, telling me that she couldn’t play, that she’d never be able to do it, and that she hated piano.
I didn’t understand at the time why she had come to Summer Sonatina if she was so uninterested in piano, but, I forced myself to stay patient with her and try to be encouraging even when she was angry and negative. Without trying I became her friend during those three weeks, as a symbolized by the bracelet on my wrist and a memory that I can picture clearly to this day.
I was sitting outside on the steps when T ran up to me, very excited and asked me to come listen to her play because she had learned the entire first page of Minuet in G. So I went, listened and tried to hold back tears because I was so moved by the fact that I had helped this girl become motivated and excited by music.
You see Polly, just over seven years ago I was in the same place as T. I hated clarinet and intended to quit. But, luckily I had a music teacher who showed me patience and understanding and taught me to love music in a way that I never thought possible. A year later this music teacher and role model died suddenly of a heart aneurysm and it was then that I decided that I wanted to inspire children to love music as he had done for me. Since deciding to pursue music, I often questioned the idea of a career in music, but after three weeks of working with musicians young and old at Summer Sonatina, I finally became certain that teaching music was the right path for me. Nothing compares to the joy I felt when I watched those children succeed on and off stage. Nothing compares to the happiness I felt when I saw the children improve and grow.
The second bracelet was made by J. I had heard from everyone how difficult lessons were with him, but I went into my first lesson with him remembering my patience and positive attitude. And just as everyone said, he did have a short attention span and didn’t like to do what I asked him to do. So I changed up my strategy and asked him to play one of his compositions for me. I took out my phone and recorded him and when he was done, we listened to it and critiqued it together. He was completely engaged and excited. When we had finished with the piece he composed, I was able to get him to play some of the music he’d been assigned that he originally refused to play. ALthough J didn’t make as much improvement as T, I wear his bracelet as a reminder to myself that the answer isn’t always right in front of you. Sometimes in teaching and in music you have to step back and approach things from another angle.
I learned so much about teaching, music and even about myself in those three weeks that I spent at Summer Sonatina and I cannot thank you enough for giving me this opportunity. The friendships, the learning, and the memories I gained from that summer will stay with me forever. Never stop this wonderful thing that you do.