I’m off today for two weeks at Kendall Betts Horn Camp in the wilds of the mountains of New Hampshire: no email, no internet, no TV or radio, no newspapers, no movies (streaming, DVD, or on TV), no commuting, and only about one square meter where – if you can find it and you stand just right – you can get cell phone reception. It’s almost heaven. No distractions, just wall-to-wall horn: masterclasses in the morning, lessons and horn ensemble in the afternoon, concerts and presentations in the evening, 40-some campers ages 14 to 80 from every possible musical walk of life and level, a dozen fabulous faculty, accommodations in log cabins, terrific food, a concert hall en bois apparently built by Paul Bunyan from local trees. Everybody, including faculty, has a chore: Camp Ogontz, the host of the camp has only a small staff, so each inhabiting group must share in the daily chores. The camp abuts a small lake (where you may fish or swim during that rare bit of free time between four and six in the afternoon) and has a view of the distant rounded peaks of the White Mountains. For horn teachers, it is a joy to 1) work with passionate students and 2) get to hang out with other horn teachers – the job throughout the year is in one sense a bit like being a lighthouse keeper – it’s just you there, doing your particular job. Replacing that brand of splendid isolation with camaraderie during dinners and after-hours every day is a special treat. Your spouse back home does not want to hear (yet again) about your daily teaching in any sort of detail; they are not equipped with the vocabulary, background, or (by this time) interest in the minutia of your teaching day (just an overview will do, thank you very much, honey). Not so your faculty buddies. So you trade stories until late into the night, and it feels good, this little lighthouse keepers’ microconvention, hey, let me tell you about the new glass polish I got mail-order that makes the bright beam shine even farther in bad weather, that sort of thing. Many, many laughs. It’s a great place to share experiences, get new insights on solving thorny pupil problems, and also, to talk at length about things other than horn (nothing like beer, chips, and cheeses to help you ponder and solve (until morning at least) all the mysteries of the universe, local and distant, known and unknown). This is soul-soothing therapy that you can’t buy, barter, or bottle, just be there and enjoy.
It’s the same interaction with the wonderful students (some of whom play better than you do) and, certainly the staff (most of whom play better than you do). I love to go to regional and international horn symposia for all the wonders to be had there, but camp is different: much more intimate, enduring, friendly, and fun. It’s like a big family with just the good parts, minus the squabbling or critiques from your teenage daughter on are you really going to go out in public wearing that. No fashion worries here: there is no fashion at camp. We all wear jeans (or jeans shorts, if it’s hot weather), low-cut hiking shoe/boots, and lumberjackesque shirts. Buckminister Fuller used to eat the same thing every day, every meal (steak, potato, peas) to save time and worry about choice; we accomplish the same in daily woods-wear so we can devote our entire energies to figuring out this gorgeous but cantankerous concatenation of brass spaghetti once again in our rustic social setting. We have the endless energy and vision of Kendall Betts to thank for all this, and possibly his alter ego, Professor I. M. Gestopftmitscheist (who could every forget his illustrated lecture on Clamology?).
Almost heaven. Can’t wait.