The summer that I turned fourteen, my family went to upstate New York to stay near an elite string camp where my dad was working. As a musician, he was always taking gigs anywhere he could to make ends meet. One way was taking up extra summer work when the symphony seasons were on recess, like the many years he played in the pit for the Central City Opera in the Colorado Rockies and the summers he worked for Meadowmount School of Music, a conservatory created and built by Ivan Galamian, a violinist and a legend for his visionary teaching and camp. He came from Paris by way of Russia by way of Iran, spending time in a Russian prison along the way. His camp was the place to attend, where the best of the best musicians have studied—people like Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman (who told my dad to call him Pinky when they played tennis together between gigs in Tulsa), Joshua Bell, and Yo-Yo Ma. My dad had been there before, but that summer, our whole family went so that we wouldn’t be apart so long.
While my dad had to stay on site, the rest of us stayed in a rented cabin near the camp in the woods of the Adirondack mountains. The setting was incredible. All over the woods around the main buildings were small practice cottages, tiny square log cabins with no glass in the windows. Hiking through the woods is one of my fond, vivid memories of the summer. Beneath a high canopy of waving birch branches, I’d walk along the soft path of old pine needles that smelled of pinecones and bark. From deep in the trees, the strains of a Mozart string quartet would entwine me and compel me forward, their strength growing as I approached the cottage where the quartet practiced. Then as I passed and the music grew faint behind me, Bach from a cello practicing up ahead wafted by and danced a few measures with the fading Mozart notes. Then the Bach took over to escort me along the secluded path past the next cottage. Once the cellist was behind me and the Bach dissolved out of earshot, the music of another ensemble or soloist would soon float to my ears and convey me along the peaceful, melodic journey.
The students of the camp practiced about ten hours a day and took lessons from the staff—the best of the campers scoring Mr. Galamian himself for their instructor. Though I didn’t attend the camp as a resident camper, I was privileged to take lessons from one of Galamian’s own students, Mary Hess. Sometimes she was called Hary Mess. Just because it was easy to do. And you know camp kids. Even nerdy musical camp kids. But she was great. Because I wasn't bound by the rules of the camp, I only practiced five hours a day, not the ten like the resident campers. I went outside our little cabin and found a secluded place among the trees and set up my music stand and played my little heart out. I loved it. I practiced from after breakfast until lunch. Then after a break for lunch, I’d wrap up my five hours in the early afternoon. Then I’d take my watercolors out to my place in the woods and paint the landscape. I loved those birch trees. They look a lot like Colorado aspens, and they have great bark for painting. Recently at one of those painting and wine parties with my sisters and friends, I went back into my memory and drew on those art sessions in the woods to paint what I remembered of those trees.
When my sibs and I weren’t all practicing or pursuing other noble aspirations, we went wild blueberry picking. Another vivid, fond memory, that one. We’d climb up to the top of the hills (to a Colorado girl, they were hills—beautiful and lush yes, but hills) where the blueberry bushes grew like nothing I’d ever seen grow in Colorado. (We do wild dandelions and tumbleweeds very well here.) We filled buckets and bowls and cans and every other container we could find in the rented cabin to carry berries back down. We baked blueberry cobbler, blueberry pie, we had blueberries on our breakfast cereal, and handfuls of blueberries for snacks. They were abundant and delicious, sweet and juicy. I’d never known you could just sit on a hilltop among leafy bushes and eat and pick and experience something so incredible.
We took a day off and visited Lake Placid while we were there, and we saw the old bobsled course from the 1932 Olympics. We visited Montreal too, and the 1976 Summer Olympics were in full swing, so we watched some of the javelin throw through a space in the fence. That was in our budget. There was also a charm for my charm bracelet in our budget. I have that still.
When I warm up on my violin playing scales these days, I still use the Galamian Method that Hary Mess taught me. Those hours in the woods, both listening and playing, and the experiences in the hills of upstate New York impressed and influenced me deeply. And I can’t eat blueberries without remembering the time when I sat among the bushes and plucked off bucketfuls of them from the top of the Adirondacks. It was sweet!
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