Mona Charen

That is, two of my children have. This piece of heaven is called Interlochen Center for the Arts, and having just visited, I fully comprehend the ecstasy they feel.

In a leveling world, Interlochen is all about two unfashionable concepts that we conservatives revere: tradition and excellence. None of this "everybody gets a trophy just for showing up." Not here (though arguably, just being able to be here -- only one in five are admitted -- amounts to a valuable trophy). Twenty-five hundred students in grades 3-12 from every state in the union and 40 countries converge on this breezy sylvan enclave between two sparkling lakes for several weeks of intensive training and performance in music, art, theater, opera, dance, motion picture arts, and writing. Even if you've never heard of Interlochen, now in its 82nd year, you've certainly heard from its alumni.

This being 2009, there are kids sporting every kind of fashion -- from shoulder-length hair (boys) to mohawks and even the odd nose ring (sigh). But all submit to the camp uniform -- light blue polo shirts (white on Sundays) tucked in, neat blue shorts or long pants (no holes or fringes), and color-coded web belts to identify one's division. The girls also wear knee socks to match their belts. For performances, everyone wears a red sweater or sweatshirt. And all thrive on the sense of walking in the footsteps of giants.

To wander the sun-dappled campus is a treat to the ears. Interlochen is dotted with scores of small cabins; they are rehearsal shacks. As you roam, glorious sounds emanate from every direction. Over here a pianist is working on a Beethoven sonata, and from that hut waft the strains of "Aida" on the trumpet. My 13-year-old son, Ben, explained as he squired me around, "Mom, you can't stop every time you hear beautiful music here or you'll never get anywhere."

They rehearse every day and are steeped in what the faculty is not shy about calling "the Western tradition" or "our inheritance." I peeked into a jazz technique class where intermediate boys were watching a video of John Coltrane improvising. There are several performances each night. It might be a jazz quartet, a Baroque chamber group, a chorus, or a dance recital. On weekends, the large ensembles -- bands and orchestras and others -- perform longer pieces for paying customers (though campers get in free).

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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