Do you associate dirt with great music? You might if you were the parent of kids attending the Interlochen summer music program in Michigan. For the third and second summer respectively, my teenage sons have plunged into six weeks of intensive music education, performance, and instruction. I arrived for the final weekend and was greeted by two artistically elevated, high-spirited, and undeniably grubby young men. (Several pairs of gray/brown socks that began life white have been sent to their reward.)
I wrote about the incomparable Interlochen camp (there is also an arts academy during the academic term) last year. "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 (83rd now) year, you've certainly heard from its alumni."
This is not a camp just for prodigies -- though there are more than a few of those. My older son was bowled over by a 14-year-old trumpeter from Peru. This kid could not just produce pure, clear, gorgeous tones; he could also play the Carnival of Venice while turning the trumpet in circles on his mouth. And you thought such parlor tricks died with Mozart?
But you needn't be a budding genius to get in -- just deeply committed to learning and improving. And that brings me to the culture of the place. This kind of camp is such a refreshing antidote to the spirit of the age -- that sensibility that began in the kid-centric 1950s and has continued its stultifying grip ever since -- the so-called "youth culture."
I bow to no one in my affection for the young -- and I'll have more to say about that in a minute -- but the idea that gained currency in Western society over the past half-century that kids have a culture of their own and that adults needed to truckle to it and attempt not to seem "uncool" by revealing unfamiliarity -- well, that was rot. A culture that believes it has more to learn from the young than to teach them is dying.
For six weeks every summer, eager and aspiring kids troop to Interlochen to be more fully immersed in Western culture -- their inheritance. The Western musical tradition is open to all, of course (and frankly, the Chinese are contributing tremendously to its continued flowering), but it has a specific history, particular rules and conventions, and exacting standards. The adults at Interlochen have knowledge and skills, and the kids are there to learn from them. There's a concept!