Monday, August 12, 2019

Summer Camp III: The Governor's glamor

My choir's next summer camp, by special arrangement with The Governor's Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts (then called Governor Dummer Academy—the reason for the rechristening needs no gloss), gave us not only the independence we needed to manifest our choral ascension, but also a quaint, well-manicured New England village to revel in for a few weeks.

Chosen for its five-mile proximity to our conductor Thomas Murray's home in Newburyport, the Academy replaced the rustic ramble of Trinity Church Camp and the army-barracks arrangement of Camp Duncan with the exurban elitism of the North Shore. Trinity's building-to-building trek heedless of the wind and weather remained, but was elevated to a more erudite level, as if we were going to a glitterati boarding school rather than a ramshackle summer camp. And, to a degree, we were. The refinement of the architecture reflected the sophistication of our music education under Mr. Murray's organ digits and drill-sergeant chops.

Moody House (18th century), The Governor's Academy, Byfield, Mass.
Little Red Schoolhouse, 1763, reconstructed 1938 by William Graves Perry
The campus encompassed every Georgian/Colonial style and feature imaginable—roof gable, sash window, oculus, cornice, fieldstone, brickwork, clapboard—all artfully applied through the ages since the Academy's founding in 1763 at Gov. William Dummer's bequest with the erection of the Little Red Schoolhouse. (This, by the way, is a 1938 reconstruction by William Graves Perry, architect of the Colonial Williamsburg restoration. And how fitting, given the Academy's predilection for the past in most of its architecture.)
Mason Cottage (1912-1915, George Champney, bequeathed by Ida Mason)
This is the Cottage (unfortunately razed in 1997 for a math/science complex), our sleeping quarters, giving our chambers Cape-Colonial suburban domesticity with its high-pitched gambrel, pedimented porch, and dignified dormers. Our rooms, too, were a far cry from Trinity's graffiti-begrimed bunks, being as squeaky-clean as well-kempt motel lodgings—provided, of course, that we aced inspection.

This path led to our dining hall. As its colonial propriety suggests, it was a cut above Trinity's pine-plank mess hall in refinement—in setting, if not bill of fare, save for our end-of-summer banquet, when a debate over steak vs. fried clams as our parting repast heated up the hall. (I chose steak, amid boos from the clamdigger crowd. It was an even split, until Counselor Donny cast the tiebreaker: "Steak.")
Chapel interior, The Governor's Academy, c.1965.
The neocolonial Brahminism also reflected the refined musical tastes going into Mr. Murray's choral selections, including:
Chapel, The Governor's Academy, c.1965.
The rest elude me, but this brought our pops tour era to a full finis, save for a few "fun" numbers he threw in to keep a smattering of the Bretton Woods spirit alive:
  • "The Musical Trust" by Joseph W. Clokey (stepfather of Gumby clayboy creator Art Clokey), a 1925 ballad about a flautist, a tuba-player, and a drum-and-cymbal combo who can't make money on their own so they form a band. (This incorporated snatches from familiar American tunes including "Turkey in the Straw," "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay," "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "Dixieland," "How Dry I Am," "Jingle Bells," "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" and "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean." An interesting way for Mr. Murray to sandwich a whole pops program into one number so he could leave ample room for his blessed canticles.)
  • He considered Allan Sherman's "No One's Perfect," based on Cornell University's alma mater "Far Above Cayuga's Waters," but shelved it for some reason. (Too bad; it would have brought the house down as a P.D.Q. Bach-esque satire on the "sloppy singing" he'd kvetch about in our rehearsals.)
And our concert-tour radius was as restricted as our repertoire, confined to churches in North Shore towns such as Newburyport and Rockport.
Newburyport, Massachusetts, featuring the Meetinghouse of the First Religious Society (Unitarian), built 1801
Rockport, Massachusetts, featuring the First Congregational Church, built 1805
Yes, the landlocked hill-and-dale arboriculture and craggy escarpments of the White Mountains of New Hampshire gave way to the salt-sea sparkle and rocky shorelines of the North Shore of Massachusetts, while ritzy resorts yielded to pearly-white historic churches as concert venues, reflected in our almost-all-sacred songfest.

Middle Road, Rockport, Mass. Photo by Robert Linsdell, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Our concert engagement in Rockport later took us on a tour of the town's intimate narrow lanes of gabled, Cape-shingled cottages to what was my musical peak experience that summer. In one of those lowly lodges, a girl sang Erlkönig ("The Erl-King") by Franz Schubert and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe more radiantly than I'd been led to expect by her rumpled T-shirt and shorts, which were almost as ill-kempt as the house's weathered facade. Yet that song proved to be more of a challenge to the accompanist, who stumbled through the piano part's rapid triplets while the singer's radiant mezzo-soprano glided effortlessly through the ether. A very memorable way to transcend the rugged (architecture, clothing, keyboard musicianship) to achieve the sublime in song.
We ourselves did that in a concert at Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center in Byfield, a marriage of Cape, Craftsman, Medieval Revival and Shingle styles that elevated the rusticity and simplicity of Rockport's cottages to a lofty ecclesiastical level in a way that was simultaneously homey and high-church.
Which was what the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross presumably intended when they founded Adelynrood (combining namesake Adelyn Howard's name with "rood," meaning "cross") in 1915 for their confirmation of their faith in Christ and their application of it to such pressing world issues as race and labor relations, poverty, justice for immigrants, environmentalism, and abolition of the death penalty.

This living-room setting, cozied by half-timbering and exposed rafters for a medieval fireside effect, provided an intimate atmosphere for our concert.

So my summers of '75 and '76 were adventures in architecture more than music, in line with Mr. Murray's vision for an eruditely cultured society. He orchestrated our odyssey according to his personal tastes in music and design, with as few kowtows to the mainstream as he could get away with. Which was the polar opposite of the roughing it I was in for in my final camp in the summer of '77—the Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rockville, Rhode Island.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Summer Camp II: Trinity's trials

Chapel, Trinity Church Camp, Bow Lake, Strafford, New Hampshire.
Bow Lake, New Hampshire. Photo by LakePhotos, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Trinity Church Camp on beautiful Bow Lake in Strafford, New Hampshire, was notable for its plain Craftsman wood architecture built strictly to serve its diverse purposes—one structure per function, unlike the all-under-one-roof design of Camp Duncan in Bethlehem, N.H. (see previous post). 

This, of course, meant more nature to trudge through rain or shine for meals, chapel, assemblies, Canteen purchases, the bathroom [tagged "the Buglights" for special orange lightbulbs that attracted vermin away from the latrines], the evening outdoor prayer, and—ugh—visits to Nurse Dirty Gerty at the infirmary to treat that sunburn that singed you on the beach trip because somebody'd copped your Coppertone.

But all buildings were uniform in their rudimentary Craftsman construction for optimum sturdiness, simplicity and sincerity: exposed rafters to emphasize the roof structure, shiplap or clapboard siding to use wood to best sealant advantage, exposed knotty-pine interiors to celebrate the source of the building materials. Yes, unlike the grandiose resort hotels us Bretton Woods Boy Singers sang at the previous summer, architecture did not upstage nature at Trinity Church Camp, but deferred to it in its restraint, bringing us closer to nature's nurturing and healing powers.

Cabins at Trinity Church Camp.
The cabins, sporting hipped roofs with projecting eaves to shelter the screened, unglazed windows from rain and sun, housed 8-10 boys each and were nature-named. Mine was the Owl, left rear. Others included the Beaver, the Panther, the Wolf, the Loon, the Hawk...

...and the Eagle—though that was not the equivalent of an Eagle Scout in rank and merit, especially not during morning inspection: the Loon always took top honors, until the Beaver beat them by applying more of the lodge-building industry of their namesake water-rodent to their spic-and-spanning.

Photo courtesy of
But what no bird or beast could scrub away was, as these images suggest, the graffiti that slathered the walls and bunkbeds with memes of Trinitarians eager to ink, pencil, carve or spraypaint their names and years in the annals of camp lore and yore, sometimes unwillingly: "Keith Cook wet this mattress, July 27-August 10, 1974." (So much for the Buglights.) 

Friends Camp, Holliston, Mass.
And how inconsistent this was with the clean "white knight" image our evening camp song (sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum) tried to instill in our young minds:
Galahad our patriot knight,
Shown in spotless armor bright
So that we who bear his name
Guard our lives from blot or blame
And raise the voice of manly praise,
Of knightly deeds and ancient days,
And pledge we now ourselves to be
True knights in Christian chivalry. 
At least the graffiti and the knotty pine shared a common trait: the primitive design anarchy of nature and boyhood.

But that didn't mean, as this image also conveys, that we were entirely bereft of modern perks. Each cabin had a single lightbulb—which, in the Owl, happened to hover over my bunk, setting me up for mockery when it flickered on and off to signal Lights Out: "Todd, stop fooling with the lights!"

This may be the old Aardvark cabin, where senior campers and counselors-in-training resided, closer to the central fields to keep full vigil on the kids. The simple, functional framework still stands out, the porch being the next step of luxury befitting the elders.

Here was the camp's highest level of luxury: the Director's Lodge, boasting a full-house treatment of double-hung windows, flood-resistant foundations, and that gleaming hardwood floor, throw-rug, comfy chair and stone fireplace I greened with envy for whenever I peered inside. The trouble was, at Camp Duncan the previous year we all got a piece of that echelon of comfort. Now the grownups got it all, while we rank-and-filers had to rough it all the way.

Speaking of which, when our PA system boomed, "All campers and staff please report to the Knoll," we eagerly ranked-and-filed in line to get into the Dining Hall, whose level horizontality counterbalanced the Knoll's slope to reassure us of the nourishment that would keep us level-headed...
...except when a food-flinging got us sent to the flagpole in time to miss dessert. The Dining Hall's knotty-pine paneling expressed the camp's roughing-it spirit, contrasted with the elegance of generations of swimming award plaques—which I didn't have a shot at, in light of a counselor's comment, "That crawl needs a lot of work!"
I did, however, win laurels on Tournament Day, acing a broad-jumping contest on the sandy strip by the Boat House. (I also won aqua-shuffling—running into the lake, touching the dock, dashing back to shore—and came in second in a relay race.) The Boat House, the kick-start of all Bow Lake boatings and the changing quarters for our daily swims (and rare skinny-dips), ranked second in domestic dignity to the Director's Lodge.

But the Boat House's classic New England shutters, gable, clapboards and bracket-like rafters left greenhorn campers clueless about what went on inside if you went up to the Counselors' Room without prior authorization: you got a Pink Belly. They'd pin your arms and legs to the floor, lift up your shirt-front, slap your belly until it reddened, and rub Ben-Gay on it to erase the pain. This was most embarrassing when you went to your swims or Buglights showers all red on your midriff, a telltale sign of your camp rules infraction. And if you went up there a second time without a pass, you'd get a PBW: a Pink Belly followed by a Wedgie. (But those mortifications were minuscule compared to my turning red when a kid pitched my skivvies out onto the Boat House's launching ramp and I ran out there in my birthday suit to fetch them, becoming an instant target of derisive cackles from the campers.)
The building that best détented our discords under the towering trees of Trinity was Cleaves Hall. Its country-church charm recalled many regional styles: Puritan, Quaker, Shaker, Craftsman, and even Contemporary, owing to the open-concept auditorium-stage space its façade expressed and its rafter framework created.

Pettijohn Chapel, Camp Crossley YMCA, North Webster, Indiana.
It looked roughly like this inside. Knotty pine predominated here as well, now symbolizing the unpredictable fun and variety of the talent shows, which ranged from magic acts to comedy sketches to a piano performance of Ernest Gold's theme from Exodus to a lip-sync of Sha Na Na's remake of the Earls' "Remember Then" by Dean Buckley and the Greaseheads... recorder renderings by Yours Truly, which I reprised at our St. Paul's Choir concert here. Yes, to counterbalance the clown shows, we gave our sole concert at Cleaves. Our repertoire reprised "Think Summer" and several sacred numbers including Christmas carols (yes, in the summertime), due to the more classically refined preferences of our new conductor, who "just couldn't get into" pop music but consented to "Think Summer" as a bow to choir tradition. (That, by the way, was renowned organist Thomas Murray, who recently retired as University Organist and Professor of Music at Yale University.) 

Teddy Bar sign, Tempe, Arizona, courtesy of Flickr
No, we didn't tour that year. The choir's and camp's agendas often came to loggerheads, particularly when the PA proclamation "All members of St. Paul's Choir please report to Cleaves Hall" disrupted the fun-and-games I was enjoying on Aardvark Day, forcing me to give away the "point" money I'd just won in a putt-putt tourney. 

But that sacrifice had its advantages: a good concert, and just compensation for that rehearsal with a timeless summer treat: chocolate-coated vanilla ice-cream "Teddy Bars" like the one on the right, only without the peanuts and fudge and with a wrapper sporting a jolly Teddy Bear image and a slogan, "One Taste Better." Which it was, save for a few choristers who couldn't stay away from Aardvark Day, thus had to "do without their ice cream," in the words of our assistant director.

But ice cream couldn't sweeten up our sour grapes about not having the private turf we had enjoyed for the past 63 years. Now it was clear that it didn't behoove us to shack up with another camp family and get lost in the building-to-building shuffle. We needed to stake our claim to our own camp to truly flourish as a touring chorus.

Pointe Trinity Estates, Bow Lake, Strafford, N.H. Photo courtesy of Trulia.
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's International Realty
So next year, luxury was to be ours again at The Governor's Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts. Besides, Trinity Church Camp was on the brink of closing down, too. Its site is now anchored by Pointe Trinity Estates, a luxury gated community, and last I heard, the sole remaining "Aardvark" cabin is used for storage on one of the properties, and may be all gone by now for all I know.

At least one of Pointe Trinity's homebuilders seemed to 'remember then'...

To be continued... 

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Summer camp...and the livin' is...

...easy at times, rough at others, depending on the approach the camp's architects take toward use of its natural resources to craft its lodgings: conservation, or "wise use." The latter gives campers rooms (easy), the former sticks them in tents (rough), and a compromise yields them cabins (midway). Either way, all are subject to daily morning inspection, so no one gets off easy.

Duncan's dreamscape
But I had it pretty easy at my first summer camp, Camp Duncan in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, in the summer of '73, as we Bretton Woods Boy Singers were lucky to get the spiffy quarters of the golf-caddy camp of the Maplewood Hotel (above, in 1904) after a snowstorm collapsed a roof at the original 1911 Camp Duncan in 1969 and the hotel had burned down in 1963. (Strangely enough, the Singers gave their first concert at the Maplewood in 1911—a harbinger of our housing-to-be?) 

Set in the vast, rolling, pastoral landscape of the White Mountains / Crawford Notch / Franconia Notch area of New Hampshire, our camp was virtually the region itself—not just for the forested, mountainous views constantly before us, but also for the far-and-wide concert tours that ventured us into the far reaches of New Hampshire's picturesque forestry, greenery, topography, craggy cliffs, and golden-age hotel architecture.
Theater of Operations, Marfa Army Airfield, Texas.
Like the hotel, the caddy camp was U-shaped. Junior and Senior wings were linked by a central section housing the "all hall" (see below), dining hall, infirmary, store, lavatory, laundry, and counselors' bedrooms.

Presque Isle Army Air Base Barracks, Maine.
Likely modeled on army barracks like those pictured above and right, this one-stop configuration handily accessed all campers to all facilities while keeping us cozy under the running roof at all times, sparing us the regiments in the rain and marches in the mud from bunk to bathroom to breakfast that many camps mandated. Overlooking an incline down to the sports field and wilderness beyond, each wing's end balcony-stair gave the junior (soprano and alto) and senior (alto, tenor and bass) campers their own direct entrances to their bunks. These entries also provided launching pads for toy airplanes and crow's-nest perches for counselor cries of "Todd, get on your bunk!" if we were "bunked" for bad behavior. (The guy who yelled that was really a junior like me, just fooling around — and leaving me laughing like you'd never believe.) To boot, a 25-by-50-foot backyard swimming pool lay right outside our bunk windows—a swanky suburban alternative to the lakeside or swimming-hole setting of many summer camps (including two I went to later, and the original 1911 Camp Duncan, where the boys had to milk cows, fish for food, and swim in the 60-degree Ammonoosuc River).

Cabin room, Folk Project Acoustic Getaway, Hackettstown, New Jersey.
Photo courtesy of
Our bunks looked something like this, two rows of knotty pine-paneled alcoves with single windows (one two-bed bunk each) facing each other across the central hall to the balcony-stair at one end and the facilities at the other. This open plan reinforced the camp's community spirit and the collective power of our choral concerts (and facilitated morning inspection for the counselors), yet left us susceptible to having our beds short-sheeted or our mattresses flipped without warning.

Dining hall, Camp Workcoeman, New Hartford, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of
This was roughly what our "all hall" resembled—a nice big open space, structured by a pine-plank-concealed rafter-purlin-hammerbeam roof framework that rendered the floor column-free for all uses imaginable: choir rehearsals, chess and cribbage tournaments, Sunday night Bingo or movies, concerts on Parents' Visiting Day, and the music-folder arrangement punishments we were subject to for chatting during our no-nonsense rehearsals or forgetting to pick up our laundry on schedule. 

But we used the space to best advantage when we jettisoned our sacred/classical/pops tutelage to dance the night away with local girl campers to The Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein," The Sweet's "Little Willy," Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," and other AM/FM blasts of the rock-funk-disco wave that was washing away our old-school musical traditions (and contributing to curtains for our combo by the following year).

Bedecked in the naturalness of knotty pine, the "all hall" truly betokened the "woods" of our namesake, as an example of architecture that didn't stray us too far from nature despite the formality of its structure, as well as its wide variety of uses, ranging from stiff and formal to wild and crazy.
Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, Whitfield, New Hampshire (1872, 1911-1912)
And the outcome of our grueling practices under those idle pines? Our tuneful, boisterous pops concerts at New Hampshire's super-formal hotels and resorts, where, amid classical columns, crown moldings, coffered ceilings, decorous draperies and fine furnishings, audiences applauded our vibrant vocalizations of (does anyone remember any of these?):
  • "It's a Grand Night for Singing" from Rodgers & Hammerstein's State Fair...
  • "You Came to Hear, Hear, Hear the Songs You've Always Loved to Sing" by a long-forgotten songwriter (if anyone remembers, speak up)...
  • Jack Owens' "Hi, Neighbor!" from the 1941 film San Antonio Rose (featuring Lon Chaney, Jr. and Shemp Howard as a faux Abbott and Costello)...
  • Paul Evans and Paul Parnes' seasonally sensible "Think Summer," made famous by Roy Clark (we sang it three years before it made the country charts!)...
  • Paul Weston and Paul Mason Howard's hoedown ditty "The Gandy Dancers' Ball," made famous by Frankie Lane in the '50s...
  • the lilting Czech folk song "Waters Ripple and Flow"...
  • Franz Schubert's thundering hymn "The Omnipotence" (featuring a resonant soprano solo by the late David Edmonds from the Chicago Children's Choir);
  • William Dawson's spirited a cappella arrangement of the spiritual "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit"...
  • a smorgasbord of showstoppers from the Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly, Brigadoon, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Oliver, The Music Man, and Man of La Mancha...
  • Natalie Sleeth's pop-gospel anthem "Hallelujah Day"...
  • Peter J. Wilhousky's classic take on "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"...and...drumroll...
  • a closing barbershop number aptly titled "That's All There Is."
Our bus rolled us all over the Granite State's rustic roads and ranges to such classically grand, endlessly sprawling, gable-sporting, dormer-popping, shutter-bedecked, verandah-welcoming idylls as the Mountain View House (now the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa) in Whitfield... 

Sunset Hill House, Sugar Hill, New Hampshire (1880, demolished 1974)
...Sunset Hill House in Sugar Hill, a titanically turreted Second Empire edifice built in 1880 to greet the new local rail service with New Hampshire's longest side porch, unfortunately razed in 1974...

Crawford House, Crawford Notch, New Hampshire (1859, destroyed by fire in 1977).
...and Crawford House, a multi-gabled, 400-guest spread across and above the plains and waters of Crawford Notch. The White Mountains' largest hotel when rebuilt from a fire in 1859, it was lavish with its landview porches and interior decoration (I remember a giant Beacon Hill gas lamp), which was all auctioned off when the Recession of '74 closed it down in 1975 before its destruction by fire in 1977.
Lin-Wood Public School, Lincoln, New Hampshire (1963). Photo by Ken Gallagher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Our concert stops also had their moments of such modernist plain vanilla as Lin-Wood High School in Lincoln. 
Ivie Memorial Chapel, Bethlehem, New Hampshire (1931, Jervis Frederick Larson)
True to our sacred side—most of us sang in Boston's St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, which ran Camp Duncan—we sang in Sunday services, too, mostly at Ivie Memorial Chapel in Bethlehem. Built in 1931 by Alvin F. Ivie in memory of his daughter Florence Ivie Abbot, it is an English Perpendicular Gothic gem that seemed older than its years and larger than its shell...

Ivie Memorial Chapel interior. Photo by Christopher Whiton.
...once we were echoing our celestial voices off its swooping limestone arches and solid timber hammerbeams and purlins. Choir member Pat Lindley's harpsichord rendition of Claude Débussy's La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) truly made the chapel seem to grow heavenward (or sink earthward) to cathedral proportions...

Ivie Memorial Chapel interior. Photo by Christopher Whiton. did our resounding renditions of choral standards like Randall Thompson's Alleluia, Horatio Parker's Jam Sol Recedit, T. Tertius Noble's Grieve Not, the Holy Spirit of God, and Edgar Bainton's And I Saw a New Heaven in our Sacred Concert, the upshot of our hardest hours in the "all hall." But I don't think we ever got every note right, especially those bars in Alleluia when the sopranos sang below the altos, and that high B-flat in Jam—1.5 ledger lines above the treble-clef staff—that not all of us could reach, particularly if our voices were cracking in transition to a lower range. So you can imagine the sigh of relief I respired when the minister announced, "Let us pray," signaling the finis of our most Herculean ordeal that summer. (No easy livin' there.)

Chapel of the Transfiguration, Bretton Woods, N.H. (1907).
Some Sundays took us to the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Bretton Woods, built in 1907 in memory of Mount Washington Hotel builder Joseph Stickney in a more domestic form of the English Gothic. The hammer-beamed roof gable, random ashlar stone and Craftsman gabled entries give it more of a homey feel...

...especially inside, where the beams and rafters are more prominent, like in a medieval banquet hall—which befit a lyric in our performance of Edward Bairstow's I Sat Down Under His Shadow: "He brought me to the banqueting house..." But the chapel's rock-hard kneelers didn't exactly make me feel at home, nor did the dwindling congregation, an omen of an era about to end.

Yes, changing musical tastes and travel patterns, declining hotel business, financial pinches, our choirmaster's retirement due to illness, and the Recession of '74 all combined to make this the Bretton Woods Boy Singers' final season after 63 years (which had included a performance at President Eisenhower's 1955 dedication of the [now crumbled] Old Man of the Mountain as a historic site). So St. Paul's Cathedral and fellow Episcopalian institution Trinity Church in Boston had to pool their resources together and relegate us to sharing rougher, tighter quarters with Trinity's own summer camp on Bow Lake in Strafford, New Hampshire.

To be continued...

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