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 www.folkproject.org
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 campworkcoeman.org.
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.
...as 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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