Summer music camp memories mean Brahms, symphony concerts and cookie-eating contests

    Photo by joebrent on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

    There is a great slope at Boston University Tanglewood Institute where several dozen sheds sit. It is a strange sight to the outsider, neatly trimmed grass, bordered by trees, and scattered anywhere from 10 to 50 feet apart clapboard shacks with roofs of grey. A black asphalt path snakes up the hill leading to a green plateau and beyond, farther than the eye can see, a tennis court, the administrative building and a large field. This was what I saw, that Sunday morning, when my father drove back to the Albany airport, leaving me entirely alone. There was quietness in the air. Hardly any other students had arrived, none of my dormmates in Hawthorne House had moved in yet. The manila folder I was given upon checking in had no activities planned until that afternoon, so I walked forward, curious and anxious about what was within the strange buildings dotting the landscape.

    I wonder, looking back, exactly how it felt to be there. I wish could place myself back on that Massachusetts soil, music books in hand, wearing that same denim skirt and black v-neck tank top that was cut so low it was a blessing my mother wasn’t there to constantly trail after me, pulling it up. But this is impossible, so I will have to satisfy myself with an approximation. There was confusion, I still did not know what the shacks were for; awe, the day was beautiful and I blind to what lay ahead for me; and fear, I was 15 years old and utterly alone. This last emotion pulsed through my head as I reached a shed near the border of the trees and hesitantly pulled open the door. I do not know what I was expecting, garden tools perhaps, storage of some kind, not a dirty cement floor with a gleaming Yamaha piano sitting atop it. A strange relief flooded me; they were makeshift practice rooms. It was so obvious an answer, this was a summer music program after all, a place to practice was essential. The irony of the scene, a beautiful concert grand in a space fit for bags of soil and dirty spades, struck me as I finally sat down, opened the key cover, and played a C scale, relieved at the sudden experience of simplicity.

    The following three weeks, and the six more which were to follow the next summer, are difficult to piece together. It is strange, I was there to play piano, to have master classes with my teacher, Maria Claudet Jaguaribe, and to perform in an end-of-term recital, yet I hardly remember this at all. I can envision Maria’s wrinkled face bloom into life as she told us of the doomed love Brahms had for Clara Schumann, yet I recall little of the advice she gave me on my Rachmaninoff or Beethoven. I can envision myself lying on a blanket, wasting away afternoons playing cards and eating chocolate with my friends, though it is impossible to remember how often I practiced and exactly what progress I made. I suppose it must be said then, that I do not remember Tanglewood because of what I accomplished there, but rather because of who I met.

    My first roommate was Katherine Yeh. She was tall and willowy, with a slight British accent and wonderfully smooth tan skin. I remember her telling me about her fancy boarding school in England where the Queen once came to visit. She spent half the nights we lay up in bed talking, explaining the great love she had for one of our fellow pianists, Jeff. He had horrible technique but she could forgive this for his beautiful smile and thick black hair. There was John Sullivan, the stereotype of a pretentious adolescent from New England. He had a vast knowledge of Richard Wagner, an unhealthy love for Beethoven and an immense sweet tooth. The competitions he and I had to who could eat the most cookies in the dining hall and the stories he told of baking brownies and fudge endeared him to me forever. Kate McDermott lived down the hall from me. Nearly every morning I was charged with waking her up by pounding as loudly as possible on her door. She had uncontrollably frizzy brunette hair and suffered from tendonitis, though she played Chopin beautifully. I still consider her one of the smartest people I have ever met. Kate’s neighbor, Loren Loicono, was a composer from Long Island with an overbearing mother and an acute obsession with neatness. She told me she loved James Joyce before I even knew who he was and obsessed with Julian, one of her fellow composers, who had long hair and wore a yellow raincoat and hat when it rained. It was a horrible case of unrequited love, one which often resulted in her compulsively standing under his lit window at night, hoping he would look out. Luis Ortiz lived off a diet of hamburgers, French fries, and Ritz crackers. Small and Peruvian, he only reached my chin, yet his undying love for both basketball and Bach guaranteed my affection for him. Last was Christopher Lim, a privileged Korean American who lived with his sister and parents in a townhouse in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He had a horribly awkward haircut and dressed as though he were a businessman going golfing, yet the love he and I shared a love for Brahms and our mutual admiration of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s assistant concert mistress assured us we would never run out of conversation.

    More than random eccentricities, I fell in love with these people because I felt at home with them. The connection is difficult to explain, perhaps it lies in the devotion all of us had to an art often ignored by young people, yet it was present from the moment we met. There was no awkward conversation, few simple formalities. It was one of those rare moments when you meet individuals you immediately connect to. Looking back, this feels like a fossil from another life, I had never felt that accepted and understood before and have yet to since. It is tragic to think this sort of pure, innocent happiness can never be replicated, for we have all moved on with our lives. We are either in school or recently graduated, exploring new things, traveling, studying. Without the physical connection of being in the same place, it has become difficult to stay in touch. Yet I still love them, not simply for who they are but because, no matter how selfish this sounds, of how they made me feel.

    Surely I didn’t know, that Sunday morning playing a C scale in a shed, the wonderfulness of the individuals I was about to meet. Who I would go out to dinner with on my 16th birthday and be presented with a three-dimensional piano card made out of paper with Skittles and coupons for ice cream inside. Who would eat French fries with me during the intermission of BSO concerts, arguing over whether the orchestra was or was not in tune. Who laid under the stars with me, wet grass poking into our backs, and listened to the world’s greatest classical musicians perform as if we were the only members of the audience. It is these details I remember, it is these details which sifted through my head at the end of my second summer, driving away in a chauffered airport van, wondering if I would ever be that happy again. The knowledge of an era lost a gripping gloom, as if growing older was suddenly a discernible sensation of pain and loss.


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