Sadia Ishoop loved playing the violin at school and more recently in a community orchestra. After three years at Lake Field Music Camp, her interest has been invigorated by branching out from the classical music she learned originally. “Last summer I enjoyed taking the Celtic Fiddling class. I’d certainly heard Celtic music before, but had no idea how to play it,” says Ishoop. “I also took the ‘Balfolk’ class, where I learned European Folk Music and dancing. We found out the story behind each song, such as one about making a foundation for a home by stomping on dirt, and then we tried the dance that went along with it. Half the class played while the other half danced, then we switched — it was so much fun.”
For a week every August, adult amateur singers and instrumentalists of all ages and occupations gather to learn, play and perform with each other at Lake Field Music Camp. Established in 1977, this non-profit organization currently resides at Lakefield College School in the Kawarthas, about 150 km northeast of Toronto, Ontario. The lakeside campus offers excellent facilities, including full accommodations and a performance theatre. The faculty are all professionals, working as conductors, soloists, teachers, studio musicians, and as members of bands and choirs, most returning year after year because of the intensity of the experience.
Saskia Tomkins, a session musician and viola teacher, performs all over the world and says that she likes the energy and communication that develops in the classes. She has taught Viola Technique, Rhythm and Reading Music, Gypsy Jazz, and led Balfolk and Klezmer groups at the camp.
“For many students who learned to play classical music, if you take the music away they’re lost. Gypsy Jazz is an opportunity to play what you like according to what you hear, to step away from reading the music,” says Tomkins. “On the first day, the students were like frightened rabbits, but by Day 3 they were getting it and were much more free in their playing — they were learning to think outside the box and use a different part of their brain.”
Andrew Wolf, LFM Camp President, says “Many of our participants are involved in community orchestras, bands and choirs throughout the year. Camp provides the opportunity to have a broader musical experience with more than 50 different workshops and ensembles of various sizes and genres including classical, jazz and world music. No auditions are required to attend, but musical skills are certainly necessary — it’s an enlightening and inspiring week.”
Play and Sing Together
Teachers share knowledge on how to improve your music making. At camp, cellist Sybil Shanahan taught Cello Technique and coached a Chamber Group and a Cello Choir where music was read from the page. However, in her workshop, Jamming on an Orchestral Instrument, participants listened to recordings of pop, classical and jazz to demonstrate how harmony enhances music in every style, followed by exercises where they created and played simple harmonies of their own based on familiar melodies.
“I really enjoy teaching adults as they want to understand on my level,” says Shanahan, who plays in chamber, jazz and orchestral groups. “I love the environment at LFM as there is a lot of cross-over of music and instruments, and participants are open to trying everything from jazz and classical to pop.”
Participants also learn from each other in the classes. The non-competitive environment encourages them to ask questions and take chances in their playing. Coached ensembles perform to a supportive audience in concerts at the end of the week, showcasing some of the week’s accomplishments. For those wanting more opportunities to be on stage, open mic and cabaret concerts take place early in the week, and the mid-week faculty concert is always a treat. The classes and performances give participants helpful tools and experiences for their independent practice and group playing when they return home.
Improving Skills, Exploring Genres
Joanne Wilby played the cello in high school and came back to it after a 25-year hiatus. “Last year was my first time at the camp, and I enjoyed learning about the different musical genres,” she says. “Sometimes I get lost and it’s a struggle for me to hear things and learn the chording, and to add in things that are not exactly what’s written on the page. It takes time, but the teachers are very patient. And my playing is becoming freer as a result, with classes such as Balfolk. The rhythm class is like brain gym – we have to sing, clap and tap our feet at the same time!”
Stephen Prime, an experienced chamber music player that performs in nursing homes and hospices, wanted to experience new musical styles. In his second year at the camp, he joined the Latin American Music Ensemble and the Blues Band. “I had fun learning the structure of the blues and jazz with teachers Paul Neufeld and Louis Simão,” says Prime. “The teachers arrange parts for everyone and we improvise, which is frightening, but fun.”
Violinist Alex Cheung taught Violin Technique, Celtic Fiddling, Chamber Music, and conducted the Strings Ensemble at the camp. Classically trained, he “wandered” into other genres about fifteen years ago. “While playing and teaching Celtic music, I’m adding ornamentation and different bowing techniques,” Cheung says. “The students at camp are so open to learning different styles and techniques such as adding embellishments and looking at pieces they’ve never played before.”
Cheung says while teaching adults and hearing their questions, he is sometimes pushed to shift his thinking and look at things in a different way. “I love to see the sparkle in students’ eyes when they’ve learned new tricks to communicate with each other and to see their joy when they get something.”
At the end of the week, the Celtic Fiddling and Balfolk classes presented their songs in a rousing performance that had dozens of audience members joining them in dance. Sadia Ishoop also enjoyed participating in the orchestra, but says, “I’ve come to realize that music is not just stiff people in tuxes performing on a stage. Ishoop says “Lake Field Music Camp is like summer camp for adults. It’s such an encouraging environment, and the teachers are so accepting of whatever level you’re at. I’m so happy to be back, continuing to pursue my passion for music.”
Text by Joanne Culley.