Start with a creative musical idea, add three or four enthusiastic people, sprinkle in some start up money and go away to a beautiful place for a few days. Soon, your heart will bound with joy, your face will radiate happiness, and you will be surrounded by friends and glorious music. After five days of soaking up music, food and fun, go home and keep making music. The visual image of Fort Worden helped heal my grief over my father’s death in July 1976. The bluffs and sun-dried fields, the clear water and blue skies washed my eyes clean. Add music, wonderful colleagues and participants and my heart is lifted above every day cares.
The Midsummer Musical Retreat has experienced steady growth over the years, with a steady, responsible board and a creative director, a hard-working and talented faculty and eager, enthusiastic participants. Sustained by its comprehensive planning and management systems and the creativity of the director and faculty, almost nothing, unsurprisingly, has ever gone wrong. But there have been moments. There was the time Gennie Winkler forgot her clothes, and had to make a special trip into Port Townsend to purchase a camp wardrobe. Once we assigned two strangers to be roommates, and it turned out that one was male and one female. One first time camper forgot which week camp started. And we are still trying to solve the case of Peter Winkler and the Missing Bedding.
From the Tenth Anniversary Memory Book
Each year, we begin the retreat again with a new idea or two, some positive changes gleaned from your suggestions, and we keep trying to answer the question: “What should we do next year?” Year by year, through ten winters, we have planned each successive Retreat. We have listened to our participants, who hold our future, and worked to bring forth the Retreat new and fresh each summer. As long as the source of energy is renewed in the enthusiasm and joy of our campers, we will continue. For what else matters but to immerse our lives in art and music?
It was the fall of 1982, in a Chinese Restaurant in north Seattle that the idea of a Music Camp for Grown Ups took shape. Jo-Ann Christen, Marilyn Hanna, Barbara Phalen and I, and other members of the Nathan Hale Community Night School Orchestra had met to celebrate after a concert at a nearby nursing home. We talked about the experience of being adult students of music. Marilyn Hanna raised the question: “Why aren’t there any music camps for adults?” I said that it could be done ... and done the very next summer. It was Jo-Ann Christen, the Conductor of the orchestra, who had the vision of what such a Camp would be like.
With a minimal investment (just $800 for printing and a deposit at Fort Worden) A Midsummer Musical Retreat was launched. We chose the charming images of artist and horn player Holly Tuttle for our graphic face.
The retreat started on Thursday noon, August 11, 1983. There were four faculty: Jo-Ann Christen, brass; Sandra Schwarz, strings; Jack Peters, winds; and Michael Anne Burnett, cello. There were 32 participants. Rehearsals were held downstairs in building 204 at Fort Worden. We shared the Fort with the Bill Evans Dance Workshop and attended their faculty recital on Friday night...what a treat!
Music included the Russian Sailors’ Dance, Dvorak Hungarian Dances, Schubert and the first movement of Beethoven’s First Symphony, each piece conducted by a different member of the faculty.
On Sunday afternoon, the Retreat gave a concert, then performed again on Tuesday night at the Seattle Center House. Hazel Syer served as concert mistress, a wonderful leader and musician.
All of the elements that have made MMR an institution were there from the very beginning: a large ensemble, chamber music, great faculty with expertise on all instruments, great faculty performances, an intense but well-paced schedule, an encouraging and noncompetitive “culture,” a commitment to hospitality, and a beautiful Retreat like location.
Intoxicated with success, the organizers of the first retreat made ourselves into a Board, appointed Jo-Ann Christen Director, and began to plan for another retreat. 54 participants came in 1984 and the faculty expanded to include Janice Hildman and Tad Margelli. That year, the program expanded to include String Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.
In 1985, with the help of lawyer Monty Bossard, the Midsummer Musical Retreat was incorporated as the Midsummer/Midwinter Musical Retreat Society. Robust and newly corporate, the retreat was ready to receive 75 participants at the third retreat in 1985 . Jo-Ann’s vision always included a choral program, and in 1987, she hired George Shangrow as vocal director, who kicked it off with 13 singers. In 1988, Judy Kuhn became choral conductor, followed by Robert Scandrett in 1993.
As the camp grew, we used more and more of the facilities at Fort Worden. Old timers will recall the morning sun beating into the upstairs of Building 204, where the orchestra was so spread out there were violinists 15 stands back from the conductor; doing chamber music in the acoustical equivalent of a shower stall upstairs in the school house; camp fires in the artillery bunkers up on the hill; sleeping in building 202 with no locks on the doors and no private shower facilities; and the lines when there were only two rest rooms in our main rehearsal building. Nor will we forget Milo’s huge buffets for Sunday dinner or his incomparable Cream of Unpeeled Broccoli Stem Soup avec Salt. Ah, those were the days.
Sunday concerts were eventually held in the Port Townsend High School Theater and the Pavilion at Fort Worden.
Over the many Years of MMR, campers have enjoyed the talents of both outstanding faculty and remarkable guest artists. The Marine Corps Band played one year. Mary Rhoads came and demonstrated improvising in the style of all the major composers.
David di Fiori performed the Saint Saens Organ Concerto. Larry Starr, a professor at the University of Washington School of Music, gave outstanding lectures for many years. For several years faculty on various instruments vied with virtuosic performances of Carnival of Venice. Pam Mooney’s flute rendition was particularly memorable. Composer Peter Winkler and violinist Deede Cook premiered his Yaa Amponsah at MMR. Pat Wright of The Total Experience Gospel Choir wowed campers with her elective in Gospel singing. The String Orchestra was memorably conducted by George Shangrow, Sandra Schwarz, Janice Hildman, Eileen Swanson, Martin Friedmann and Kjell Larson.
We have always enjoyed the social side of a music camp for grown ups. Alice Nugent brought us folk dancing. The tradition of a light social time for adjusting “attitudes”, and consuming adult beverages and munchies was part of the MMR schedule from the very first year. Barb Phalen and Sue Zell took on this project and built the Fermata Bar into a splendid feast for the eye and palate. A bonfire and sing-a-long under the stars was a tradition for several years. Under the guidance of long time Board President Chris Chantrill and “brought to you at enormous expense, “Skit Night, has become a real highlight of the week, skewering faculty and students alike in such memorable moments as Jo-Ann the Destroyer, Swan Lake, The Orchestra That Fights Together, The English Lady and Her Husbands, Middle Aged Mutant Ninja Celli, Doctor, CelloDance, and Samurai Musical Instrument Repair.