Establishing the Border Music Camp 40 years ago was a sound idea and, for young musicians, this year’s event is set to be another string to their bows, writes JANET HOWIE.
THESE days Border Music Camp is full of experienced leaders and workers who know what to expect and have the resources available to make it happen.
But it wasn’t always that way.
The annual Albury festival of sound celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and tomorrow about 240 campers and 60 staff will begin a packed week of performing.
Now well-established and respected, the present-day camp belies its uncertain beginnings four decades ago.
Founder member Cate Davis, the first secretary/treasurer and then the director for 18 years, does not down-play the project’s early difficulties.
“The first camp was a financial disaster,” she recalls this week.
A lack of musical opportunities on the Border prompted the original idea, with the late Reverend Derek Evans as the inaugural director.
Mrs Davis says at that time, music was taught mostly in a theoretical way.
“I couldn’t see the point of teaching children how to read music without putting an instrument in their hands,” she says.
When the National Music Camp Association, now Australian Youth Orchestra, wished to start up some regional camps, the Border saw its opportunity.
Formed in 1974 under the auspices of the association, the first Border Music Camp was held in 1975 with 61 campers, all boarders, who formed two ensembles in a program that ran from Sunday to Friday.
Click or flick through the above gallery for 40 years of the Border Music Camp.
Despite the costs, Mrs Davis saw enough in that first week to think the venture had a future.
“The first morning of camp I was walking past the assembly hall and the sound that came out of these kids was just amazing,” she says.
“They loved it, had a wonderful time.”
The national body met the financial shortfall, more than $1000, and then “assumed we’d just give up; I said ‘no way’”.
Camp number two also struggled, but gradually Border Music Camp turned its fortunes around.
It became an incorporated body in the mid-1990s and won the Australian Music Centre/APRA Award in 2005 for outstanding contribution to Australian music in a regional area, which recognised its composer in residence program.
“We often hear the camp is the moment where someone decided to take their music lessons seriously.”Peter Cerexhe
This year’s repertoire will include a number of works composed for past camps as a way of marking the 40th anniversary.
Mrs Davis, now retired and living in Melbourne, still visits Border Music Camp regularly and will be there again this year.
She feels proud to see the camp continuing to thrive.
“It was formed because we really needed it here,” she says.
“The first few years were very hard but we got through and here it is, 40 years old and that’s great.”
The 2014 participants will come together at The Scots School Albury for seven full days of music, with six major ensembles, massed choir, tutorials, electives and concerts.
Musicians can take part in mornings only, short days, which actually finish at 5.30pm, long days (9pm), or live-in, with boarding facilities available for those from out of town.
This year a camper is coming from Townsville, two others from Shanghai and many from throughout regional NSW and Victoria.
Part of the camp’s success lies in the continued efforts of committed individuals over many years.
This service has been recognised in the naming of the various ensembles — Davis, Pringle, Hardie, Newman and Cran aren’t just instrument groups but families integral to the camp’s history.
Many parents, including present chairperson Peter Cerexhe and his wife Katie, become involved in the organising committee because their children attend the camp.
Mrs Cerexhe says their older daughter Georgia, now 22, showed some initial reluctance to sign up eight years ago.
“At the end of the week, she had so much fun and had such a lot of development in her violin that she said, ‘Next year I want to board, I want to be there all day and all night’,” she says.
Younger daughter Natasha, 17, says she felt much the same way.
“I wanted to stay forever, I wanted to live at Border Music Camp,” she says.
The cellist has been a camper for seven years and will front up again tomorrow despite the competing demands of doing year 12 at Trinity College.
“I can’t actually bear not going,” she admits.
“Everybody’s like-minded, all the weird and wacky people are all in the same place at the same time.”
Natasha says friends can be made quickly and there’s the chance to socialise through activities like table tennis and games.
Musically she has noticed the benefits too.
“It is a challenge, you have to go home and practise, but it’s well worth the effort,” she says.
“You look at the music on the first day and think, ‘I can never play this’.”
Yet little by little each day the task becomes less daunting until success comes by the end of the week.
“I just think it’s incredible we’ve taken the opportunity and come out the other side so much better off,” Natasha says.
A number of past campers have returned as staff members, not least Alastair McKean, the director since 1997.
“The camp needs to be at least a month. Saturdays should be postponed indefinitely so it never ends. Ever.”Border Music Camp participant
Originally from Wangaratta, Mr McKean remembers attending his first camp as a teenager in 1989 and the new experience of sitting among the other strings in a big orchestra.
“It was totally mindblowing really, being in the middle of this big amazing noise,” he says.
“It was such a different thing to sit in the middle of it and be part of it.”
This enthusiasm for Border Music Camp never dimmed.
“You couldn’t keep me away, I haven’t missed one since,” he says.
Mr McKean made his career in music and is now librarian for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Other professional musicians also rank among the alumni, but the Border Music Camp is not just for the elite.
“You’re not excluded on the basis of ability,” Mr Cerexhe says.
“You don’t audition to get in, it is for everybody who plays an orchestral or band instrument.”
And for a variety of ages as children share the stage with grandparents, sometimes their own.
The tutors, many from Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide, essentially volunteer their time to share their skills and love of music.
Mr McKean says this means the camp attracts people with a real commitment to music making.
“The kids notice that,” he says.
“I remember when I was a student, my mum sat in the concerts and said it really looked like the tutors were having a great time.”
The director says the camp enjoys a good reputation in musical circles and compares well with Australia’s other few remaining music camps.
“Our atmosphere is better, we have more fun,” Mr McKean says.
“Something we put a high priority on, we want to keep it a relaxed atmosphere.”
Mr Cerexhe, himself a camper as a violinist, says the camp has survived so long as a community-run event because “it’s like a secret that’s passed on”.
“Mostly within Albury it probably flies under the radar and that’s because it’s self-funding really and just goes about its business,” he says.
“But it attracts people to the area from all over south-east Australia and it’s mostly by word of mouth.”
The chairperson says a big aim of the camp is to give regional children a capital city experience.
“There’s a chance to work and hear others playing your instrument and to be immersed in the sounds of that and to work for a week with a highly skilled tutor up close,” he says.
“We hear the reports that they go back to their school ensembles and people there can notice the change that one week has brought.”
A common belief among the camp community is that the Border Music Camp experience is worth six months of regular instrumental lessons. Mrs Davis found this to be true among her students.
“They’d be floundering in their instruments, then after a week at music camp, they just sort of shot ahead,” she says.
Mr Cerexhe says the week can be a revelation for young musicians.
“We often hear the camp is the moment where someone decided to take their music lessons seriously,” he says.
“They see the fun that can come from being able to play music with some skill.
“That’s the central message, this camp is really fun and that’s why people come back.”
Participants seem to agree about the enjoyment, with many positive comments throughout the camp’s website and on a short film created as an elective by 2013 attendees.
As one camper says, “The camp needs to be at least a month. Saturdays should be postponed indefinitely so it never ends. Ever.”
And while each year’s program will come and go, there appears to be enough commitment and enthusiasm for the musical Border highlight to ensure this sentiment — that it never ends — remains a goal within reach.