TWO WEEKS AT MUSIC CAMP
AN INTERNATIONAL MUSICIANS’ RESIDENCY PROGRAM IN UPSTATE NEW YORK RECRUITS JAZZ MUSICIANS “AS WIDELY DEFINED AS POSSIBLE”—SO WIDELY, IN FACT, THAT THESE DAYS EVEN A GUITAR-PLAYING FICTION WRITER QUALIFIES.
AUGUST 2, 2007
It’s about two in the afternoon on the day that I’m due at Music Omi, but instead of pulling into the driveway, I’m thirty miles away at the Blandford Plaza rest area. Killing time. It’s ninety-four degrees according to the car thermometer, and I’m watching the travelers of the interstate come and go in search of donuts. I’m doing this for the simple reason that I’m anxious about music camp. I’m more than anxious. It’s like the first day of school. I’m going to be forty-six soon, and I have a mortgage to pay and a novel to write, but instead of attending to these responsibilities I’m going to music camp. Back when I was a kid, I went to the sort of camp where you played soccer and tennis. I sang a little bit on the side. Probably I always wanted to go to music camp, but I just wasn’t musical enough.
I’m still not. My assumption is that at Music Omi I will be by far the worst musician. I have put no shortage of effort into being a musician—it’s my fervent hobby. But this has been an inconsistent effort, amounting to three years of piano lessons, a couple of years of voice (in my teens), and a couple of years of violin lessons after I turned forty. Despite the modesty of my musical education, I have played furiously, devotedly, especially on the guitar (at which I’ve had no lessons at all). Guitar has been my constant companion for a good eighteen or twenty years. In the last four or five, the locus of this guitar playing has been my band, an obscure, rarely performing, and chronically underearning postmodern folk outfit called the Wingdale Community Singers.
The other musicians coming to Music Omi, however, have impressive résumés. They compose for orchestras, or they play jazz in combos (just the word jazz makes me uncomfortable, as does combo), or they are expert on Central Asian instruments that I don’t know anything about. What can I bring to this group, besides being a guy who observes—like George Plimpton sitting in with the orchestra and plinking a triangle—I have no idea. That’s why I’m in the Blandford Plaza rest area. A group of girls wearing athletic medals amble past. They are fresh-faced, pretty, somewhat feral looking. They would mow down any and all competition. Is this what the musicians will be like?
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