12:01am

Fri July 22, 2011
Music News

Enterprising Young Musicians On The Road To Interlochen

For young people who want a career in the arts, a handful of prestigious summer camps are a vital early step. Interlochen, in northern Michigan, is one of them.

Jessye Norman, Josh Groban, Norah Jones and Lorin Maazel all spent summers at Interlochen when they were younger. But with tuition ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the campers' age and discipline, does it mean that only rich kids get to follow in their footsteps? It turns out that some extra-resourceful young people are paving their own way. I went to camp to meet them.

Interlochen has been around since 1928. It was first called the National High School Orchestra Camp. Its founder — the late Joe Maddy — was known to be a visionary who was often short on cash. His goal was total immersion in the arts. Over time, the determined Maddy got his wish; just walk around Interlochen and the evidence is immediate. Everywhere you turn, young people are practicing, in the hallways or one of the dozens of small cabins scattered throughout the woods. Every camper takes classes, receives either small group or private instruction, and has the chance to perform in one of the camp's many different performance venues.

Interlochen is also seriously old-school. In some ways it's hard to believe so many teenagers would want to spend the summer here. They have to wear uniforms: light blue t-shirts and, for the young women, knickers when they perform. They have to hand over their cell phones, and only get them back twice a week for 30 minutes. At about 6:30 a.m. every weekday, there's morning line-up, complete with reveille and morning announcements.

"That's the worst part of the day," says 17-year-old Cassi Mikat from Brighton, Mich. "After that, I'm fine."

Mikat is studying musical theater. Two summers ago, she did an intensive one-week program at Interlochen. "I didn't really realize until I got here how amazing it is, how great the instructors are and how much I would learn while I was here," says Mikat.

In order to come back for a six-week program this year, Mikat made a deal with her parents: She would pay a certain amount of the $7,000 tuition herself. "I have four younger siblings, and it's just not possible to pay for camp with that many people in my family," Mikat says.

She raised some of the money taking the DIY retail route. Since people had always complemented the colorful, flower hairpins she made for herself out of soda cans, she set up a Facebook page and started selling them for $5 apiece. Mikat says the venture made her about $700. "I made a lot of them," she says. "What I really needed was a staff to keep up with all of the orders."

For the rest of her share of the tuition, Mikat baby-sat — and, for two Christmases in a row, asked for cash in lieu of presents. She also received a scholarship from Interlochen. Right now she's working with a cast of 40 other campers on the musical Carousel, in which she got the lead.

"Now that I'm finally here," she says, "I want to get as much out of it as I possibly can."

Interlochen campers have a reputation for being pretty intense, but the camp does have some traditional summer activities and encourages fun.

"It's sad," jokes DeRon McDaniel, a 17-year-old from Cleveland. "They actually force us to do things." That includes arts and crafts and swimming in the lake. McDaniel, a bass-baritone, says he'd rather sing.

Like Mikat, McDaniel says that once he got into Interlochen, facing the cost was sobering. His family was going through an extra-hard time: with his mother experiencing financial difficulties, they lost their house to foreclosure and McDaniel was forced to move in with his grandmother.

"I was very comfortable for a long time. And then this came out of nowhere, which threw us all off guard," McDaniel explains.

Interlochen saw his potential and gave him a scholarship for $5,000, but he still had to come up with the balance. He wrote letters to potential sponsors, gave a pay-what-you-wish recital, and got in touch with the music directors at two churches where he sings. Donations large and small poured in.

"I said every little bit counts, because it really does," says McDaniel. "I didn't care if someone gave me a dime, a penny, a nickel, whatever. It all added up eventually."

Now McDaniel spends his days and nights working on his music. He's already performed in the camp's nearly 4,000-seat auditorium with the World Youth High School Choir.

Over the decades, young people have traveled to Interlochen by plane, bus, train or even hitchhiked. Interlochen conductor and director of orchestra programs Jung-Ho Pak says the campers who have had to come up with part or all of the tuition themselves are showing an entrepreneurial spirit that will serve them well.

"It really is a testament to how much they want to be an artist, because it doesn't get any easier when you graduate Interlochen or go to conservatory and graduate and try to get a job," says Pak. "It's about sacrifice. But it's also about love and the things we do for the things we're passionate about."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

For young people seeking a career in the arts, a number of prestigious summer camps can provide valuable training. Interlochen, in northern Michigan, is one of them. Jessye Norman, Josh Groban, Norah Jones all spent their summers there when they were younger. Tuition runs into the thousands of dollars, which would seem to limit the camp to rich kids.

But NPR's Elizabeth Blair visited and spoke with some resourceful young people who'd found a way to study there.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Interlochen has been around since 1928. It was first called the National High School Orchestra Camp. Its founder, the late Joe Maddy, was known to be a visionary who was often short on cash. His goal was total immersion in the arts.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: Over time, Maddy got his wish. Just walk around Interlochen. Around every tree, someone is practicing in of the dozens of small cabins scattered throughout the woods.

(Soundbite of piano music)

BLAIR: Every camper takes classes. Every camper either gets small group or private instruction. And every camper has the chance to perform.

(Soundbite of a symphony)

BLAIR: Thats Interlochen World Youth Symphony Orchestra. Even though the summer camp is heaven for aspiring musicians, its also old school. In some ways, it's hard to believe so many teenagers would want to spend the summer here. They have to wear uniforms. They have to hand over their cell phones, and only get them back twice a week. And at about 6:30 AM, every weekday, there's morning line-up.

(Soundbite of trumpet music, "Call to Post")

Ms. CASSI MIKAT (Singer/Actor): That's the worst part of the day. After that, I'm fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: Singer and actor Cassi Mikat Brighton, from Brighton, Michigan, is studying musical theater. Two summers ago, she did a one-week program at Interlochen.

Ms. MIKAT: I didn't really realize, until I got here, how amazing it is, and how great the instructors are, and how much I would learn, and how many connections I would get when I was here.

BLAIR: Mikat was determined to come back for the six-week program. She says her parents made a deal with her: She had to pay a certain amount of it herself.

Ms. MIKAT: Cause I have four younger siblings, and it's just not possible to pay for that much camp with that many people in my family.

BLAIR: So Cassi Mikat got to work. Since people always complemented the colorful, flower hairpins she made for herself out of soda cans, she set up a Facebook page and started selling them for $5 apiece. Mikat says she made her about $700 towards tuition for Interlochen.

Ms. MIKAT: I made quite a few and it takes about 30 minutes per hairpin. And what I really needed was a staff so I can make them, cause I was always trying to keep up with orders.

BLAIR: For the rest of the more than $7,000 she needed for tuition, Mikat baby-sat, and says for two Christmases in a row, she asked for cash instead of presents. The rest came from a scholarship from Interlochen.

Ms. MIKAT: Now that I'm finally here, I want to get as much out of it as I possibly can, cause I worked so hard and I dont want to waste any of the time that I have.

BLAIR: Working with a cast of 40 other campers, Cassie Mikat got the lead in the musical "Carousel."

Ms. MIKAT: (Singing) May was full of promises but she didn't keep them quickly enough for some. And a lot of doubting Thomases was predicting that the summer would never come.

MALE CHORUS: (Singing) But it's coming, by gum. We can feel it come. You can feel it in your heart. You can see its on the ground.

FEMALE CHORUS: (Singing) You can hear it in the trees. You can smell it in the breeze.

CHORUS: (Singing) Look around. Look around. Look around

BLAIR: Interlochen campers have a reputation for being pretty intense. Interlochen does have traditional camp activities and encourages fun.

Mr. DEON MCDANIEL (Musical Theater): Now, this is sad. This is really sad. They actually force us to do things.

BLAIR: Things like arts and crafts and swimming in the lake, says Deon McDaniel, a 17-year-old bass baritone from Cleveland, Ohio. But he would much rather just sing.

Mr. MCDANIEL: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: Nice, now tell me about the

BLAIR: McDaniel says in years past, he didnt have the courage to apply to Interlochen. Once he finally did and got in, he says he was thrilled. Then reality set in.

Mr. MCDANIEL: Okay, how am I going to pay for this camp thats $7,000-something?

BLAIR: That's high for just about anyone, but McDaniel's family was going through an extra-hard time. His mother experienced some financial difficulties and they lost their home to foreclosure.

Ms. MCDANIEL: I was so comfortable in my life for a very long time. And then this came out of nowhere, which threw us all off guard.

BLAIR: McDaniel went to live with his grandmother.

Interlochen saw his potential and gave him a scholarship for $5,000. Still, he had to come up with the balance. He wrote letters to potential sponsors. He got in touch with the music directors at the two churches where he sings. Donations large and small poured in. He gave a recital where there was a free-will offering.

Ms. MCDANIEL: And I said every little bit counts, 'cause it really does. Every - I didn't even care if somebody gave me a dime, a penny, a nickel, whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCDANIEL: It all added up eventually.

BLAIR: Now McDaniel spends his days and nights working on his music. He's already performed in the camp's nearly 4,000-seat auditorium with the World Youth High School Choir.

WORLD YOUTH HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language)

BLAIR: Over the decades, young people have traveled to Interlochen by plane, bus, train, or even hitchhiked.

Conductor Jung-Ho Pak is the camp's orchestra director, he says the campers who've had to come up with part or all of the tuition themselves are showing an entrepreneurial spirit that will serve them well.

Mr. JUNG-HO PAK (Orchestra Director): It really is a testament to how much they want to be an artist. Because it doesn't get any easier when you graduate Interlochen, or go to conservatory and graduate and try to get a job. It's about sacrifice. But it's also about love and the things that we do for the things we're passionate about.

BLAIR: Things like wearing a uniform, giving up your cell phone and practicing a lot.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(Soundbite of a song)

WORLD YOUTH HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

From NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION.

KELLY: Im Mary Louise Kelly.

INSKEEP: And Im Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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