Adam's Summer Updates

Overture…Hit the Lights!

Several times in these updates already this summer, I have referenced the idea that one of the important opportunities that we give kids here is the opportunity to take “safe risks” and yes, even to fail.  These ideas are among the primary reasons behind our Good Time Charlies (GTCS….or talent shows).  Now to be clear, depending on the act, the word “talent” can take on multiple meanings!  Certainly, there were the legitimate expressions of talent including a wonderful magician, several terrific piano players, and a couple of truly amazing bands. Then again, there were there looser definitions of “talent” embodied by a group of boys that marched onto the stage chanting “WAVECHECK” while one boy, a brand new kid (three years younger than his back up chanters), displayed his incredible talent of…removing his do-rag and brushing his hair….and the crown went wild!

Ultimately it doesn’t matter which kind of talent is on display, because the GTC is about kids feeling comfortable enough in a place, and comfortable enough with their camp family, to stand up in front of all of them and take a risk.  Most of us, at some point in our lives, are forced to stand up in front of a large group of people and do something.  It goes without saying that this can be a really intimidating thing to do.  Yet, here at camp, kids find a way to embrace some of the anxiety, get up on stage, and perform.  This leads to some of my favorite moments of the GTCs, when kids get up on that stage and really struggle.  That’s right, I LOVE IT when kids get up on that stage and really have a hard time with their acts.   No doubt, at this point you are thinking to yourself…”Come on Adam, how can you love it when a kid gets onto a stage and struggles?  What is wrong with you??  Is it too late to pull my son out of camp?”  Let me explain……

I love it when they struggle because it is during these moments that the camp family gets a chance to really show our compassion. We got a great taste of this last night with a couple of our piano players.  To be sure, while these guys had practiced a good deal in preparation for the performance, they both had a fair bit of work ahead of them before the Sergei Rachmaninoff comparisons would be likely.  Combine their nascent skills with the pressure of 250 people watching you, and you are gonna miss some of those piano keys…you are gonna stumble a bit…which they did.  What followed (and always follows for as long as I have been doing this job) is just incredible.  It is hard to describe exactly what happens, but if you are in the room, you know it.  There is a feeling that the crowd creates that is almost palpable as they seemingly will the boys to find that next key and press through the song.  I wish I could adequately describe the feeling in the room as this is happening.  It is like a kind of hive-mind forcing things to happen. (Yes indeed, back to my Star Trek Borg references again!)  It’s as close to real magic as one could ever hope to see in real life. (Except maybe for that sixth three-pointer that Michael Jordan hit against the Trail Blazers in 1992…leading to the famous shrug. Ok, yes, I am one of those guys too!)  And then again, as ALWAYS HAPPENS, after the pianists finished their performances, came the next really great part.  Without a doubt, the applause, cheering, and whistling that followed that performance was deafening.  It is the way that we say to that child, “Thanks for taking the risk, you did great.”

What follows the performers after every GTC is also always a ton of fun.  It is when we break out the old-school overhead projector, and the transparencies of songs that have been sung here for decades, and spend a half hour or so just singing.  Check the macho “group singing is so uncool” at the doors to the Rec Hall.  Make no mistake, your son loves to sing.  It is truly an amazing thing.  We sing some of the most hokey songs ever written…John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, The Happy Wanderer, a song about making moonshine (that I have worked hard to convince the boys is about making soda pop…with minimal success!), a mournful ballad about a woman losing her Logger Lover (which happens to be their favorite!), the Itsy Bitsy Spider (and believe me, after the gestures and actions that I am forced to go through for that song…all of my machismo is drained out in earnest as well!). 

They love to sing those songs.  They sing them passionately, enthusiastically, and incredibly loudly.  I think that if I let them, the singing part could go on for hours.  They love it!  Imagine that.  A group of nearly 200 boys, most of whom are at an age when being cool is at the very top of the list of what matters, and we are singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider!  Now, I admit to being a tiny bit out of touch with some of the things that are considered cool to a thirteen year-old, but I am betting that the Itsy Bitsy Spider is fairly far down on the list.  But, here at camp, it totally works.  It is the pinnacle of cool.  It is cool because we all do it together.  We don’t look over our shoulders to see if anyone is staring at us as we sing these juvenile songs.  We don’t have to because we KNOW we ALL have been dying to sing these songs together for the past 11 months…And sing them we did.

All is well in the North Woods…