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A Breathtaking Merrywood Music Camp Finale!

If I let my imagination run wild, I would frame this writing around Robin Hood.

The backdrop was the Merrywood Music Camp, nestled in the Berkshires in a dense forest where a friendly outlaw could easily rob from the rich in Lenox, and retreat into the pines, practically unnoticed.

Merrywood was a stone’s throw from Tanglewood, home of the well-established music festival. The camp owner, Ruth Hurwitz, who resided for most of the year in upscale West Hartford, Connecticut brought a contingent of Hartt School of Music students and teachers to her rustic summer sanctuary where she housed two dozen or so campers in a three-story abode with a charming attic space. The place resembled a college co-op like the one I’d remembered at Oberlin. May Cottage, my Frosh digs had the same look with an added roomy basement that gave refuge during tornado warnings.

Merrywood’s space accommodated rows of cots on the two highest floors and down below in the living room was a grand piano, a quaint fireplace, and a Bay window with a view of the magnificent wooded landscape. A stone’s throw from the property, James Stagliano, Principal French Hornist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra serenaded neighbors with his mid-morning horn calls, when otherwise in the ranks of the orchestra, rumor had it he took a swig of spirits from the brass instrument itself.

Campers were awakened promptly at 6:00 a.m. to a blasting Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 piped into rooms on insensitively loud speakers. Jarred out of their sleep, they were conditioned to revile otherwise heavenly music.

By a strange quirk of fate, I was selected to play the last movement of this very Brandenburg 5 (piano part–really meant for the harpsichord) at the final concert concluding camp. The Allegro in 2/4 meter, laden with triplets and tricky rests in between, was a challenge to count, and my first entrance of the subject, imitated by a violinist, flautist, and the whole ensemble, was a hefty undertaking. All I remember was fumbling when my motif returned one last time in advance of the culminating cadence. Before I knew it, the whole composition folded like a house of cards. The music came to a grinding halt as conductor, Neil, articulately whispered, “Back to the recapitulation.”

My heart was racing! In a frenzy, I wondered if I could acquire the presence of mind to count beats leading to my encore entrance?

Like a cyclone, a string of triplets flew by as pulsations quickened.

Suddenly I lost all consciousness of what we’d rehearsed!

Like a racing car driver, revving the engine for the last lap, I skirted into the ensemble, like merging into 3 lanes of traffic!–Meanwhile, the ensemble held its own catapulting into the final cadence!

We made it! And the ordeal was over! Thankfully it was in the past, until revisited at Merrywood’s campfire farewell.

After we gorged ourselves on barbecued franks, baked beans, and s’mores, staff presented an improvised skit, highlighting the summer’s events.

On the front burner was “Back to the Recapitulation,” repeated several times over, earning a ripple of applause amidst a good deal of chuckles. Right then and there I experienced a flush of embarrassment.

To say I felt like a social outcast, was an understatement!

After my ill-fated performance, I never returned to Merrywood, but nonetheless, i cherished memories of Stagliano’s horn calls; Sunday morning trips to BSO rehearsals with Charles Munch at the helm; pint-size, guest conductor, Pierre Monteux climbing to the podium to conduct the War of 1812 Overture; Isaac Stern playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with tears rolling down his cheeks; Lukas Foss, pianist, rendering a magnificent performance of Bach’s D minor concerto, and Eugene Lehner, principal violist, coaching the string quartet where I played second violin.

A tarnished photo


And who could forget the memorable field trip to nearby Stockbridge where Norman Rockwell gave campers a personal tour of his home. It was filled with magnificent paintings, some which graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

Finally, if any Merrywood music campers are out there, please rekindle memories of our Brandenburg summer.

Let’s come out of the woodwork and find each other.
IMG_NEW Brandenburg

Brandenburg p 29

Memories, Memories: The Merrywood Property in its current state

Another Music Camp Journey:


43 thoughts on “A Breathtaking Merrywood Music Camp Finale!”

  1. I attended Merrywood in the summer’s of 1961 and 1962. as the one and only french horn player. I have many wonderful memories of the camp, Mrs. Hurwitz, the counselors and my fellow campers who I was able to keep up with at least through high school and my years at Manhattan School of Music. It was at Merrywood that I decided I wanted to be a professional musician. It was my fellow campers who had so much influence on my musical life. Merrywood was where I found out how much I really loved music and musicians. It was the beginning for me of a career that has spanned almost 50 years of incredible delight. I am so thankful for the opportunity that Merrywood afforded me to explore and to grow under gentle, loving hands. If you are from my era at Merrywood, I do remember quite a few names of fellow campers. I would love to hear more of your memories. Thank you for sharing this memory. Blessings, Jeff Girdler (if you would like to read a brief bio of my career, you can go to the Columbia (Maryland) Orchestra website).


  2. I went to Merrywood in the Summers of 1969-1973 on violin. It was one of my favorite summer camps I remember and I was always looking forward to it.
    I now play violin and viola in Massachusetts and teach privately after getting my degree in Music at Boston Univeristy in ’81. I really haven’t run into too many people over the years who attended Merrywood.


    1. Hi Jacob, Nice hearing from another Merrywood camper. The only other alum I know out there is Douglas Freundlich who lives in MA I think and plays the lute. He was a camper during my time.
      I also remember a gal who played violin when I attended with the last name of Mather. I don’t remember her first name. And there was a cellist who hung out with T. Davis Dillon, also cello.
      Neil Zaslow or Zaslowksy, (could be with a ‘v”)or something like that conducted the orchestra and was a grad of Harvard. Do you remember any of those people?


      1. I was at Merrywood for three years in the early sixties. Douglas Freundlich was my boyfriend in those years – we didn’t break up until my freshman year of college! He is still playing the lute. I remember a lot of people as if it were yesterday. I talk to Joe Smith and Tamar Frank periodically. Joe is a professional and Neil is a very well-known musicologist. My brother, George Appelbaum, went for a few years before I did. I still play the viola, but not professionally. For me, Merrywood was more important for social reasons than musical ones, although I m a very good chamber music player as a result. I found myself, for the first time, among very smart artsy people – all those New Yorkers from Music and Art!


      2. We must have known each other as I befriended Doug Freundlich at Merrywood. And met up with him on one date in Central Park. He played the cello at the time and hooked me up with his aunt Lillian, my beloved piano teacher (W. 105th and Riverside) What was your maiden name? I studied with Ruth Hurwitz at camp and played second violin in a quartet with T. Davis Dillon. Eugene Lehner of BSO coached us. Did Doug marry and have kids?
        Shirley Smith Kirsten
        Did you recall Claire Bloom?
        I would say my chamber music experience was incredibly valuable, and trips to Tanglewood (Sunday a.m. rehearsals were priceless)


  3. I went to Merrywood the summer of ?1976? and it changed my life. I decided that summer to be a professional violinist, and returned home to practice 4-6 hours a day for the rest of high school. I eventually moved away from that career, but I have very fond memories of that camp.


  4. I went to Merrywood the summer of 1977, much later than you did, but had a similarly fabulous and intense musical experience. I know Doug Freundlich, not from Merrywood but from much later: he is a lutenist in the Boston area and works in the Isham Library at Harvard.


    1. You must know musicologist, Neal Zaslaw-who conducted the Merrywood Orchestra during my time.
      Another Ann–at CUNY, specialized in histories of piano factories in Russia. We shared a lengthy correspondence about my forbears and potential ownership of a piano factory in the Old Country. Ruled out based on geography–St. Petersburg being the hub…


  5. Hi Shirley and all,

    Great to be checking in with all of you! Everything about those summers is burned into my memory. I went to Merrywood for the camaraderie, never dreaming I would be a professional, but here I am! And still a great fan of the Berkshires. I’m married, no kids, recently retired from my Harvard job, still active as a performer and teacher.

    Best to all if you,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Doug! I was remembering Merrywood, I think I was there 76-77. My memories are good and you are a standout! You sang to us and told ghost stories and we rehearsed Mozart Requiem on a mountain top. David Hoose and Marcia Mulroney taught me to play better than i believed i could. Just awesome times. I was so lucky to be there.
      I read that a pianist named James G. Swisher passed away but am not sure it’s the same person.
      I hope you are well and music biz is booming for you!
      I have been a lot of things including an actor, but I’m now an instructional designer in Massachusetts. Never married, two cat’s. My Dad is well and he remembers you fondly. He took up the piano recently. Me, I still play flute for fun. Just got a new one!
      Peace, Andrea Squires


      1. Andrea,
        Great to hear from you! I remember you and your dad well. He taught me how to write great fund-raising letters, and he was fun to have as a guitar student. Give him my best. I’m still teaching lute (at Longy) and performing around town.

        Warm regards,


        Liked by 1 person

      1. “Haunted house” indeed. Haunted by all the great music, all the lives transformed. Shirley, you never overlapped with Barbara, but her brother George was the flute soloist on the 5th Brandenburg.


    1. Merrywood 1963 Merrywood, 1964

      Barbara Appelbaum, WH, CT Bill Adams Allston MA
      Rodney Ballard, Flushing NY B. Appelbaum
      Jane Berger, West Hartford CT John Berman, Newton MA
      Lorna Breiby, Riverdale, NY Rachel Berman, West Hartford CT
      Wendy Covell, Wakefield, MA Susanna Berman, Newton MA
      Peter Deutsch, Cherry Hill, NJ Richard Cooper, West Hartford CT
      Robert Dick, NY W. Covell
      Allen Douglas, Long Island City Jim Deutsch, Princeton NJ
      Howard Feiten, Huntington NY Evan Dick, NYC
      Tamar Frank, Stamford CT R. Dick
      Douglas Freundlich, Malverne NY T. Frank
      Marc Gerstein, Fairlawn NJ Laura Goldstein, NYC
      Marilyn Gilbert, Little Neck, NY M. Gilbert
      Judyth Goldberg, West Hartford CT Nancy Grant, Hartford CT
      Paul Goldblatt, Succasunna NJ Susan Grossman, Brooklyn NY
      Laura Goldstein, NYC Johanna Hauser, White Plains
      Nelson Gore, NYC Leslie Heller, NYC
      Emily Greenspan, NYC Ann Hurewitz, NYC
      Janice Hamer, Cranford NJ J. Hurwitz
      Howard Harris, West Hartford CT Molly Jones, Briarcliff Manor
      Jane Hurwitz, Bloomfield CT Barry Lehr, Flushing NY
      Laurie Kaplan, Newton MA Robin Magasiner, NYC
      Linda Liverant, Colchester CT Peter Matt, West Hartford CT
      Harvey Marx, Lynbrook NY Esther Mellon, Bronx
      Susan Pratt, Kingston RI Terry Middleton, Concord MA
      Anne Racker, Mount Vernon NY Brenda Mitchell, Maine
      Naomi Rhodes Rosedale NY Steve Morris, Hicksville NY
      Bruce Rosenthal, Valley Stream NY Leigh Meyers, Flushing
      Louis Rowen, NYC Howard Paul, West Hartford CT
      Joel Russell, West Hartford CT Steve Paulson, Plainview NY
      Janice Schupak, Mount Vernon NY S. Pratt
      Joseph Smith, NYC A. Racker
      Marc Visner, West Hartford CT J. Russell
      Susan Winslow, Middletown CT Frank Sacks, Jersey City
      J. Schupak
      Vanetta Bing (both years) J. Smith
      Willa Bing (both years) Pat Smith, Brooklyn
      Sandra Bowden (both years) Lin Steiner, Little Silver, NJ
      William Conable Margaret Strattan, LaGangeville
      Seta Der Hohannesian Emery Tapley, South Winsor CT
      Isaac Hurwitz (both years) Randolph Trayer, Port Washington
      Robert Loud M Visner
      Anne Mischakoff S. Winslow
      Mr. and Mrs. Edward Rabin (both years)
      Ruth Hurwitz (both years) Steve Berman
      Neal Zaslaw
      Dorothy Strahl
      Glenn Jacobson


  6. I went to Merrywood for four summers, 1976-1979. I was the only trumpeter. Had great memories made there, and followed my friend, a French horn player, to Kinhaven after that. I overlapped with some great musicians, including Jeffrey Goldberg and Sean Lyons. Later on I went to Yale and am still an amateur player. I loved the freedom of the place and the darkness of the neighboring woods. Ms. H, herself not a huge fan of brass, assigned us practice rooms that were far from the main building. I now live in Arlington, VA.
    I recall so much from that period, and saying that it was intense is an understatement. My musical abilities were stretched there, and there were some deeply wonderful counselors there. And who remembers the Jamaican cooks?


    1. You’re way later than my time .. cast included Neil Zaslaw, a Harvard grad, and noted Musicologist…Douglas Freundlich, a renowned lutenist, a fellow named Jeff Girdler who played the French Horn, Lynn Mather, violinist, T Davis Dillon, pianist and another from W. Hartford who played cello. I was in a string quartet coached by Eugene Lehner, principal violist of the Boston Symphony. I enjoyed my camping years.. maybe two in total.


    2. Hi Nick, I remember you! Wow, your post brings back a flood of memories. I attended Merrywood for one summer, 1979. I was (still am) a clarinetist. Being one of the older students, I shared in a cabin with Peter Scherr (bass), Sean Lyons (sax) and Evan Drachman (cello). I also remember Jeffrey Goldberg, piano, right? He and I played the first movement of the Mozart clarinet concerto for one of the weekend student recitals.

      Those six weeks were the most intense musical experience of my life, and also some of my most fondest memories: to name a few, the Tanglewood concerts, Capture the Flag, the alpine slide trip (I skinned my left arm badly!), the trickle of water that was an excuse for a shower, and taking turns waiting tables. And oh yes, the Jamaican cooks and their wonderful food.


    3. Nick, I was there in 1978, so I must have known you. I played violin pretty badly and lazily. I remember the Jamaican cooks a bit- at least I remember a wonderful boy who came and played with me in front of the main house. He was visiting someone in the kitchen. I remember the last night when everyone took his sleeping bag and put it on the floor of the living room so that it was covered with excited campers.
      I hope you find this post!


  7. Jane Hurwitz (no relation) here. Now an anthropology prof at Trinity College in Hartford, daughter and grandkids in Northampton, MA, all musical. Merrywood changed my life.


    1. Hi Jane, Doug Freundlich here. We lost track of each other amid the turbulence at Columbia. You were developing into a fine folksinger! I went on to teach at Merrywood in the 1970s. Thanks for the updates. I’m a working musician in Boston (mostly lute). The Berkshires are still magical for me because of the Merrywood years.


      1. Hi Doug,
        I remember you, but not that you played the lute. I still sing, but not publicly, except for the occasional surprise folk song to my Trinity students when it seems appropriate. I think about Merrywood a surprising amount. My chief passion these days is gardening and I have a little homage to Merrywood near the driveway in the form of a metal music stand and four seatless chairs. I call it my Ghost Quartet.


      2. do you recall a violinist, last name, Mather..played in the Brandenburg 5. And a cellist, thin, with blonde hair? Seemed closely bonded to T. Davis Dillon. (from West Hartford) With the name Jane Hurwitz, were you not related to Mrs. Hurwitz or the entire Hurwitz brood. I recall Neil Zaslaw who is a distinguished musicologist, Harvard grad.


      3. Re the name Mather, I do recall someone, but pretty vaguely. There were two sets of Hartford – area Hurwitz’s. It was a long-running joke that I was Jane Hurwitz (not-related). I began studying with Ruth when I was 7 and continued until I left for college. I remember being dropped off at her house in West Hartford for my lessons, usually with the guilty awareness that I hadn’t practiced enough. We had regular recitals (close to monthly, I believe) and always had to have everything memorized.


  8. I was at Merrywood in the summer of 1961. It was probably the best six weeks of my life. Some of the students I remember were Dave Dillon, Jackie Benoit, Mary Lee, and Beth Rosenfeld, as well as Neal Zaslow who conducted the orchestra. I played the first movement of the Bach Brandenburg 5 in the final recital. I was from West Hartford and studied for eight years with Ruth Hurwitz. She was one of my role models.


    1. Yes I remember all.. T. Davis Dillon, Jackie Benoit… don’t remember Beth.. but do recall violinist, Lynn Mather (the Brandenburg 5 summer final concert) OK so maybe that was the year I played the last movement of Brandenburg 5..Hurwitz was big on the wrist motion, which I adopted years later..Remember James Stagliano, hornist of BSO who practiced horn calls on the neighboring property. Doug Freundlich was a camper…and played cello. He recommended his aunt Lillian to be my piano teacher, which indeed she became.. and the most beloved and influential. Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich. Neal Zaslaw conducted the orchestra and was the boyfriend of Mary Lee. They would make out by a tree… Memories!


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