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.
Memories, Memories: The Merrywood Property in its current state
Another Music Camp Journey: