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Good vibrations: music at Pemi

This next blog item comes from Ian Axness, Pemi’s Head of Music. It’s his fourth year at Pemi, and he’s a 2009 graduate of Oberlin College (a place with deep Pemi connections) where he majored in Music History/Theory and worked on numerous music theater productions.

I can think of few spaces dearer to my musical soul than the main dining room of the Pemi Mess Hall. I think it has something to do with the decades of singing that have tempered the wood paneling; all those college songs and Doc Reed originals have had an effect on the place. The vibrations of an entire camp community singing in unison are truly remarkable. My knowledge of the connections between music and health are limited, but I can say without a doubt that spirits (and, certainly, vocal cords) are strengthened as a result of Mess Hall singing. In this way, music at Pemi exists as a living record of tradition, just like the plaques and trophies that hang on the walls. The unwritten call-outs, the pauses and ritardandi (moments of slowed rhythm) learned by rote and repetition, the Jones Junior High song— these are all a part of our shared Pemi musical foundation. And I firmly believe it is from this foundation of sonic exuberance that the rest of Pemi’s musical life springs.

I’m the Head of Music, so it would make sense for me to write about the dynamic, innovative musical curriculum at Pemi— to gush about the wide range of occupations that encourage personal investment in one’s instrument, and foster creative ensemble cooperation. I should perhaps speak about the concert events throughout the season, such as First- and Second-Half Vaudevilles, or the Pemi Pajama Pops, or Market Day (the Pajama Pops are a mid-season concert, and Market Day is a community event in nearby Wentworth where Pemi campers and staff perform each year). I could even talk personally about the joys and challenges of learning new repertoire myself, to be performed at Sunday Meetings or in the “Pemigewassett Opera House” (the Lodge). These are all essential parts of the Pemi music program, but for me music at Pemi is most strongly linked to the Mess Hall— from the daily singing of grace, to the percussive “P-E-M-I-sis-boom-bah” cheer, to Journey’s song “Don’t Stop Believing,” which is sometimes spontaneously sung at camp meals.

The music created at Pemi exudes a positive energy that can become wonderfully contagious. Boys create acts together for Saturday campfire or Vaudeville simply because it is fun and personally rewarding to do so. Camp is a place to try new things, and music is no exception. In fact, my first year as pianist in 2007 for the show “H.M.S. Pinafore” (it will return this summer!) was the first time I had ever played an entire Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. The positive creative environment at Pemi makes it possible for new musical experiences to instantly become great experiences for campers and staff alike.

The best part of music at Pemi, though, is that one cannot avoid it. Music is everywhere— flooding out of band practice in the Junior Camp, wafting through the Senior Lodge, strumming out of a guitar on the Intermediate Hill; even the regularly scheduled bugle calls are musical.

But if you care for a repast,

You’d better learn our songs, and fast.

(Except at breakfast.)

Ian encourages all campers to bring their musical instruments with them. This summer, he notes, there will be even more opportunities for campers to create ensemble music without such pesky obstacles as practicing.  Making it up as you go is okay!  (He also has this secret note to parents: Playing IS practicing!)


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