Each summer at Morry's Camp, the summer component of Project Morry, the tents are alive with the sound of music. The Music Ascension Program (MAP) is designed to help young people believe in themselves and their own creativity. Each summer, more than three hundred children take full advantage of the rare, hands-on opportunity to write, record, and help engineer an album containing their original lyrics, music, and artwork. The reality of MAP all began with a dream. Peter Kalvart, singer-songwriter, music educator, and alumni of Camp Echo Lake, approached Morry's Camp director, Dawn Ewing, with the idea of bringing a music program to camp. "I imagined kids beating on plastic buckets and cooking pans," recalls Ewing. "I had no idea what we were in store for."
Summers have always belonged to children, and for many children, camps have served as their introduction to the outdoors, nature, and lasting friendships. Camps also have the capacity to inspire creativity and expose campers to the arts, theatre, music, and dance. As formal arts programs continue to be slashed from school curriculums, informal arts curriculums in camps are thriving. From talent shows to singing around the campfire to arts, crafts, and theatre programs, camps have often provided artistic opportunities for skill building where schools have fallen short.
Six years after Peter Kalvart founded and brought MAP to camp, youth are still making beats, writing lyrics, and seeing their work fully produced into a CD to take home and share. After twenty-two albums — including a greatest hits collection, four Camp-2-Camp albums recorded at and with Camp Echo Lake, and a Season of Giving CD produced in the holiday months after September 11, 2001 — the program has sealed its own success.
"200, we're the Senior Boys
Everywhere we go, you know we bring tha' noise
We're grown men now, no time for toys
This is counselor Nelson all in tha' mix
A veteran to camp, been here since ‘96
History is what we are tryin' to make
We shine brighter than the sun settin' over Dream Lake"
Creativity and Expression
Creativity and expression are at the heart of the MAP program. Each word, song, and album has a signature flavor and personality streaming directly from the kids' passions and interests. From the very inception of the song's title, to the writing of each lyric, to the final packaging of each album, campers and staff are responsible for the development of the entire process. The work begins early in the camp session inside the on-site MAP studio, where staff can be overheard helping campers to get each word "just right." The alumni staff skillfully guide campers through a collaborative songwriting process in which every young person contributes to the song. "It lets us express ourselves in many different ways," says Brandon, a third-year veteran of the MAP program. "You can learn from it and experience it," adds Tamara, a second-year camper.
MAP's studio, fully equipped with the latest in digital recording and mixing technology, pieced together through donations and loaned items, was built in 2000 and is a real creative center in which campers explore, express, share, revise, and implement their ideas. Over the course of several weeks, each age group of kids comes together to share their ideas for lyrics to create a song in the studio. The studio program periods operate much like a writing workshop in order to get the kids' thoughts and feelings down on paper. With four distinct entry points (composition/arrangement, lyric writing, musical performance, and audio-engineering), MAP reaches young people by honoring their words and music and empowers youth to challenge and believe in their own creative abilities.
The process of writing lyrics becomes a way for campers to share their thoughts and feelings about their camp experience. The process is slow at first, but the Junior Girls, otherwise known as the third-year campers, manage to draft a first verse:
"Juniors of ‘08
Seniors of ‘09
Junior girls, yeah, you know we do it fine!
We had our laughs
We had our cries
By the end of it all we stayed unified"
Next comes the music. With a clearly defined goal of writing and recording a song within the space of five workshops, under the effective guidance of alumni, and following in an honored tradition of songwriting at Morry's Camp, campers continually call upon their creativity, leadership skills, and hard work to create something of which they can be proud.
The musical aspect of the MAP experience differs from typical music programs in camps and schools. Rather than children learning to play and read music, they are learning to use music. During the studio sessions, kids collaborate with a variety of musical artists, experimenting with different sounds and beats — both live and digitally recorded — to formulate a soundtrack over which they will record their lyrics. Drummer/ composer, and one of the many MAP collaborators, says "to create and work with others makes you learn and gain new friends and life bonds through music. This experience has been an absolute blast. These kids are our next generation. The world is going to change, and these are the ones not afraid to go for it."
Back at the writing table the process intensifies. Asked about the work so far, Alexis, a fourth-year camper responds, "This experience has been very good, and I learned that music has a pulse and without a pulse it would die like a person without a pulse." The addition of music seems to always give vitality into otherwise lifeless language. And the song grows . . .
"In the past the days were rough
Now we came up to be really tough
To just be so magnificent
We just paid every cent
Now we're coming up to be
Very strong and happy"
And a chorus is born:
"It's like crossing a bridge and making it there;
Now we're making it everywhere."
Since 2000, funding for the Department of Education's Arts in Education programs has been cut, which includes funding for model arts programs and collaborations with schools, teacher professional development, and arts programs for at-risk youth. At the local level, many schools have streamlined or eliminated music programs, thus eliminating the creative outlets like the ones music provides for students in schools.
MAP offers an amazing and safe creative outlet for young people. The music program allows campers with different skill sets to excel within a group. Campers earn increased respect among their peers after contributing their creative skills to the collaborative songwriting process. Additionally, campers encourage and help one another along through the time-pressured and challenging process of writing and recording music. Quite simply, groups have come together to work.
Brandon Herring, a fourth-year camper, says MAP helps you "express yourself and makes you feel good in a lot of ways."
Since summer 2005, the recording studio has been fully staffed by Morry's Camp alumni who have received extensive training in workshop facilitation and audio-engineering from Music Ascension Director Pete Kalvert. They have also gone on to produce work that has received airplay on WBAI FM in NYC as well as intern at HOT 97 FM in NYC. Music Ascension has produced over twenty-two albums containing the original lyrics, music, and artwork of campers at Morry's Camp. This music has garnered high praise from established recording artists as well as airplay on WFUV FM in NYC.
"The idea was always for the program to grow its own leadership and eventually have alumni of the music program deliver the program," says Kalvert, who also oversees a version of the program in New York City and New Jersey schools. That vision is becoming reality, with Kalvert taking a step back, and campers stepping into place: six alumni are current or former directors of the camp MAP program.
Creativity and imagination are ubiquitous in the camp setting, therefore offering a unique experience and opportunity for children to explore, discover, and experiment. The creation of such a space where this is possible for children, in whom new meanings and understandings can emerge, results from what Maxine Greene defines as the "risk of risking" (Greene 1978). This combination of risk and success, a space in which children feel safe and comfortable with their attempts and mistakes, yields greater achievement and more productive outcomes. MAP affords children the time they desperately need to negotiate with other children and adults the contradictions and complexities; consider alternatives; and identify the compelling.
How to Initiate MAP at Your Camp
Greene, Maxine. (1978). "Steamboats and Critiques" from Landscapes of Learning. Teachers College Press. P. 111-125.
Lance Ozier, Ed.M., is an instructor in teacher education at Teachers College, Columbia University and The City College of New York. For the last eleven years, Ozier has coordinated education programs at Project Morry.
Originally published in the 2008 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.