Singing and Campfires

October 21, 2013

What is something that everyone who has ever gone to camp has done that is virtually impossible to re-create in any other setting? Campfires, of course! Our camp is 76 summers old and there are some long-standing traditions and songs that everyone comes to expect. I really appreciated the first campfire of our Girls Camp this summer, filled with beautiful singing and complete with harmony. Sitting there, it made me think about all the campfires I have experienced over 45 summers at camp, and the way singing has been an important part of my life, at camp and away from it.

It made me think too that we have moved away from the singing culture of my childhood, and those childhoods of my elders. I heard a monk once describe singing together as “breathing together.” There is recent research that documents its effects on our heart rates and heart beats; that when we sing together, our heartbeats come into harmony with one another. For me, and for many who share my love of campfires and singing, this makes intuitive sense and helps to explain why we may feel so connected to each other when we are singing together at campfires.

The evening of the first Girls Camp campfire was really beautiful. It was clear and the light from the little sliver of the new moon didn't outshine the stars popping out as dusk settled in our valley. Purple Martins flitted in and out of their bird house, swooping and diving to eat the mosquitoes that hovered over the camp family gathered around our big campfire.

Every song was greeted with great participation, and before I knew it, we were winding the evening down with a few quiet camp songs that have been sung since at least the 1960s when I was first a camper, including two of my favorites: “Heida” and “Mr. Moon.” Both songs are sung in a round, and the resulting harmonies were incredible to hear.

There is nothing that sounds as good to my ears or feels as good to my heart as those songs sung by our girls at a campfire, with the background sounds of birds, frogs, and crickets in their own chorus. It is also in those quiet moments as a camper and young staff member that I began to learn and practice the art of self-reflection that has helped me continue learning all my life since. The combination of the power of singing together and the quiet reflective time gives us opportunities to feel deeply connected in a community, our camp family, and at the same time to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. For many of our campers and young staff members, I could see in dreamy far away gazes, that the same thing was happening here. As it has for all summers previous, and as it has at any camp where in the quiet moments of singing together we can ponder and dream.

Mary Rogers is the executive director at Sherwood Forest Camp. She attended Sherwood Forest as a camper and has spent every summer at camp, in different roles, ever since. Mary is a longtime ACA member and has served in various volunteer roles at local, regional, and national levels. She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.

Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Abnaki, North Hero, Vermont.