A Harmonious Arrangement
By Karen Dusek
On any given day during the summer, a trumpet call echoes through the forest on the mountainside; its clear tone captures the attention of both man and beast. No, it’s not the bugling elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it does fit right in with nature and the rustic setting at Rocky Ridge Music Center.
Founded in 1942 by pianist Beth Miller Harrod, the music center has a rich history as one of the oldest residential music programs in the nation. It is located at the scenic foot of Longs Peak(14,256 ft.) in the midst of Rocky Mountain National Park. The historic Hewes-Kirkwood Inn and cabins, located on a 17-acre campus with a stream, provide a stunning backdrop for performances, practice, lessons, chamber music, orchestra, reflection, dining, residence, and friendships that have been part of a tradition for more than 70 years.
Under the guidance of an exceptional music faculty and guest artists, summer programs for youth and adults are designed to improve and broaden musical skills and understanding. Living apart from the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced society, with limited cell-phone service and other technological distractions, the camp is a refreshing oasis for students to totally immerse themselves in their music studies.
Due to its intimate size and atmosphere, Rocky Ridge is uniquely positioned to provide a rich musical experience through unparalleled personal attention and interaction with some of the finest performers, teachers, counselors, and staff members. The campus faces the Twin Sisters mountain peaks and is within a few paces of the most beautiful trailheads in the country.
The mission of the music center is to nurture the creative, musical, and personal development of youth and adults in an inspirational setting. The environment often serves as a catalyst for making significant life choices during the students’ seminal period--some may decide to make music their college major and career choice, some may keep music as an avocation, and still others may find life-long friends, partners, and mentors.
Alumni ties remain strong, partly because of the small student body, combined with an emphasis on solo and chamber music, which gives everyone an opportunity to become acquainted. As one might expect in a place where the program offerings make it possible for a person to attend every year from age 10 to adult, many students return summer after summer. Because the camp has such a long history, there are sometimes second and third generations of “Rocky Ridgers” from the same family.
The historic Hewes-Kirkwood Lodge, dining hall, and many of the surrounding log cabins were built by novelist and poet Charles Edwin Hewes at the turn of the century. So great was his love for nature that all of the buildings were constructed using only logs of "fire-killed" trees. Not a single living tree was used in establishing the inn.
Maintaining the historic appearance is a concern when new buildings are added or upgrades installed in older cabins. Property Manager Mike Daggett, who has a knack for working with lumber, discovered that rough pine boards make great interior paneling and satisfy historical site requirements when older cabins need insulating.
The site has more than 50 buildings, including residential cabins, practice cabins, a main lodge, a dining hall, and an office. Shared student lodging is in log and clapboard cabins nestled in the woods of this national historic district. Housing can accommodate approximately 70 students at a time, and about 250 students attend over the course of the 12-week summer programs. Sixteen cabins are designated for faculty and staff housing. There is one dining hall where everyone has meals together. When the tables are cleared and the chairs rearranged, the venue converts into a concert hall with large windows facing the Twin Sisters.
Recreational activities include nature hikes, bird-watching, horseback-riding, and gardening. Local resources are utilized whenever possible. Student groups share their music in performances at local venues--art galleries, schools, senior centers, restaurants, and outdoor performance parks. The music center engages local businesses for parent and guest lodgings, student outings such as bussing services, laundry, and facilities for swimming and horseback-riding.
Other recreational activities include hiking in the national park, dance, skits, basketball, Frisbee, and visits to the nearby resort town ofEstesPark. In keeping with the community spirit established by the environmentalists who homesteaded this historic property, every youth-program student participates in daily work duties, fostering deeper friendships and creating a remarkable sense of community.
“We provide a rich and vibrant musical environment by studying and re-interpreting the masterworks of the past while building a bridge to our own time through the creation and premieres of new works by young, emerging composers. Rocky Ridge is very much engaged with the present musical time, thereby remaining responsive and relevant in the lives of our students,” explains So Young Lee, director of the music center.
Every Sunday during the summer, the music center opens its doors to the public for solo, chamber, orchestral and choral concerts, concerto competitions, and special events, such as the annual Queen City Jazz Band fundraiser, performed by students, faculty, and guests.
Rocky Ridge offers programs for youth, ages 10 to 24, and adults, with program lengths from five days to five weeks. Lifelong music lovers and professionals make music together in the Adult Piano Seminar, Early Music Festival & Workshop, and Chamberre-in-the-Rockies.
The music center is proud to serve a wide variety of constituents. One week the camp is filled with pre-professional college students and the next with middle-school students, followed by mostly senior citizens. Some faculty members stay for multiple sessions, some for only one seminar. With just one day between seminars, the staff members become expert quick-change artists, not just to clean up the camp and get ready for the next group of campers, but more importantly, to shift gears with interpersonal-relationship skills.
For example, Junior Student Seminar campers (ages 10-15) may be experiencing their first overnight camp, which is 13 days long. Some students who may feel shy or homesick need every part of their day scheduled with activities and supervision. Counselor-to-student ratio is 1:5, and faculty-to-student ratio is closer to 1:3. While these students come from various countries, most are from the local Front Range of Colorado.
The Young Artist Seminar (YAS) is a five-week session for high-school and college students 15 to 24 years old. Even within the same session, campers must be addressed differently. Counselors are needed only for those under age 18. Field trips include opportunities to eat at a restaurant in Estes Park or take a sack lunch. Grouping in classes and chamber music depends more on skill level than age. Yet, the same curfew and camp policies apply to all students, whether they are minors or adults. Explaining and enforcing these policies to the young adults can be quite challenging, but not for Daniel Ihasz, Dean of Student Affairs, who takes a “Papa Bear” approach.
Then there are the adult seminars. The camp chef has to stock the pantry for mature palates and portions. Housing arrangements must accommodate adult health issues such as one’s ability to traverse the rocky slope of the campus (sometimes carrying large instruments), and accompanying spouses. Schedules have more open times, and there is no need for counselors. Some of the adult sessions require more structure than others. Adults attend for three to six days. These participants arrive from all over the world to immerse themselves in music in the mountains.
The unifying thread is the music. It transcends age, nationality, language, gender, tastes, and other differences. It is the focus, the passion, and the drive. Visit Rocky Ridge any time during the summer, and you will hear the evidence loudly and clearly resounding on the mountainside.
Karen Dusek began working for the Rocky Ridge Music Center as the administrative manager in December 2010. For more information, visit www.rockyridge.org .