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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Camping at Interlochen in Northern Michigan

The music camp and Interlochen in northern Michigan, not far from Traverse City, was the idea of a University of Michigan professor of music school by the name of Maddy. It was a beautiful spot in virgin forest between two lakes. There were dormitories for high school students and also for younger pupils, small buildings scattered thru the woods (an abandoned red schoolhouse was one) which were used as practice rooms, one or two larger buildings of rough lumber and unfinished inside for rehearsing larger groups and an outdoor auditorium with unpainted pine seats, facing an open shell where the high school band and orchestra rehearsed and gave their concerts on Sunday afternoons. Most of the faculty, symphony players for the most part, rented or owned cottages along the shores of the lakes. University music students acted as monitors to watch over the younger students of high school and grade school age.

The music camp was on one of the lakes - they were given poetic Indian names but were known locally as Duck Lake and Green Lake - while the other one was the site of a Michigan state park called Interlochen. It was a very large park and campers were allowed to stay as long as they wished. I believe you paid a dollar to register as you went in and you could pick any spot you wanted to pitch your tent; some people liked to be right in the woods, others preferred a grassy spot in the open where the sun could get at things during the day to dry them out. It could get pretty damp in the deep woods. The park attendants furnished wood but most campers had gasoline stoves for cooking as we did. We had to go to a small village nearby for white (unleaded) gas. When we needed a wood bonfire for heat at night I scouted thru the woods and found a fallen evergreen tree, or the remains of one which had rotted except for the knots. The knots were full of pitch and gave a hot fire which lasted a long time. We could buy a few groceries at the small village but usually went in to Traverse City, about 18 miles, about once a week for supplies. One summer, however, we didn’t move our car from its place next to the tent all summer. When we were ready to leave we noticed a field mouse scamper out from under the car with a baby mouse it its mouth, disappear into the bushes, then return to get another one. After we were on the road I noticed that it was hard to push the brake pedal down. I stopped at a garage to see what was wrong and the mechanic who looked under the hood said, “It looks like you have a mouse’s nest in here,” and he pulled out pieces of string, grass and bits of our toilet paper, quite a large bundle.

Since we were camped in virgin forest there were many tall pine trees projecting their tops high above the general level of the forest canopy. These trees had all been lumbered off in other parts of the state. They could be seen from a boat out in the lake but in the woods you could recognize them only by their larger diameter. The evergreens, beech and clumps of white birch, the lakes with their sandy bottoms and the cries of the loons in the evening all reminded me of the Leatherstocking tales of Fenimore Cooper, “The Deerslayer,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” which held me spellbound when I was ten or twelve years old.

Visitors were always welcome at the music camp as many of the students’ parents, relatives and friends of the family would spend a week or two during the summer and Dr. Maddy, who was always looking for cash to keep up and expand the camp, considered them good sources of donations. I remember Senator Vandenburg’s daughter was studying piano at the camp and he was there for a week visiting her. He gave Maddy money to build a piano practice building and I think he pulled strings in Washington to obtain federal grants. The music camp was well known all over the U.S. and many tourists passing thru Michigan would stop for a day or two. The Sunday afternoon concerts were always well attended, the only time when admission was charged. It was about a half mile walk thru the woods between the state park camp and the music camp. The high school orchestra was the largest group and rehearsed in the shell from nine a.m. ‘til 11 and I usually got there in time to get a seat on the stage behind the basses or woodwinds where I had a good view of the conductor and could hear his instructions. It was better than sitting out in the bleachers where the conductor had his back to me. There were always from ten to fifteen people sitting on the stage with me, some of them high school music teachers like myself.

At eleven, we would all walk down the path to a barn-like wooden building where the adult orchestra rehearsed. It was formed mostly of college age students with a few music teachers mixed in. In the afternoon the high school band rehearsed in the shell.

Maddy saw to it that he had a nucleus of the best high school instrumentalists in the state by giving them scholarships and the camp orchestra was therefore able to tackle a modest symphonic repertoire, symphonies and tone poems by all the well known classical and romantic composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorzak, giving the students a familiarity with masterpieces they could have obtained in no other way. By tradition the final number at the end of the summer was Franz Liszt’s “Les Predules.” As the final notes died away all of the girls in camp and some of the boys burst into tears realizing that the summer was over and the intimate friends they had made, perhaps from another state, might be going out of their lives forever. To us older folks it was a touching but at the same time amusing scene.

One afternoon Yvette was walking thru the woods toward the music camp with Alan in tow. He must have been between three and four and she was speaking to him in French when they met a man going in the opposite direction with an instrument under his arm. He stopped her and said, “Q’est un petit Français que vous avez là?” It was André Andraud, oboist with the Cincinnati Symphony who spent his summers teaching oboe at the music camp. While they were talking I came along the path on my way back to the tent. When he started teaching at Interlochen he had bought a summer cottage on Green Lake so his family, his wife and two little girls, could get away from the heat of the city and be with him during the summer. In addition André sold French-made oboes by Lorée and another make, and made oboe reeds which he sold to his students and to oboe players throughout the U.S. The Lorée was the most highly prized oboe made and practically all professional oboe players used them. At that time most of the oboists in the American symphonies were Frenchment but American players were beginning to develop.

The Andrauds’ oldest girl was Yolande’s age. Her name was Monette. The younger one, Aileine, was close to Alan’s age. They both spoke French, of course, as did our two. We became very good friends and we saw them often, not only at Interlochen but in Muskegon Heights where they would stop over on their way north, or after summer camp was over, on their way back to Cincinnati. André had been born in Bordeau and spoke with a strong southern French accent. After he retired from his work with the symphony the Andrauds moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We left our little blue Ford with them there after I retired and we made out trip to Puerto Rico. André’s memory was already going then and he died shortly afterwards.

Table of Contents
We Move Back to the Heights
I Learn to Play Oboe

Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31