Harvey Cavalier Camp - Camp Director's Blog
Vinny Alexander, the Chair of the Performing Arts Department at The Harvey School for the past 12 years, has been actively involved with the Harvey Cavalier Summer Camp for more than 20 years. He assumed the role of camp director this past summer, following in the footsteps of his mentor and friend, Chris Del Campo, who started the Harvey Cavalier Camp in 1996. Vinny's love of camp began as a child. His musings on camp are both entertaining and informative and offer a great reminder of what camp is all about and why the summer camp experience is so important for our kids. Vinny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Typical Day, Filled with Art
As I shut down the lights in the theatre, I stopped to reflect on the day’s activity. There is certainly evidence of a thriving arts program at The Harvey School’s Walker Center for the Arts. The venue was still charged with the creative energy of the day; and what a day it was.
Our chorus is gearing up for an upcoming concert. The group was practicing in the morning. I am proud that we have a high school and middle school chorus. My office is right next door to the choral room and I have the pleasure of hearing students sing throughout the day.
Later that afternoon, rehearsals for the upper school plays, the dance company concert and the middle school showcase occupied the theatre and practice spaces. Visual art students were in the studios painting, sculpting and working with mix media. We have spacious art studios with natural light and exposed wooden beams. The studios themselves are an inspiration.
That day, I also had a chance to watch a group of students record a comedy sketch in our television studio. Earlier in the week, the students collaborated on a script and in a matter of days had a finished project that they rehearsed, blocked, and put before the cameras.
What I find really astounding is that this is a typical day at The Harvey School. While Harvey is not an art school, it has a comprehensive arts program that not only permeates the academic day but extends well into the after-school hours and also into the evening. The arts are alive at Harvey.
It’s All in the People
What makes Harvey’s art program unique is a staff of passionate artists and educators. Our teachers believe that there is more value in process than product. In terms of creative energy, process is the current. In a product driven society, shifting focus to the means and not on the end flies in the very face of the philosophy that higher education is about getting a job. American artist, Robert Henri in his book, The Art Spirit said, “I am not interested in art as a means of making a living, but I am interested in art as a means of living a life.”
Harvey wants art to be in the lives of all its students.
Middle School music teacher, Zachary Wright sees the study of art as a study of community. “When you study art, particularly the performing arts, you gain a strong sense of community. Whether you sing together, play an instrument in an ensemble, dance or act in a production you experience a sense of fellowship and community.” Zach goes on to explain that through community you “create life-long supporters and patrons of the arts.” His is a comfortable classroom environment where students can explore and take risks. “We sing together simply to sing. Students also learn to read music. We have no plans to perform in front of an audience. It is about the process.”
Fine Arts, too
Chairman of the Fine Arts, Rick Price agrees. “I concentrate on process with my students because that is something they can take anywhere. It is a lot different than hanging and leaving a painting on the wall. Art develops creativity and the imagination. It allows you to communicate without words. I want my students to have an understanding of what art is and how it is accessible on so many levels. Art is not some magic that only a few can do. It is something that can be learned.”
Music - A Magic Carpet Ride
If you are old enough to remember the 1960’s rock band, Steppenwolf then you are familiar with the lyrics of their 1968 hit, “Magic Carpet Ride.” The song describes music as a transport, with the ability to take the listener to any region of time, space and the imagination. The singer instructs a young lady to close her eyes and then to look inside, letting the sound take her away. Relating his own musical journey, he sings, “On a cloud of sound I drift in the night. Any Place it goes is right.” This sentiment resonates with me.
I find music to be the most powerful art form in that it allows me to transcend the confines of the physical and to float in a sacred place. Music allows me to reach the intangible. In the words of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Music is my Aeroplane.” Music takes me to great heights and brings me great joy. I truly love music.
What’s in a Name?
Not too long ago, my wife and I went to The Bitter End in Greenwich Village to see a friend perform with his band. He went on very late. We got to the venue hours before he played and had the opportunity to sit through three or four sets of original music performed by unknown bands. It was glorious. I got lost in the music and said to my wife that I was good to die at that moment. The music brought me peace.
Weeks later, I realized how ironic the name of the iconic club was and thought if I met my demise at that coffee house in the Village there would be nothing bitter about it.
I Am Not Alone
I know that am not alone in my passion for music. I know that there are many listeners like me who see music as a transport and rely on music for spiritual exploration. This is the real reason why it is important to have music as part of the school curriculum. Of course, I wouldn’t present this argument to a school board during budget preparations. I would stick with the normal pedagogical assertions like aesthetic values, universal language and ties to mathematics. But let’s be honest. We all know the true reason to study music. We all know its true power.
The Harvey Camp’s Commitment to Music Education
At The Cavalier Camp, music is central. We have a dance program that is supported by music. We offer vocal and instrumental lessons. We have a newly created camp choir. There are musical theatre classes. Every Friday, we have a variety show where many campers share their musical talents, but most of all we have composers on staff who work with student ideas and themes to write original music for our end of summer productions.
Music runs through the veins of the camp, keeping the beat of summer. Below is a link that features one of our campers, Max performing at one of the weekly variety shows. Watch him take the magic carpet for a spin:
A War on the Emoji
A declaration of war may be a bit excessive for a summer camp to enact, but I cannot think of a better way to express my disdain for the emoji.
Yeah, They’re Cute
Yes, I get it. They are cute, whimsical and fun. They are also cross-cultural and reminiscent of the popular smiley faces that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. And given that most people communicate by text messaging today (don’t get me started on that), the tone and the nuisances of language are lost. The emoji has come to help us understand cryptic and vague texts. This still doesn’t change my feelings for these little, digital icons. The only emoji I would support is one that expresses my utmost disgust for the emoji
So Why the Hate?
So why would anyone hate little cartoon faces that are part of current trends in communication and pop culture? It is simple; I fear that our young people are shying away from understanding the incredible depths of human emotion. Instead of trying to verbalize or create something that expresses a true, raw feeling, students tap a cartoon mug to represent what they are feeling and trying to say.
The Need for Art
As an arts educator, I find that the emoji to be restricting and troubling. Art is fueled by passion, passion is fueled by emotions, and emotions need to be confronted and understood. More and more I see my students reluctant to speak or, if willing to speak, uncannily unaware of what they are feeling or trying to say. And while the emoji is not the reason, these smiling icons have come to represent this epidemic. This is why it is important to study art and literature. Visual creations and the written word empower young artists to speak and express themselves. Art gives voice.
At Harvey’s Cavalier Camp
At the Cavalier Camp, we offer a wide variety of arts classes that give students the vocabulary they need to express themselves. Our campers are encouraged to imagine and to tell stories through their drawings, paintings, performances and sculptures. The foundational skills presented through our program provide children with the necessary tools of craft that allow them to build and share creative voice. This immersion in the arts contributes to a lifelong practice of imagination, understanding and self-expression.
Our campers share their ideas with each other in an open, collaborative forum, designed to foster expression, critical thinking and community. They also learn tolerance, accepting the ideas and creative efforts of others. Cavalier Camp is a celebration of the individual and that individual’s place in a creative community.
The emoji is temporary, a symbol of a fleeting moment in time. Art is eternal. Its statement and impact are everlasting. Join us this summer and participate in creativity and practice expression.
When I was 5 years old, my mother enrolled me in a summer camp program, starting my 46-year affiliation with summer camps. This tenure, as some may think, was not the result of a cruel and unusual form of community service. Nor was it a way to entertain an overgrown man-child who didn’t know what else to do with his summer vacations. No, my long-term relationship with summer camp was a professional choice; a choice I made many years ago. Of course, when I was in grade school, I simply enjoyed going to camp. It was fun. Besides, not many elementary school children were making professional choices. I made the choice when I was in high school and this decision helped define my career path.
Summer Camp is the Ideal Educational Experience
As the years went on, it became evident to me as a professional teacher that summer camp is one of the best educational programs that parents can invest in for their children. Summer camps are unadulterated classrooms – classrooms without state mandates, without testing, and without grades. Summertime programs offer learning for the sake of learning. The information, skills and personal growth that can come from summer learning is astonishing. As I look back now, it is evident that all I ever needed to know, I learned in summer camp.
Learn to Challenge Yourself
It was in summer camp that I first learned to physically challenge myself. There were obstacle courses and trampolines. There were endless hours in sandboxes and playgrounds; playgrounds with monkey bars and at that time, there were no eco-friendly rubber mats to break the fall. I had the chance to test my strength and speed with games like Red Rover and Steal the Bacon. We tested wits against our peers in games like Ringolevio and Capture the Flag. Healthy competition was always present.
Learn to Think Strategically
Through competition, I learned how to strategize, collaborate and also to lose. Losing was common. It happened often enough to be memorable. There were many opportunities to compete. Our camp challenged other camps to swim meets and baseball games. We had a week-long, camp-wide Color War where every year one-half of the camp lost, but we learned to lose with dignity and grace. There were also occasions for victory; winning at camp came with a formative mixture of pride and humility.
Learn to Embrace Community
I learned the importance of community in summer camp. There was a certain power and unity that came from singalongs and storytelling. Ghost stories around the campfire carried on camp traditions and unified generations in fear and awe. In camp, I made friends from other neighborhoods and got to know kids from rival school districts. Some of these friends became lifelong friends.
Summer Camp is a Platform for Self-Discovery
In camp, I also learned what it meant to succeed as an individual. There was always one camper who was the best athlete and one who excelled in art. Another was the king of science and still another who could sing – individuals excelling, displaying their passions.
I learned all this in camp, and now as a camp director, I promote the same opportunities to challenge, to teach, to build community and to celebrate the individual. When picking a summer program for your child, be sure to ask what philosophy drives the camp. Be sure that your child has the chance to grow and to succeed as an individual. What children learn at summer camp will last a lifetime.
At Harvey Cavalier Summer Camp, we strive to create a summer camp that’s as extraordinary as your child. In our camp offering, children in grades Pre-K through 9th can pursue their passion, choosing from programs and activities that fit their interests. Guided by skilled educators and experienced professionals, children develop the confidence that comes from mastering new pursuits and meeting other with similar interests. Learn more about Harvey Cavalier Camp by attending our next Winter Open House event.
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