Saturday, September 28, 2013

Music from summer camp

Sometimes I surprise myself going from topic topic to, seemingly entirely disparate, yet there is some connection that manifests which drives the sequencing.  On Thursday after class, I was in slight distress in the afternoon.  I had posted an early feedback survey for my course and a couple of students in their comments pointed out that my approach was more than a little scattered.  I wanted to respond that this was more like the real world than the orderly approach they've experienced repeatedly in their other courses.

Early yesterday morning when I got up to go to the bathroom, prompted by this image of a scattered reality, I started to recall the movie M*A*S*H, which I think was the first film I saw where people spoke at the same time, signifying dissonance and countervailing currents.  Indeed, my inclination immediately thereafter was to make up a slide in PowerPoint akin to something we saw in the first full day of the Frye Leadership Institute in summer 2003 about chin up leadership.  It looked something like this, the closest thing I've seen or heard in formal education that seemed in tune with Robert Altman's approach to film direction.

Chin up leadership
Chin up

Of course there are some rather serious themes in Mash and some of the characters are downright prescient about about what is going on (particularly Radar O'Reilly).  Then there are the adolescent humor bits.  There were several of those.  The most elaborate was the football game against a rival unit, with lots of shenanigans during, including giving an opposing top player an injection while he was lying on the field after a play and hidden from view of the the rival bench, to get him out of the game so he couldn't perform any more.  But there was also pure inanity, embodied in the absurd messages delivered over the the loudspeaker  - tonight's movie is Mash, though maybe that is from the TV adaptation.

Camp Oxford, where I went for sleep away camp, had such a loudspeaker as well.  It was in the Headquarters (HQ) hut, which was in the middle of a horseshoe comprised of 25 bunks where the campers lived.  The open end of the horseshoe led down to the lake, North Pond in a map of upstate New York.  It was thinking about the loudspeaker that led me to think about Camp Oxford.  Then I quickly realized how much structure there was imposed on the lives of us campers.  Music was a big part of that.  Structure with music is what I remember of camp, yet somehow I think of reality now as dissonance and countervailing trends.  Hmm.

Many of the songs were bugle calls borrowed from the military, recorded to vinyl and then played over those same loudspeakers, when the time was right.  We woke up to First Call, which nowadays you might hear if you watch the Kentucky Derby.  If you slept through First Call, you would wake up for sure when they played Reveille.

You've got to get up
You've got to get up
You've got to get up in the morning.

You've got to get up
You've got to get up
You've got to get up right now!

Da da da da da da, da da da da da da

Immediately after Reveille, we went outside in our PJs and slippers, perhaps a robe as well, and did some light calisthenics. Over the loudspeaker we'd hear the command for the particular exercise and then a count out of the beat.  After that, we'd get dressed, based on the uniform of the day given over the loudspeaker - shorts, shoes, light sweater or jacket. After everyone was dressed there'd be a call to Assembly.  Each group would line up and then we'd go to the flag raising.  The flagpole was right in front of HQ.  After the Flag was raised, they'd place Mess Call, and we'd go across the street to the Mess hall for breakfast.

The pattern was a little different for lunch since each group would be involved in its own activity and possibly on a ball field far away from the mess hall, so when hearing Mess Call that group might barely have time to put the balls and gloves away and could be a few minutes late getting to lunch.  The situation around dinner time was closer to what happened at breakfast.  There was Assembly for the Flag lowering.  Then we went off for dinner.

I view myself somewhat anti military symbols, a distrust dating back to the Vietnam War, which was well underway my last few years of camp.  But listening to the bugle calls now, I find them very familiar and somewhat comforting to hear.  I wouldn't have guessed that to be my reaction, but it is.

We had music frequently while we were at mess.  There was a piano player, Daddy Joe.  He probably had a broader repertoire, but the only song I can recall him playing, which he seemingly did every day, was Tequila.  I liked the Daddy Joe version better than the original recorded by The Champs.   At other times we did sing-alouds, usually near the end of the meal.  The head counselor in my first few years was Tony Boch.  (He was Italian and this was a Jewish camp.  Boch was a short form of his real last name.)  He would lead us in what I think was an Italian song (or a street version of one) about various instruments in a band or orchestra.  There was one kid in the camp, in particular, who loved to sing this song.  Tony would do a line.  The kid would do the next line.  Then the full camp would come in with the refrain.

There was a very odd-to-an-outsider activity at mess once a week, but to explain it I need to give some background first.  Each day after breakfast there was cleanup.  You had to make your bed - hospital corners for the sheets and the one woolen blanket in blue or gray that was on top of the bed, with the two other woolen blankets wrapped in jelly rolls and placed at the foot of the bed.  Then each camper in the bunk had a job - sweep, kybo (bathroom) and outside are the ones I remember.  Most bunks had eight campers.  There were seven of these jobs.  The eighth position was off.  You didn't have to do a cleaning job when you were off.

After cleanup there would be inspection.  A counselor from another group would come and inspect each of the bunks in the group for how well they did in keeping the bunk tidy.  The inspector would give a rating to each bunk on a 10-point scale, taking off one tenth of a point for each thing he found that shouldn't be there.  A 10.0 was perfect.  A 9.9 was pretty darn good.  The bunks would be in competition for the highest average rating over the week.  The winning bunk would get a prize.  That prize was "delivered" once a week at the lunchtime mess.

Tony would have a bunch of pies, either blueberry or apple if memory serves, one for each group.  As he called out which bunk in a group won, a counselor from the winning bunk, sitting at a table with the campers and the other counselors in the bunk would go to the middle of the mess hall.   There he would wait for Tony to toss a pie from the head table where Tony was to where the counselor was standing.  It seemed to me that Tony always loosened the pie from the pie pan that was containing it.  Sometimes in the toss the pie would remain largely intact and in the pan and the counselor would catch it.  In this case the pie would be brought to the table of the winning bunk and consumed on the spot.   Other times the pie would come completely out of the pan during the toss and much of it would end up on floor.  The counselor would get only a little bit on his fingers, not enough to go around the table.  When that happened the entire camp would sing:

Because he didn't scoop
Ice cream for the group. 

Sure enough, the next time the group was at canteen, which happened during the evening once or twice a week, canteen was where the kids bought candy to bring back to their bunks, there would be ice cream for everyone.  

There was also singing at other times when you were with your group, perhaps at a campfire, maybe after a Watermelon League (inter-group) softball game.  Each group had their own song.  I was in the Cub group for my first two years, in bunk 3 the first time and bunk 5 the second.  I remember the Cub group song quite well.

Men of the Cub group
Men of the Cub group
Sweep the fields like we have swept the fields before
Till the last man
Of the enemy clan
Conquers all to rise no more.

Alleveevo, Allevivo
Alleveevo vivo ves
Come a seven
Come eleven.
Come a rickety-rackety yes, yes, yes.

Then the first verse repeats.  We also sang at the end of the day, many groups together in some ensemble activity, whether after watching a movie at the Rec hall or doing something else.   First we sang the camp alma mater.

Oxford fair and true
With our hearts we belong to you
As we love all the old and new
That we think of when we are gone.

Sunset and starry night
Our cherished and fond delight
As we linger by the pale moonlight
To await the awakening dawn.

Through the years our memories cling around us.
Through the tears our voices ring around us.

Let there be no goodbye
For the thought of you never dies
We'll return to you by and by
Oh, Oxford the camp that we love.

This was followed immediately by the singing of Taps.

Day is done
Gone the sun
From the lake
From the hills
From the sky
All is well
Safely rest
God is nigh.

I want to close with a couple of things that were a bit more idiosyncratic.  Language was used then in a way it no longer is.  One expression I remember that was chanted with some frequency, though I don't recall it's significance now:

You're no good you
You piece of wood you

Then a bunk mate of mine, Alan, and I made up a very simple lyric sung to the Call to Services (the linked version is slower than what I remember) that we had on Saturday, done jointly with Camp Guilford, the girls camp.  At the time Alan and I referred to many people as a "tool," not meant as a compliment.  Our lyric went like this.

Tool ool ool
Tool ool ool.
Tool and a little dodo bird
Tool and a little dodo bird
Tool and a little dodo bird.
Tool and a little bird.

Perhaps life now seems so less ordered to me because there is no music used regularly to give it structure.  And maybe it is because I grew out of it.  I didn't like my last year in camp, when I was in bunk 19.  But now I find it compelling to revisit the  earlier years when I did like camp.  The folks who designed it and were the first owners, Marcy Hessel and Sid Fiedler, knew a thing or two about how such a place should be run.


pumpkin said...


Mitch Levison said...

I remember Tony with great affection, and Camp O.G.

Some of the best summers of my life spent there!

Mitch Levison, Water Ski /Waterfront counselor 1963-1968.
West Palm Beach, fl