Young string players learn technique, teamwork
When Pipestone Summer Music Camp is in session, it doesn’t take more than a couple steps into the Methow Valley Community Center to hear the ringing voices of an orchestra. Past the front desk and through an open classroom door, the thunderous tones of a cello section call out to violins and violas.
Now in its 15th year, Pipestone School of Music’s annual summer camp is a week-long program offering youth opportunities to play in a string orchestra and small string ensembles. This year’s camp, which took place July 25-29, brought in 16 young musicians and concluded with a concert.
Pam Hunt, director of the camp and co-founder of Pipestone School of Music, said each year she reaches out to local professional musicians to serve as coaches at the camp. This year, she was joined by Bruce Walker, a cellist and associate professor of music at Columbia Basin College, and Rachel Nesvig, a Seattle-based freelance violinist and Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle teacher.
Walker, who also coached the camp in 2018, said the decision to come back was an easy yes. Part of what makes the experience so special to him is how close-knit the community at Pipestone is.
“That in itself is such a unique and organic experience, because everybody supports each other’s learning, and everybody learns from each other, so everybody’s success is my success,” Walker said. “That’s what I find really, truly transformative about this specific camp.”
Each day at camp follows a similar rhythm, Hunt said. For the first half of the day, younger students engage in music-related activities and rehearse in the larger string orchestra, working on songs like “Curse of the Rosin Eating Zombies from Outer Space” by Richard Meyer and “Apache Peak” by Susan Day. Hunt said she chooses pieces that will help students develop different techniques, like playing legato or staccato with their bows.
For the last hour of rehearsal, more experienced students join in with the orchestra. Then, those campers break off into small groups for three hours of chamber music rehearsal.
“Even though it seems daunting, like three hours, you can really dive deep and get to know the students really well and make connections, and that’s what music is about,” Nesvig said.
This year featured two chamber groups. A three-person cello choir took on pieces by Handel, Purcell, Chilesotti and Alberti, while a group of four spent the week learning a Stamitz quartet. Elsa Gutzler, a cellist in the cello choir, said she enjoyed her small group because of the variety of different pieces she got to play.
“I like being able to play all these different types [of music],” Gutzler said. “Like this one’s really upbeat and has a strong rhythm you kind of launch into, and then there’s other ones that are these old really classical pieces.”
Hunt moved to the Methow Valley 29 years ago with her husband Terry Hunt, a classically trained guitarist. There, they joined the board of Cascadia Music, a Twisp-based community music organization. Despite the thriving music festival and concert series Cascadia put on, Hunt said she saw far fewer opportunities for music education in the Methow Valley. At the time, she recalls, only one other private music instructor taught in the area.
It was in 1997, when music in the schools was cut, that Pam and Terry Hunt knew they had to make a change.
“We just said, ‘we need a music school,’” Hunt said.
Together, the couple founded Pipestone School of Music, Cascadia Music’s educational branch. Today, Cascadia Music remains the parent organization and fiscal sponsor for the Pipestone Summer Music Camps.
Hunt said Pipestone strives to make music education accessible by offering scholarships. The school also has about 45 instruments available to loan to students.
“I’m always so thankful that people like [Bruce and Rachel] can come in and interact with my students, because they don’t all get out to other camps,” Hunt said. “Just because you grew up in a little community doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have all these opportunities.”
To Hunt, music is everything — it encompasses language, history, math and physicality. It’s the kind of thing you never regret learning, and always regret quitting, Nesvig said.
As young musicians move on from Pipestone Summer Music Camp and continue through their summers, Walker hopes they carry with them a new appreciation for their craft. He said he continues to advocate for music and music education because of the connections and possibility it brings.
“I find celebrating the arts and being involved with music really helps us develop that inner sense of what it means to be human — to see beauty not just from the physical aspect, but an aural aspect,” Walker said. “This is something that can transcend anything we do, and I know when we leave, all we hope is that our legacy will be able to be the catalyst to make more things grow. We are literally planting the seeds with every single student that we teach.”