We spend so much of our teenage years charting out our identities, only to find territories carved out for certain selves and not others.

You can’t choose neutral ground.  So for better or for worse, you find your way through.

table and trash can bandOne of the things that impressed me about the students at the Community Music School of Santa Cruz’s Teen Camp was the way they were accepting of multiple ways of being.

At the talent show, one camper offered a performance entitled “A Presentation of the Ukulele as a Valid Instrument” that started out funny and ended up being one of the most haunting musical performances of the week.  (I congratulated him on it the next day, and he just said, very wisely, well, you know, I practiced a lot…)

ukelele as valid instrumentOne day I heard detailed discussion about which beats to emphasize in a Swedish polska leading into a Game of Thrones reference.  (By the way, “Irish Spring is coming!” with a box of green and white soap? Brilliant.)

There was a student who said this was the only week of the year s/he wasn’t made fun of for liking Celtic music.  (Imagine being “normal” just one week a year.  And then think about how narrow the usual definition of “normal” actually is.)

And then there was a surprisingly detailed lunchtime conversation about plot points from Star Trek in the mid-90s.  (Full disclosure: I may have been sitting at that table.)  (Fuller disclosure: I may have been a very vocal participant in that conversation.)

In short, there were a lot of quirky kids at this camp.  They (we) were right next to students who I am 100% positive are the very popular ones back in regular life.  The only difference between this and high school was that everyone seemed to be, you know, getting along.  And even appreciating each other.

applauseIt turns out neutral ground is overrated.

What shared interests do is open up a common ground.  And an exceptional time and place – like camp – offers us the further possibility of a liminal space.

Who knows what ripples will extend out from the week we shared together?  What might this week mean ten years from now?

As it turns out, the week we were living in cabins in California, a pilgrimage of sorts was happening to the seemingly unlikely location of Kirksville, Missouri.  Alumni of the band programs at Truman State University gathered on their director’s front lawn to play a surprise concert in honor of his retirement.

Some of them crossed multiple state lines to do so.  They took off work.  They arranged it months in advance.

All to be able to wake their leader up with a heartfelt rendition of a school song that they probably hadn’t played for years – but which had kept on reverberating all the same.