bluegrass viola duetThere’s something so intentional about the way everyone at the Community Music School of Santa Cruz’s Teen Camp builds community.

I’ve been thinking about this as the days have turned into weeks since camp ended.

The flip side of mountaintop experiences where likeminded people come together is that the rest of the year we are all out in diaspora.

There’s probably another post to write about this – little seeds scattered out across the country, trying to bring something of the camp experience to the everyday – but right now I’m thinking about the other 358 days of the year.

Part of what those days do is build up a dedication to that space that exists at a special time and place.  When that group reunites at the Sempervirens camp facility each summer, it’s with a specific intention.  It’s as though each person says, the rest of the year, I’ll go to school or my straight job, but this week?  This week will be different.

So they gather around a common purpose, whether they’ve been attending for over a decade and now are managers, or they’re still gaining their feet in their first years.

And it’s beautiful, really, the way that the group brings newcomers into the circle as the week flows on.

It happens ever so naturally: a lunchtime conversation here, a popup class on chopping there.  Pretty soon you’re cheering each other on.

This is what community is about.  You start as strangers and find common ground.  And if you’re intentional about it, that one week has ripple effects for months to come.

Last year, Shelley Phillips taught shape note singing classes.  This year, the focus was more instrumental, but the group still gathered for a song everyday before lunch.

No one made a big deal about it – no coaching harmonies or enunciation, nothing like that.  It was just part of the day.

They picked back up a shapenote song by Seth Houston entitled “Big Sky.”  New students picked it up from those they stood next to.

And by the final concert, whether old hands or new campers, they all sang from memory.


When the sky is clear and sunlight shines, we pursue our way
With nary a fear we follow straight lines day after blinding day
But the path gets blocked and the sky turns black, forcing us to pause
and leave with shock our narrow track for one with fewer flaws
When the sky is blue, and grass is green, we seldom check to see
if our pathway through this verdant scene leads toward harmony
Then danger shakes our selfish minds, we look to the sky
New lives to make, new paths to find, listen to her reply
“Live your life,” says she, “with keen respect for your brothers of the Earth
To be truly free, you must protect with majesty and mirth
The ocean and air, forest, hill and plain, animal in flight
Are in your care; Rejoice in the rain and walk (in) the way of light!”