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For 70 Years, Smith Alums Teach Music in the Berkshires

For more than 70 years, a small group of Smith alumnae have made a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of young musicians at Greenwood Music Camp (GMC), a pioneering summer program tucked in the Berkshire hills.

Greenwood Music Camp, which is located on a sprawling plot of hilled, wooded land on the rural outskirts of Cummington, Massachusetts (about 30 miles north of Northampton), accommodates about 100 teenagers during two sessions each summer. The teen musicians at GMC study chamber music, sing in choruses, perform in orchestras and practice their instruments, while spending their off hours tossing Frisbees, kicking softballs and riding bikes.

Since it was founded in 1933, Greenwood Music Camp has always been run by Smith alumnae. In addition, many Smith faculty members have taught at the camp.

Dorothy “Bunny” Fay Little ’27 and Ruth Hill McGregor ’30 originally opened the camp with the belief that an experience of living in a supportive, healthy environment and contributing to the performance of history’s great chamber works would result in profound musical and personal growth for young people.

In 1983, after running GMC for its first 50 years, the founders passed the baton to two more Smith alumnae, Deborah Sherr ’73 and Sally Bagg ’57, who have directed the program since. Sherr operates the camp’s senior division (ages 13 to 18), a five-week session which ended this year on August 7. Bagg directs the junior division (ages 10 to 13), which will run from August 13 through 28.

Despite the change in supervision, the mission and philosophy of GMC’s founders remains, says Bagg, who also directs the instrumental music program at the Smith College Campus School. “One of the strongest parts of the Greenwood experience is that our founders have created a framework of work, play and music-making, which we have not needed to change in almost 75 years,” says Bagg. “They began the camp with a clear idea of not only how they wanted to teach the students musically, but also to teach what else mattered in community life with music at its center.”

In the early days, Bagg explains, the young campers helped maintain and clean the camp grounds in addition to making music -- mowing, weeding, painting, and sometimes repairing roofs -- to provide them with a broad base of experience. Though the riskier jobs have been removed from their list of duties, campers to this day work on the grounds in the afternoons.

GMC was the first music camp of its kind, says Bagg: a camp for young people that focused solely on music. Since then, it has served as a model for many music camps. The music camp was recently awarded the Citation of Excellence from Chamber Music America for “fostering the musical growth of young chamber musicians for 70 years,” according to the citation.

Though the succession of Smith alumnae directors at GMC was not intended, it has at least provided a continuity of commitment to high-quality musical education and a holistic life experience, Bagg says.

According to those who have attended (many successful musicians among them), the weeks spent at GMC have had a lifelong impression.

“Greenwood clearly changed my life, directed me towards my ultimate goals and provided me a foundation for my musical life,” says Gilbert Kalish, a renowned pianist, who was the longtime chair of faculty at Tanglewood Music Center and is now head of performance activities at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, on the camp’s Web site. “And it has given a ‘present’ to my three wonderful children of the joys of music.”

Bagg, a cellist, is also an alumna of GMC, having attended in the 1940s. She believed so strongly in the program that she sent her children there as well.

“Generations of adolescents have attended Greenwood and have remained attached to the camp and its alumnae,” she says. “The Greenwood experience has been one of the most important shaping times in their lives.”

 

 

 
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