Camp Creative
[ Issue 8 ]

Camp Creative brings Emily Bronto much happiness

Bikwil honours Camp Creative

Camp Creative

Peter Mara here writes of his first Camp Creative experience.  What is it really like, singing in your first classical choir?

I could taste the chords. One note would change and there would follow a flavour so rare, a perfume in the chord and in the next chord a new magic

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Camp Creative ‘98, or
I’ll Take You Home Again, Antonio

— Peter Mara


Would I come to Nambucca Heads with Carol and Catherine in January while Carol ran a course in Creative Writing or would I stay home alone through the baking days? Clearly Camp Creative would be a fest for vegetarian sandal wearers studying Zen or High Wire Monocycling for Beginners. I would stay home accompanying the air conditioner and avoid the crowds of macrobiotic basket weavers.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast

When a splendid prospectus came by mail I had just a peek . . . and I kept returning to the same page.

Now, I used to believe that Dreams were the "Royal Road to the Unconscious" but I had come to the view that it was Music that was the true road and the Singing Voice could at times have a direct line to the Soul with its surprise of feelings.

In '93 1 had joined with forty men in the Central Coast Barbershop Chorus and slowly my voice had been able to sing notes in tune with others. After four years I was still a leaner — one who needed a surer singer close by.

Ambition, secret and exciting, was there. What if I went on this singing course for Savvy Singers without letting on. Perhaps I could come back as a really strong singer (and, sotto voce, amaze everyone!).

The course was a five-day one for average singers who would be taught how to sing off the page. Wow!

Frank Partridge VC Public School

People were pegging tents on the school oval, campervan drivers were looking for the shadiest level spot. Classrooms were converted into dorms. Hundreds of people were wandering around with maps finding where the thirty-seven courses were to be held. The new High School had opened its gates to the students and the great gymnasium became the men's dorm at night.

The "onlie begetter" of all this, Bill Lockley, wandered about giving help wherever he was needed but letting things take their course. Erik Erikson wrote that in Old Age we have two choices; Generativity versus Despair and I take Generativity to mean a generous creativity connecting you to others. Twelve years before, the retired Lockley had plumped for Generativity in a big way and set up courses for kids and adults within a framework of concerts and get-togethers. This was Camp Creative number seventeen.

There'll be some changes made today

I put away the kaftan and straw hat and adopted North Coast Uniform of baseball cap, sunnies, polo shirt worn outside, baggy board shorts and sandals. With my water bottle and nonchalant air I approached the classroom for Savvy Singers. At least I'd be attending a course where not too much would be expected unlike the elite Choral Kings who, under the direction of Isabel Atcheson of the much toured and recorded Isabella A Capella would be presenting a Full Liturgical Work in a Public Concert.

But the courses for the timid had collapsed. I was now in the elite Choral Kings and presented with a 72 page score — Antonio Vivaldi, Gloria, for solo voices, mixed chorus in four parts and orchestra.

Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie — where are you now? At least Vivaldi had got it right with four parts. Perhaps he was an ancient Barbershopper singing lead with off-duty gondolieri by a leaning striped pole as the waters of the Grand Canal softly lapped the stones. But had I arrived at the Palace of The Inquisition?

Maestro Laudamus Te

Isabel, standing, played through the accompaniment at scalding speed. As I began to know more about her I realised that she was in direct line of succession from the Red Priest himself. Leaving a North Coast farm she had been educated at the famed Mercy Convent in Grafton but having her music practice lessons from the Reverend Mother of the large Mercy Orphanage. Here the hundred boys and girls all sang in the Orphanage choir. Perhaps Isabel's passion for Choral work began then. I discovered that nothing is known of Antonio as a Barbershopper but he had written much of his music for the orphan girls very well cared for in an Orphanage in Venice. It seemed that somehow Vivaldi's flame had been passed on directly to this very room filled with 48 singers and the Maestro and her Assistant Musical Director Brian Martin.

Let's Face the Music and Dance

Without an elaborate tuning up by pitch pipe the singers were brought into tune merely by a ping of a note on the piano. This was new to me but of course there was accompaniment to keep these singers in pitch whereas Barbershop heroes have to do it all by themselves.

The classical singers were into water bottles to keep the voice moist. They did visualisations to relax their minds and bodies. Brian Martin conducted intricate body percussion exercises with six groups all with different clapping and body slapping rhythms working against each other for a great effect. I began to feel very humble about rhythm and to have a greater sense of rhythm within my own body. Composers like Vivaldi would be wonderful dancers. They write moments and milliseconds down on paper giving us the plan of a living clock of rhythm. In Barbershop the rhythm is not a great worry — it's mostly steady — you come in on the first beat of the bar. Here's Vivaldi bringing us in on the second beat, start counting, try and get the beat into your thick skull. Try to count — I lose it every time.

Each day I go home exhausted. It isn't the heat. It's the mind trying to take it all in — the pitch of the black dot on the page, how long to sing on that black dot, listen, see, take it in to learn it, watch Isabel, tune in to the other parts. Is all this too much to ask?

Let Those Barbershop Chords Ring

Isabel shows us the chords moving, how Vivaldi is raising the chords, building up tension and then resolving into peace. "This is the crunch chord." I could taste the chords. One note would change and there would follow a flavour so rare, a perfume in the chord and in the next chord a new magic. This was just like good Barbershop singing — this was getting to the soul.

And Isabel was heaping out praise. Like our Barbershop Musical Director she was positive about effort — there was no time spent on searching out who might be singing a wrong note. Which was just as well for me.

In survival mode after the shock of not being in a beginner's group I had sussed out who of the ten basses was most likely to be able to make sense of 72 pages of music. I was soon seated beside Richard and Alan who were skilled singers and who were tolerant souls. Like a boy on a bicycle I grabbed hold of the side of a truck and prepared to go over the mountain pass ahead.

We were seated as we learned. Isabel threatened to tread on any foot that was not flat on the floor. Our trunks were to be kept upright so our breathing from the diaphragm would be unhindered. What a great idea for our chorus to adopt as at our weekly practice we often stand on risers for ninety minutes. A number of our keenest singers are in their seventies and we have enough members with two artificial knees to make up a quartet known as "The Knee Warblers".

Each afternoon a swim at Shelly Beach helped mental recovery and so I had enough energy to go to THE BASH, the one big Camp Creative event where traditionally the bravest campers let their hair down and perform their own original little acts for everyone.

Carry On Camping Creatively

It was crowded and hot in the Hall. I'd left my glasses, curses, but I could make out the performers fairly well. First up was a Shakespearean ham, gesticulating and dissolving the walls of Harfleur with his spittle — when my eyes focussed I saw clearly Charlie Hawtrey who, of course retired to the North Coast years ago. A fulsome soprano creamily delivered Bali Ha’i and Hattie Jacques, for it was she who graciously acknowledged roses flung onto the stage. A comedian told a tale called My Dog Named Sex and when he leered at the audience — yes it was — it was Sid James. Just what you'd expect of Sid.

Perhaps the most talented camper was the thin fussy man, the chap who'd thrown red roses at Hattie and who'd been shouting "Bravo!" and "Magnificent!". He was upset, very huffy about the off colour nature of the earlier performer. He asked if anyone in the audience would give him five or six musical notes to start him off. A chap sang a little tune and with a haughty air the pianist began to play, improvising brilliantly on this theme from Smith or Jones. I thought only Beethoven or Mozart was allowed to be able to create an instant concerto with wonderful harmony and bravura passages. Then I realised that seated at the keyboard was none other than Kenneth Williams who can do anything at all.

I spent a lot of money buying raffle tickets from that bright young woman in the sweater. I think her name was Barbara Windsor. I kept going back for more.

If you haven't got a penny a ha'penny will do

There were no stringed instruments to be found on the North Coast. It being the middle of summer they had all gone on holidays.

Isabel went to work. She found two teenagers, one with a sax and one with a trumpet. An organist was located. Brian Martin pressed a button and his keyboard became a harpsichord. Then a double bass arrived, followed by a drummer from a rock band and a rock guitarist with a 1000-watt amplifier! The Chorus was in terror of that amplifier.

On the inside of the music looking out

At last the performance before a large crowd in the Catholic Church at Nambucca. There are twelve stations on the line from Gloria in Excelsis Deo to Cum Santo Spiritu. I do not want to fall off the train but when Isabel re-arranges the Choir on the altar steps and Richard and Alan are moved to the other side I feel I am about to go. Somehow I sidle and ingratiate around to connect with my friends' timing and pitch. Our Maestro has tamed the rock musos with a baton not a whip. At rehearsal the choir was thrilled with the accuracy and beauty of the two soloists.

With Vivaldi's Wake Up and Listen to Me! beginning and its wonderful attack of rhythmical hiccups we are away. Soon I am in the music — it is within me in a way that has never happened before. I am a chord that keeps changing.

At the end, with the audience standing, I see tears on Carol's face while Catherine who loves only Spice Girls looks lost. I know that Vivaldi has lived again through us and it is a triumph.

After the Ball is Over

In the city I found a CD of Gloria and bought my own copy of the score. I listen to the music and think of the experience I had. Back at Barbershop practice I think I am a bit better at looking at a score — especially in counting and I think my ear for harmony has improved. I have more confidence.

Next year will we go to Camp Creative? I hope so. To learn from such a teacher, be part of the group and to, once again, have the chance of being just inside the music looking out.

(Isabella A Capella is recorded by Larrikin. Camp Creative's email address is

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