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Singing in Perfect Harmony

My first night on camp, the leadership staff and several of my fellow counselors sang the Birkat Hamazon in improvised four part harmony. It was at that moment precisely, about 2 hours after my arrival at Westtown, that I knew I chose the right place to be this summer.

I grew up at Goldman Union Camp Institute, a fellow URJ summer camp, often referred to as “the singing camp.” It is because of my experience at GUCI that I advocate for the importance of communal singing wherever I may be. And having just finished my coursework in Music Education at Ohio University, a Creative Arts camp in a lively Jewish environment sounded like heaven on earth to make that happen. Even so, I had no idea just how rewarding this work would be.

This summer I have been tasked with the role of Songleading Coordinator, in addition to my duties as a counselor of an energetic Olim bunk. It is my job to get this place singing, and while I would hardly describe my job as easy, I really have to give most of the credit to this community. While I already viewed camp and singing as one and the same, this community truly can’t get enough music. Whether it be singing in 3 part harmony with just our voices to close our day at Siyyum on Shabbat evening, or sending praise with blasts of the trumpet and the crash of resounding cymbals, this community is incredibly musical.

There are parts of this work that I never realized could be so difficult. And yet, the artists that come to this camp have made my job easier than I could have ever dreamed. I joked with a songleading mentor of mine prior to the summer about how oftentimes songleaders are expected to pull intricate harmonies out of a magician’s hat, when very often it takes time, effort, and intentional teaching to make that happen. And yet, I feel that I’ve showed up at Creative Arts Academy, and someone waved a magic wand. And perhaps there is some magic in the air at Westtown. I’ve come to realize, however, that oftentimes we mistake creativity for magic, and it comes as no surprise to me when our campers improvise 3 part harmonies the first time they hear a song. It is everything I dreamed an arts camp would be, and so much more.

Contributed by Rhys.
Rhys is the 6 Points Creative Arts Academy Songleading Coordinator and an Olim Counselor.

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