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Surrounded by Music

James M. Rohner | August 2013


    When I interview directors about their careers, I often ask about the moment when they knew their future path included music. For a surprising number, music camp proved an important milestone.  There is something magical about long rehearsals in the woods far from home that transforms musicians. It is too soon to tell, but I suspect my 11-year-old niece, Suzi Callis, had just such an experience during three weeks at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp this summer. The youngest of four string-playing children, Suzi has always balanced a dizzying array of music, sports, and other activities. When she set her mind on attending camp this summer, she grew as a musician long before she ever left home.
    As the youngest child in her family, Suzi is accustomed to working and playing with older kids. She started on violin at age three because her sister and mother also played violin. She says, “I really wanted to do what they did because I looked up to them.” This led to two terrific summer sessions at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan. She remembers that “it was the first time I had ever been away from home. The first year I was in the younger camp, and it was fun. The next summer I went to the more advanced level to have a more challenging experience.” Last winter, she decided that she wanted to go to Interlochen, previously attended by her siblings.
     Once she set her goal, a prodigious effort began. Fortunately, she has an unorthodox practice schedule that served her well during the eight weeks spent preparing to submit her audition recording. She often wakes up while it is still dark to practice. “During the school year, I sometimes get up at 3 a.m. and practice until 6. I will practice in a closet to keep from waking people up.” As she prepared for her camp audition, she worked diligently on a Haydn Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste.
    When the time arrived to make her recording, not everything went as planned. She recalls a nervous  recording session in February with numerous failed takes. “I would make one mistake and want to start over. Three hours later it was 10 p.m., and I was exhausted. We were going to submit one of the tapes, but I said, ‘I’m not going to get in with these.’ What I learned from that is that one mistake is not going to kill you.” A second recording session the next day went far better.
    It took about a month to learn her fate. There were extra nerves because she was attempting to gain admittance to the intermediate division, populated mostly with older students. “It was really stressful, but when I found out I was accepted, I was really excited. I freaked out and screamed.”
    When June arrived, Suzi was ready for the long days of music that started at the relatively late hour of 7 a.m. She reveled in early morning practice sessions in the woods. “They had little huts to play in or you could practice outside. I practiced outside because there were spiders in the huts. There were teaching assistants who came around to help with whatever you were practicing.”
    Suzi particularly enjoyed three-hour afternoon orchestra rehearsals with Scott Laird, who teaches during the year at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. She recalls that Laird “really tried to give us good messages to bring home with us. We had some competition in our orchestra. Some people did not like where they were sitting and were always competing with their stand partners. He told us, ‘Do you care more about where you sit or about making music? After that, we realized that it is not one person making all the music. It is a whole group. We are all good musicians and matter the same whether you sit last chair or if you are concertmaster.”
    The days at Interlochen passed quickly, and even a painful fall from a bunk bed (resulting in a sprained arm) did not dampen her enthusiasm. When she returned from her adventure in the woods, she had an even stronger focus on her music. “I really want to be a professional violinist. I’m not expecting to be concertmaster in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but I definitely want to continue playing violin and maybe become a teacher or director.”
    As summer bleeds into fall, Suzi will resume a schedule that, in addition to violin, includes chorus, clarinet, karate, field hockey, soccer, and softball. “I’m glad I do other things, but I want my life to be surrounded by music.” Wherever Suzi’s music journey may take her, it is clear that her time at Interlochen was an important stop. She is already preparing for next summer.

Suzanne Emily Callis, violinist, niece
James M. Rohner, Publisher, uncle