It’s one of my biggest goals to bring back the singing at Alleghany. Yes, we sing a lot, but many — too many — of the traditional songs have been lost by the wayside.
For some reason or another, certain Campfire or Assembly songs are sung less and less each year to the point where they aren’t sung at all anymore, and all of a sudden the campers don’t even know those songs at all!
A similar thing happens with the tunes and harmonies. The tunes morph over time and I find myself having to demonstrate for the campers the correct tune.
And yes, it’s the same with the words! The campers will start singing a wrong word and all of a sudden the whole camp is singing a song incorrectly. For example: one of our blessings sung before meals starts with “Evening is here, the board is spread” and the campers sing instead “the Lord is spread” which is really pretty funny if you think about it.
But this is still a bit of a tragedy to me — and a preventable one at that!
I’m not sure why this is such a big goal of mine. Maybe it’s my type-A personality just getting annoyed at the incorrect singing! 😉 Or maybe I’m simply a bit melancholy that these beautiful songs I loved as a camper aren’t sung any longer.
Regardless, it’s virtually become my personal mission to bring back the songs!!! But then again, that’s not a bad mission all told.
Our first step in this effort was changing the direction of the Alleghany Singers department to focus solely on camp songs. We made this change last summer and it’s still going strong.
Last summer we had the Alleghany Singers from both terms record songs, and we made a CD this year that was sent to all campers prior to camp. What a treat.
The CD acted kind of like step 2 in my process — my hope was that eager campers counting down to camp would put the songs on their iTunes or play the CD in the car. They’d think they were just getting excited for camp but deep down my master plan was unfolding — to start hearing the correct words and tunes of the songs before they even got to camp! 🙂
So then step 3, if you will, was resurrecting an event at camp called Songfest…but with a twist.
A kinder, gentler Songfest
Traditionally Songfest was a very stressful Blue/Gray event. The teams were given 5-6 songs to learn (each team had the same songs to learn), and it seemed like every single free moment in camp was devoted to meetings where we learned and practiced the songs.
Since so much was riding on this — the winner getting lots of points for the summer — it was just a stressful time. However, it was effective in that we all learned the songs and harmonies so well!
I wanted to bring the good parts of Songfest back but leave the stress to history, making today’s Songfest more FUN!
We decided to make Songfest a unit/age group competition instead of a Blue/Gray one. We did it 1st term and are also doing it 2nd term. Each age group was assigned two songs: one campfire and one assembly song.
I chose the songs based on which ones just aren’t sung anymore, or ones that are sung incorrectly. I asked a few alums in camp who are working on support staff to help me teach the songs, because even the counselors didn’t know many of them!
About a week before Songfest, we announced each age group’s songs, and then announced that the winners would receive the big prize of a huge ice cream sundae party. The prize seemed to be enough motivation for the girls to want to work hard (that was my goal — to think of a prize that would make them want to really be devoted to the process!)
I then set out with the help of Laura Gorsuch, a couple of counselors, and a few alums to teach the songs to each group. We told them they were allowed to use their Songbooks, so they didn’t have to worry about memorizing the words. They were also told that there would be extra points awarded for creativity — whether they act out the song, add little hand movements or some dance moves, maybe add some harmony, etc.
But it was up to them to put it all together — I taught them the song, and after that they were on their own!
The teams tune up
The campers took it seriously and set about planning their practice meetings and thinking up creative ways to perform their songs. Counselors provided a lot of positive feedback, saying that they loved seeing the groups come together and bond over something fun and traditionally camp-y.
I’m proud to say that I noticed the girls practicing a lot! And during Assembly and Campfire/Vespers they would take that time to practice by requesting their particular songs. Clever of them — or was it clever of me? I tried to add some positive energy to the process by encouraging them to practice and request their songs!
Finally the night of Songfest arrived. Groups were given about 20 minutes to meet for a final practice and then it was go time in the Play Hall where we assembled for the serenades. The judges were the alums in camp working on support staff.
Each age group came up on stage to perform their song, first Assembly songs, then Campfire songs.
The judges added everything up, and the winners were: the 14s! They sang a gorgeous rendition of “One Little Candle,” and added a very fun dance to “My Mama Told Me.” They were the only group to get perfect scores across the board for both songs from every judge!
So this means they won the ice cream sundae party, which was fun and a big success. And, having been the result of Songfest, it gave a context to get their feedback. They all said they enjoyed the experience of Songfest tremendously and couldn’t wait to do it again next year.
We recorded their songs, and we also thought the 16s’ version of “We Sing To You” was so beautiful that we recorded them singing that as well.
When Songfest rolled around for 2nd Term I was every bit as excited as 1st Term. I chose and distributed the songs and everyone got on board with practicing and being c reactive. About half the songs were repeats from 1st term simply because I want both terms to learn — and treasure — these old songs (but the age groups have switched for any repeat songs).
It was also suggested to have a Junior winner and a Senior winner, so we’ll be doing that this term.
On Friday the girls sang for Songfest 2.0 and there was every bit as much energy and creativity. I was smiling the whole time because of how wonderful everyone sounded.
The Startups won for Junior Camp and the 16s won for Senior Camp so there’s ice cream sundae parties happening for both unit winners!
Looks like the new, revived, Songfest is here to stay without the stress but with history, tradition, and beauty at the heart of the event.
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assisstant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls