By the fifth day I was no longer anxiously trying to find time to read my book. The people, as is their irritating habit, were proving, damn them, to be fascinating and irresistible. There was the cellist camper from New York, who'd spent her girlhood in her bedroom playing along with a recording of Dvořák's Piano Quintet in A Major and was finally, at age 40, playing the piece with live musicians, this after surviving two complicated back surgeries and not practicing for years. The dazzling 18-year-old Israeli pianist had learned to speak English by listening to rap music and thus was someone you would not want your children to encounter. His playing was fierce and mature. The twin girls with Pre-Raphaelite hair were equally charming and brilliant, and while they played tangos one night after dinner with day lilies tucked behind their ears, one on the violin, the other on the piano, a bat swooped back and forth above them. A 16-year-old violinist from Brooklyn was alternating, in her spare time, between Catch-22 and the then just-released last Harry Potter book. The Navy captain and doctor who works for the FDA and is an expert in infectious diseases, and who practices his clarinet every day for two to four hours before work, who at first seemed standoffish (or was that us?) turned out to be warm and engaging and, incidentally, a terrific musician. The Irish girls, the couple from Turkey, the three from Cyprus, the three from Burma, the shy high school senior from Fort Wayne, all of them wormed their way into our affections.

The final concert, the big performance all of our practice was leading to, was a butchery and a preview of hell. The error I made in the first measure was so critical we had to stop the piece and begin again, and the second time I did not get it right either. I could not catch my breath, I had too much air, I could not stop trembling, my fingers were wet, I hit my recorder on the stand while it was in my mouth and hurt my tooth, and my face was aboil. And yet, when we took our bows the whole place went crazy, everyone cheering wildly, clapping and stomping their feet. What a fantastic camp! What a bunch of glorious if maybe deranged enthusiasts! Afterward one of the coaches said, "Your performance had everything in it—and I mean everything." A camper said, "You played really a lot of notes!" We retired to a cabin the size of my kitchen table where 25 people crowded in and around the bed to drink. Soon I had forgotten my disgrace. Later we joined the teenagers, who didn't seem to mind, and danced in the barn long after every last mouse was caught.

I didn't cry or sniffle leaving camp even though I loved the place and enjoyed the characters and revered the principles of the institution. At my half-century mark my love for the people was far more general than my former girlish passion for each of her fellow campers. At chamber music camp I loved the spectacular array of the personalities, the whole bizarre and astonishing fact of the human spectrum. I loved all the musicians for their love of chamber music, and I loved best being able to leave them and go home. At 50 it's a solace to know that you have been in the path of rapture, and that it will be there, that great pool of beauty, whether or not you're there to feel it.


Next Story