Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Camp Inquiry

Wow - a day off today! I've been non-stop busy since the first of the month, with the Stillwater shows, preparing and packing, family here on the 4th, flying to NY, doing Camp Inquiry, flying home, and Norman shows yesterday. Give me a moment to breathe, then I'll tell you all about Camp Inquiry.

I heard about it on NPR - a camp for kids oriented around science and critical thinking. I would have loved it as a kid, but never knew such a thing existed. I also heard the director say they included the arts, so I sent an email to ask what kind of songs, if any, they sang around the campfire.
That lead to Evalyn and I going, obviously - she as a camper and I as the resident songwriter. I had two main duties: One, to lead singing during the campfires, and two, to help the campers write their own songs.

The camp director and I decided to use John Lennon's "Imagine" as a sort of theme song, so a typical campfire went like this. I started to get kids' attention with Spongebob's "Campfire Song Song" (by request from the kids), then presented one of my own participatory songs, then we sang "Imagine" once or twice so the campers could learn it. Then after s'mores (gotta have the s'mores!) I would take requests and sing a few more songs just for those campers who wanted more.
I was told that in previous years there were no songs at the campfire and that this brought a whole new sense of community to the event, with everyone singing together for a short time. Cool!

One of the challenges to this was selecting songs of my own that might appeal to everyone, since campers ranged in age from seven to sixteen (with one five year old sibling thrown in). I did "The Cat Came Back," "The Legend of Old Rip," and "Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet." These all worked very well, but the surprise (to me) runaway hit was "Roundy Round."

I was inspired to write "Roundy Round" by my (then) three year old niece who loved to go "roundy round" - meaning she spun around in one spot until she got dizzy and fell over.

Of course, being the science geek that I am, I ended up writing a song for a three-year-old that's really about the nature of science and the universe. Up until now, none of my audiences have truly seemed to appreciate that aspect of the song. But at Camp Inquiry, they laughed in all the right places! The campers and staff sang along with such enthusiasm that I was able to sing the counter-melody over their "Roundy Round"s. It was a great moment for me - it felt like I had found my people!

In the audience that night was internationally known theoretical physicist and author Dr. Lawrence Krauss (on the left below). Dr. Krauss requested that his talk the following night be introduced by the song, which I was more than happy to do.
OK - so the other thing I did at camp was lead the kids in writing their own songs. They were split into three groups by age for morning "rotation" time, and I met with each group for about 45 minutes each day.

During that time I tried my best to teach, inspire, and write with the kids. All the campers at least learned a bit about what goes into making a song. Most of them did some writing. A good number of them actually finished and performed their songs. I met with those who were most serious about it during their afternoon choice time. These kids were so smart and so multi-talented that mostly all I needed to do was advise them when needed, and try to stay out of their way.

Evalyn wrote a song called "Never Give Up," which she sang a cappella. Several campers tried their songs out during Friday night's camp fire, and when Evalyn sang, you could hear her voice, clear as a bell, echoing off the trees nearby, it got so quiet. She received thunderous applause. Everyone was impressed with her song, as well as with her bravery at putting her voice out there with no accompaniment.

At the culminating program on Saturday night, eight new songs were performed for the campers, staff, guests, and parents in attendance. All the camper-written songs were amazing. There was a "Camp Inquiry" theme song, an upbeat song called "C'mon" about having fun as a kid while you still can, a creepy campfire song about "The Creepy Old Man," who lives in the lake and terrorizes campers, a clever song sung from the point of view of "Pip, the Pepperoni," about his experience being cooked into a pizza, a humorous tale about "The Perfect Camp Fire Song" which never gets heard due to the singer's picky nature, a dark song exploring the possibility of "World War III," and an infectious pop song, which I could easily imagine as a hit on the radio, called "Goodbye."

Here are some shots from Saturday's program, covering each of the eight songs in no particular order:

Evalyn and I were singing the campers' songs on the way home. We made lots of new friends and had a great experience. We are missing camp already and hoping we'll be able to do it again next year!


  1. Michael8:28 PM

    I had a great time with you at Camp Inquiry. I hope I can find a way to get you to St. Louis.

  2. Monty thanks so much for all you did! Your music really added a new dimension to our camp experience.