Fine Tuning the Fine Arts: Blue Lake Challenges Artistic Students

singing
Music teacher Julie Pellegrino practices a new song with her class. Those who have attended Blue Lake help lead the class and set a higher standard for other choir members. Photo Credit/Brandon Schnurr

Every summer, kids get to relax and take some time off from all the stress and hard work that they’ve been doing since the beginning of September. Some kids stay home all summer, others go to the beach often and some go to vacation spots across the country. Then there are those who go to summer camps like Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp is a summer school/camp that serves 54 hundred students gifted in the fine arts such as drama, music, art and dance annually, all in a time period of only twelve days.

Located in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp was founded in 1966 and has served 300 thousand students since then. Since its founding, the camp has also added 2 public radio stations and hosts the renowned International Exchange Program, which sends students around the globe to perform for crowds of people and explore historic fine art locations.

Some of the lucky students who get to attend Blue Lake are enrolled here at Loy Norrix High School. Norrix has always served those passionate in the arts in many ways, and some of the students take it one step further to tap into their skills.

“It was definitely time well spent,” explained sophomore Brooklyn Moore, a newer student to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. “I one hundred percent think people should look into Blue Lake.”

Blue Lake hosts a multitude of options in fine art classes, such as dance, painting, choir, theatre and more. The wide range of skills draws in a large number of students that practice them, even allowing students to take on a minor, much like a college minor where you take on a secondary class.

Moore is new to the Blue Lake experience. She attended last summer for musical theatre classes.

“Every morning we had four forty minute classes and a two hour class in the afternoon,” said Moore. “My skills really improved from going there.”

Though, Moore is not the only one seeing improvement in her skills. Julia Pelligrino, the choir director here at Loy Norrix has also noticed considerable change in her students who have attended Blue Lake.

“The students who have attended Blue Lake tend to be leaders in my ensembles,” Pelligrino said with a hint of admiration. “They have a lot of music skills and performing skills, all increased by going through that [Blue Lake Classes].”

Besides teaching students how to tap into their fine art abilities, Blue Lake is also a huge social experience for many kids. With the camp drawing in students from around Michigan, hundreds of people come each year to have the experience not only themselves, but alongside each other.

“You’re there in a cabin of twelve kids, and I still text all my cabin mates, and I still text the people I had classes with,” Moore described. “You bond really fast and you bond strong.”

Junior Hannah Newhouse was also a Blue Lake attendee who went to Blue Lake for orchestral skills, specifically to learn skills in playing the cello.

“You really learn how important friendship is,” Newhouse explained. “Communication and social skills in general were pretty important.”

Sophomore Zoe Shanahan has also attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Shanahan took on choir classes and is a close friend of Moore and has attended Blue Lake longer than her by a year.

group pic
Left to Right: sophomore Zoe Shanahan, sophomore Brooklyn Moore, junior Hannah Newhouse and junior Chris Aranda. All four friends have attended Blue Lake together and learned the skills they now value and practice every day. Photo Credit / Brandon Schnurr

“We had tech rehearsals in the morning then another tech class with a random teacher from camp,” said Shanahan. “Those classes helped with skills in singing, like breath support and other things like that. Then a.m. and p.m. rehearsals with the whole class.”

“It’s challenging but not to the point where it’s difficult,” said Shanahan, “because you are constantly walking [for and between class] or you’re constantly working, so there’s not much downtime.”

The camp encourages students to make the most of their skills by giving them plenty of classes and little time to themselves when not practicing. Despite sounding horrible, it isn’t as bad as it may seem.

“The classes were very interesting,” Newhouse said admirably. “There was never a boring moment. There was always something to dive into.”

The many ways of learning at the camp provide unique experiences for everyone. These unique experiences are just what Pelligrino wants her students to have while at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

“I want them to learn a different approach to singing,” said Pelligrino. “It’s very valuable to sing with different [choir] directors and to get immersed in it [the singing].”

The camp also hosts several special programs and events, such as live performances for anyone wanting to attend or listen in via radio. The most renowned program at Blue Lake is one that sends students around the world to study the fine arts.

The Blue Lake International Program is a program that sends students around the world to attend concert halls, perform for audiences and see the world in a way few get to see it. To attend the trip, it requires the recommendation of a camp counselor and $6,100. Shanahan was one of the lucky ones to get a chance to go on this trip.

“We’re gonna spend from November onward learning certain music,” Shanahan explained, “and then we’re going to Germany, Belgium and Italy to go to historical concert halls and perform for the people that live there.”

Programs and opportunities like these are what give students with fine art skills the push they may need to express themselves. It pushes them to do their best and give it their all.

“It’s constant work. They [the staff] are really nice about it, so you don’t feel pressured, but still do your best,” Moore explained with a smile. “It’s a very friendly environment there.”

This progress is also due to the hard work put in by the counselors and instructors helping the students there.

“The teachers there have been teaching for a very long time and are teaching at very high levels, so they know what they’re doing,” Shanahan explained while deep in thought. “They do everything they can to improve on you so that you’re better then when you left in the span of a week and a half.”

Shanahan and Moore left off on an amusing and serious note to all those looking to attend Blue Lake this coming summer.

“First, bring a lot of blankets, it gets really cold,” Shanahan said laughingly, “but in seriousness, if you don’t want to be exhausted, don’t take a minor.”

“If you like what you’re doing, go for sure, but don’t go to just try it out because it’s rigorous training,” Moore warned with a concerned face. “If you go for trumpet, but you find you don’t like trumpet, good luck.”

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