What is Village Harmony Camp?
Twenty-three mostly barefoot teenagers grab at each others’ hands and bow, sweaty and tired, intensely pleased with themselves. They grin broadly as New Englanders of every age rise to their feet in the old wooden church building, applauding, whistling, ululating. A note is sounded above the din and the young singers launch into a South African dance song, stilling the crowd long enough to allow them to make their way down the aisles to take a final ovation from the back of the building.
As the young people, unleashed, dive into the crowd or escape outside, you remain rooted in your pew a bit longer, shaken to the core by what you’ve just witnessed. Where did that conviction come from, that powerful centered sound you never expected to hear from an amateur—let alone a teenage—choir. Look around; other moist eyes and stunned expressions tell you that you aren’t the only one who sensed that something life-changing has just happened among the singers—and has been shared with the audience.
This scenario is played out with up to a dozen groups–teens, adults, mixed ages–each summer. Since 1989 the singers and instrumentalists of Village Harmony summer camps have been traveling and performing throughout an ever-widening swath of the globe, participating in cultural exchanges and delighting audiences with their heart-felt renditions of world folk music. Our no-holds-barred attitude toward what is possible has resulted in ensembles whose sound remains dynamic, unpredictable, and absolutely exciting year after year.
The rehearsal week
During each camp’s rehearsal week, singers get to know one another, absorb the basics of new vocal styles and prepare a concert program. Rehearsals are focused and intense, usually six or more hours each day, with voice coaching and instrumental work between the group sessions. Written music is distributed as appropriate, but many songs are taught solely by ear, and virtually everything is taught by example. Emphasis is placed on authenticity, not just on replication. Above all we strive for total conviction, and singing with joy. Intense as the days are, Village Harmony groups tend to be extremely relaxed, non-competitive and democratic in nature. The supportive and inclusive community at our camps is such that no one is afraid to give their all in performance and sing from the deepest place in their hearts.
The concert tour
The shorter residential sessions wrap up with one or two concerts on their final weekend. The teen and international traveling camps, however, launch into concert tours following their rehearsal weeks, performing in small-town community halls, in village churches, at folk festivals. We make a point of meeting up and collaborating with local folk musicians, especially overseas. With clear command of radically-varied singing styles and infectiously joyous stage presence, Village Harmony performances always knock people’s socks off.
Who can attend?
Village Harmony teen camps are open to ages 12-18. Our low-priced “alumni” camp (and you don’t have to be a VH alum) is primarily for college students and young adults between the ages of 19-26. All of our non-US camps are mixed age, open to both teen and adult singers. Unlike choirs where the aim is to have a membership whose voices blend seamlessly, Village Harmony is composed of ad-hoc, non-auditioned, inclusive groups whose basic demand of would-be members is that they be committed to making good music and not hold back.
Auditions aren’t required to attend Village Harmony camps or workshops. We ask all teen applicants, and adults applying to one of our overseas traveling camps, to all of the teen camps, to write a short narrative telling us about their singing background and their reasons for applying to Village Harmony as part of the application process.
All of our overseas (non-US camps) are for both teens and adults. Our teen-only US camps are open to ages 12-18. The alumni camps are primarily for college-age and young adult alumni of Village Harmony teen camps, ages 19-26.
Regardless of whether one attends a shorter residential camp or one of the traveling ones, the intense immersion in new repertoires and the many challenges of preparing for the concert performances is exhilarating for all involved.
In 2017 we plan to conduct US-based summer programs for teens and adults in New England, Oregon and the Midwest, and overseas camps for mixed-age groups (ie, both teens and adult attend) in Lithuania (new this year!), Georgia, Macedonia and South Africa. In years past we’ve held programs in Corsica, Bosnia, the UK, Ukraine, Russia, Ghana, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Germany.