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NYSMC New York State Music Camp NYSMC New York State Music Camp Dr Bob Swift NYSMC New York State Music Camp NYSMC New York State Music Camp Keisuke Hoashi NYSMC New York State Music Camp
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Music from the Mountains
New York State Music Camp 1947 - 1996
by Robert F. Swift

Origins and the First Season

Ernest Williams died.

The obituary notice was lead article in The Saugerties Telegraph dated Friday, February 14, 1947. "Dr. Ernest S. Williams, Founder of Music School Passes Away Saturday."1 Saturday would have been February 8th. A nearly 4" x 5" photograph appears under the caption "Famous Musician Passes On," and it further identifies the distinguished gentleman who "was the founder and conductor of the Williams School of Music, located at Pine Grove, this town."

Two columns to the right appears the only other photograph on the page. It is of Jan A. Williams, brother of the late Dr. Ernest S. Williams. The subscription indicates that Jan, himself a highly respected musician, teacher, and clarinet soloist, would operate the Summer Music Camp "hereafter."

Hereafter was abbreviated. The 1947 season was to be the final one for the Saugerties camp which Ernest Williams had founded in 1929.

Ernest Williams was born in Winchester in east-central Indiana, near the Ohio border, in 1881. His distinguished career as cornet and trumpet soloist, conductor, composer, and teacher began at age 16 in the Indiana Volunteer Regiment Band in the Spanish-American War. At war's end he returned to the United States to become cornet soloist in Sousa's band. He later performed in and conducted the Boston Cadet Band, 1904-1907.

Subsequent performing assignments were with ensembles of George Stewart, Emil Mollenhauer, Victor Herbert, and Pat Conway. He played first trumpet in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski for six seasons. A review in the Philadelphia Public Ledger stated:

In the Brandenburg Concerto [No. 2], Mr. Williams played the enormously difficult solo trumpet part which is written at the extreme top of the register of the instrument throughout and abounds with thrills [sic] and runs quite unknown in modern composition. 2

He was reputed to be able to perform America starting on the same pitch but in four different octaves. He was able to play "a continuous line without taking the obvious breath... done by a trick of inhaling as one exhaled."3 [ This technique often called "circular breathing" can be developed for any brass instrument and, the author has learned, is a prerequisite for playing the Australian aboriginal instrument, the didgereedoo. ]

As a teacher Dr. Williams's reputation was equally renowned. His trumpet students included Leonard Smith, Don Jacoby, James Burke, Ned Mahoney, Charles Cohn, Frank Elsass, and Craig McHenry. A description of his pedagogical skills by the latter includes the following:

He was an excellent practical psychologist ... in knowing when and how to put on pressure ... Williams favored a natural embouchure. His chief emphasis was on the proper support of the wind-stream by the diaphragm and on the steering of the air column for the various registers with a super-legato action of the base of the tongue ... He constantly reminded students of the three fatigue factors (tension, pressure and vibration) ... [An] unusual but successful methods [sic] for gaining facility on the instrument was to have a student play the extended scale in C major, follow that with C# and Cb major scales, and progress to all major and minor scales.4
* * *

Ernest Williams opened his Ithaca Military Band School (associated with the Ithaca Conservatory and Affiliated Schools) the summer of 1929, having joined the faculty of the Conservatory in 1928-29. At the time he owned some land in the Catskill Mountains near Saugerties. "Walking through his property near the Catskill mountains one day (Ernest with a cherry divining stick in hand), we discovered a source of water and that is where the camp was built." 5

The camp facility at the start included an auditorium with good-sized stage, kitchen and dining areas, lounge, and second-floor dormitory. [These would serve as a prototype for the New York State Music Camp in its early years.] Williams himself supervised construction of the buildings. Ironically they would outlast him by one year. They burned to the ground in 1948, and the Williams Music Camp would never open again.

"A Summer in Band and Orchestra Camp for You" of the Ithaca Military Band School offered a ten-week program, June 16 through August 23. Four courses of study were offered. (Note that the Camp was primarily intended for college students or music supervisors interested in post-graduate work which could lead to a degree.) High school students who qualified were allowed to enroll, but they were not "officially added" until the summer of 1943.

Twenty faculty were employed, and they included many prestigious pedagogues and performers whom Williams knew personally and who, in some instances, owned summer homes in the area. Saugerties lies some 100 miles north of New York City. The faculty and their areas were these:

Pierre Hearottc
Henry Michaux
  violin and viola
Leon Barzin
John Mundy
Emil Mix
  string bass, tuba
George Barrero
Pierre Mathieu
Angel Delgado
Jan Williams
Lee C. Small
Adolph Weiss
Wendell Hoss
  French horn
Paul Lester
Burt H. Smith
  trombone and baritone
Walter Beeler
  trombone and baritone
George Allen

Williams himself taught trumpet and cornet, assisted by Craig McHenry, who had recently received his Mus. B. degree at Ithaca. Rounding out the faculty were Robert D. Way, theory instructor, and Dr. Herbert E. Putnam, who taught "cultural subjects."

[ It may be noted that no faculty are listed for instruction in voice and keyboard as it was originally intended to be a band and orchestra camp. The New York State Music Camp provided instruction in all instrumental and vocal performance areas from its inception. ]

Applicants paid a registration fee of $25.00 which was subtracted from the tuition cost if an individual enrolled. The application asked for name and address and also age, nationality, religion, and occupation of one's parent.

By the seventeenth season in 1945 voice and keyboard lessons had been added including Hammond Organ. Classes were taught in theory, harmony, "music culture," conducting, voice training, arranging, composition, and twirling. The recreational program included swimming, tennis, handball, softball, archery, hiking, horseback riding, and badminton. An interdenominational vesper service was held each Sunday evening. The resident faculty by this time numbered 25, and the camp that summer was limited to 200 students.

The total tuition fee in 1945 - including room and board and lessons was $250.00 for the now eight weeks. The 1945 brochure also includes an interesting notice with regards to getting oneself to the Camp:

The Camp is located in the foothills of the Catskills, mu the fatuous Rip Van Winkle country, six miles from Saugertiea. It is one hundred miles north of New York City, forty-two miles south of Albany and easily accessible by train, boat, or bus. [ Emphasis mine! ] Take West Shore trains from New York City or Albany to Saugerties, the Hudson River Day Boat to Kingston (bus to Saugerties) and inform the Camp Director when you plan to arrive.6

[ The attractive descriptions offered in brochures have been a trademark of the summer programs that continues to the present day. ]

Frederic Fay Swift was in his thirty-seventh year when Ernest Williams hired him to be Camp Director in 1944. That was a year after high school students became the focus of the camp (as a result of the War years), and Mr. Swift's reputation as a school teacher and administrator was recognized and respected from his work as Director of Music of the Ilion schools. He was also very active in the New York State School Music Association, for which he served as secretary-treasurer for a time.

George Howard had been Camp Director until he was called to serve in World War II. Williams then invited the Ilion music supervisor to fill the post. It was a good marriage. The Camp continued to thrive. All was prepared for another successful season. It would have been the nineteenth in 1947, but then in February, unexpectedly, Ernest Williams died.

Mr. Swift had been contracted by Dr. Williaras to serve as Camp Director and to sign contracts with faculty himself for the 1947 summer season. With the death of Williams on February 8, the plans were abruptly changed. Thus it was that plans to establish a new music camp were laid. Mr. Swift had contracts which he had signed and felt responsibility to honor. He was unaware that Ernest's brother Jan had planned to take over the operation along with Ernest's widow. In late winter of 1947 the two of them made the trip to 100 South Fourth Avenue, Ilion, to meet with Mr. Swift to persuade him to continue the summer camp in Saugerties.

~ From Dr. Bob's Personal Memories ~

My earliest memory related to music camp is of the wintry day that Jan Williams and Mrs. Williams came to our Ilion home. Most probably it was a Saturday as I was a 1st grader but was home.

The recollection is of my dad's instructing me and my sister, five years older, to go upstairs as an important meeting was to take place in the living room.

Obedient child that I was, upstairs I went - from where I could look out the window to observe their arrival. The walkway had been shoveled.

It was not a harmonious meeting. The Williamses were unsuccessful. Mr. Swift informed them of his plans to start a new camp, and they left.

A phone call followed. They threatened legal action. "Mr. Swift," said Mrs. Williams, "I have a contract here which you and my husband signed and in which you agree to be Camp Director for the 1947 season. We are holding you to this contract."

At that point a third person on the line spoke. "Mrs. Williams, this is Henry Kent," he interrupted. "I am Mr. Swift's attorney. I am informing you that he is under no obligation to you whatsoever. The contract you have is with a dead man."

That did not quite conclude the matter. The Williamses did take Mr. Swift to court. Henry Kent accompanied him on the trip to Kingston. As it turned out, the matter was settled out of court, and approval was given for the founding of the New York State Music Camp, a title which was registered in Albany, the state capital.

Frederic Fay Swift, in his forty-first year, had a faculty and permission to open his own music camp. All he needed now were campers, a location, a facility, and funding.

On a map of New York State Otter Lake is located almost due north of lion. One could either drive to Herkimer and take Route 28 all the way up, or drive northwest to Utica, pick up Route 12 north, and then at Remsen join Route 28. Either way it took about an hour. By the time you were at Forrestport and then Woodgate and especially White Lake, you knew you were almost there - though the last few miles on the winding, narrow, two-lane highway took far longer than the road map or parents indicated it would. There were no parallel highways heading northward on either side for dozens of miles.

It was at Forrestport the traveler knew the Adirondacks were at hand. Driving across the bridge and up the hill seemed to be the first step into the mountains. The soil turned sandy in texture and ruddy in color due, we were told, to iron deposits. Driving just a bit farther it was fragrance that defined the region. The trees now began to march closer and closer to both sides of the road: the spruce and balsam and Scotch pine, some marching in perfect rank and file order from plantings in the 1930's, many more in natural formation, the result of new growth following an earlier and undated forest fire. The farther north one rode on Route 28, the thicker the vegetation became, and the stronger the fragrance of the pines, especially after a summer shower.

A landmark can be seen near White Lake. On the right side of the road, up an embankment on which a trail had been worn by travelers who took the time to climb to it, was mounted a small crucifix. It had been erected to commemorate the spot where a traffic accident had claimed the life of a vacationer years before.

The Adirondack Park was created in 1892. In 1894 an amendment to the New York State Constitution insured that the region was to remain "forever wild." The Park covers an area equal in size to Belgium and Holland. It touches or includes twelve counties. Much of the region remains an uninhabited land of mountains, streams and rivers, forests, and lakes. Lumbering was the main business until the late 1800's. Beginning around 1869 there began to develop a new, man-made industry: tourism.7

Plans to transport vacationers, fishers, and hunters developed rapidly. In 1890 the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railroad mapped a route which would connect Utica with points north. The line was completed through to Old Forge by 1892. It ran within a couple hundred feet of Otter Lake. Joseph Wilcox owned the land. His original plan was to log it, which he did, but beyond that he saw little use for it until tourism became popular.

Joseph Wilcox, the owner of the land, saw that his property at Otter Lake gained a new lease on life. Now, where there was scarcely a trail through the woods passing by the lake, a railroad carrying trainloads of vacationers ran straight through the middle of Wilcox's land, and he wasn't long in realizing the monetary value of that fact. In 1893 a station was established at Otter Lake, leading me to believe that there was now a reason to stop the train there, i.e., a hotel.8

The Original Otter Lake Hotel, built c. 1892-93

We can surmise that the Otter Lake Hotel which was to become the New York State Music Camp was built in 1892-93. It became a very popular tourist resort. The Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake provided photocopies of promotional materials. Descriptions read as follows:


The Hotel is beautifully situated on Otter Lake . ... It is located 50 feet above the Lake, at an elevation of 1700 feet, having 2000 acres of forest land connected therewith.

Rates are $4.00 to $6.00 per day; $20.00 to $40.00 per week.

The hotel is adjacent to some of the wildest country of the Adirondack region, and one may reach the best deer hunting grounds of the State a short distance from the hotel ... Other wild life also abounds in the surrounding forest, including rabbits, partridges, and such fur bearing animals as foxes, beaver, otters, muskrats, and mink.

A dance is held twice weekly. A college orchestra has been provided by the management for the entertainment of guests.9


~ From Dr. Bob's Personal Memories ~

I recall a favorite evening excursion was a visit to the Otter Lake dump, there to observe black bear come to feed. From three to six would generally appear, lumbering out of the woods to paw through garbage left by summer tourists. The fragrance was not of pine in this area! Strict caution was advised by parent types: we would remain in the car with windows closed.

Around 1898 H. B. Norton boarded the train to Otter Lake, disembarked there, liked what he saw, climbed a tree, and purchased as many acres of land as his eyes could see in all directions. [ The seller was Joseph Wilcox, we assume. ] The purchase included the lake. The property, including the hotel, was passed down to his son, J. V. "Viv" Norton. From him Frederic Fay Swift purchased a summer cottage on the north side of the lake in August of 1939. In previous summers Mr. Swift and his young family had vacationed in this region of the Adirondack Park, and they all very much enjoyed the area.

The property was the old Christman cottage. The selling price was $1200.00 - one hundred dollars down, twenty-five dollars a month. From the lakeside dock one could look across to see the two islands in Otter Lake. Crescent Island was good-sized and was shaped like a half moon, hence the name. Dollar Island was minuscule and was so called because the single house perched on it (with waters lapping at all four outer walls) had been purchased for a dollar. [ Or so the story went. ] The hotel was located on the south side of the lake and was not visible from the cottage.

The Swifts named their new summer cottage Retto Lodge. ("Retto" is the cancrizans of Otter.) To row across from Retto Lodge to the hotel, passing nearby Dollar Island (but not too close because of submerged large boulders near it which could do substantial damage to the bow of a rowboat), took about half an hour if the oarsman were competent and the lake smooth. To walk the road and lake-side trails (if one knew the way) was also a trip of about 30 minutes. To drive the distance at a prudent speed it would take at least ten minutes. Norton Road, on which Retto Lodge was located, was not paved at that time.

Given the lack of time and pressing need to locate a building and grounds to open and operate the 1947 summer camp, Dr. Swift met with Mr. Norton. [ The year 1947 was indeed a milestone for the Ilion music teacher. Not only was he to open his own music camp, he also earned his Doctoratum in musica arte, trigesimo maui, mcmxlvii from the University of Montreal. His Ilion High School A Cappella Choir traveled with him to Canada to perform and observe him receive the degree. The ceremony was spoken completely in Latin. ]

The Otter Lake Hotel had continued to operate through the 1940's, but clientele had fallen in numbers to an average often summer residents. Mr. Norton agreed with the proposal of turning the hotel and lakeside cabins into a summer music camp, and a contract was drawn up. Lawyer Henry Kent gave his approval. It provided for the rental of the Hotel property and grounds, including the four lake-side cottages, a laundry building, and the bowling alley. During a trip to the Adirondacks in 1981, Dr. Swift recalled, "We paid Viv on a rental. We rented the property, paid the taxes, and paid him $1500.00 a summer, or something like that."10

Financial backing for the early years was accomplished largely from separate, personal bank loans taken by both Dr. and Mrs. Swift, and by relatives and friends. They were invited to buy stock. "The first year we were going to declare a dividend, but you never really made money on it. [We charged campers] something like $25.00 a week the whole thing, room and board."11

Major renovation to the buildings had to be made before the July 1 opening. Hotel rooms were converted to dorm rooms. Double beds were out; bunk beds were in. Lakeside cottages were redesigned to house ten campers and one counselor each. A portion of the laundry room was converted into a piano studio. The bowling alley was enlarged to become the concert hall, with a portion set aside as the camp Snaque Bar.

During the 1947 season the weekly concerts were held in the Hotel itself, sometimes on the porch that overlooked the parking area, other times in the lower lounge where the original hotel bar had been. During one concert some loggers from the St. Regis Indian Reservation wandered in, looking for their old, familiar watering hole. On another occasion a state trooper was called to calm and remove an irate former customer.

(The cultured reader inevitably is reminded of the poem penned by Tennyson in 1889:

Sunset and the evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning at the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But in this instance there was no moaning because there was no longer any bar. The customer was simply put out!)

By the end of June the work was sufficiently completed. Campers, faculty, and staff arrived by train, bus, and private auto. The New York Central Railroad station at Otter Lake was directly across Route 28, up a slight incline. The depot also served as the village post office, and it was attached to desJardin's General Store.

The New York State Education Department approved high school graduation credit for four music courses to be taught during the summers at Otter Lake. They were music theory, harmony, conducting, and music appreciation. To receive credit a student would have to enroll in the course for all eight weeks and receive a passing grade. Private instruction was available on all instruments and voice.

The major performing ensembles at the beginning were five: Concert Band, Symphony Orchestra, Concert Choir (in which all campers were required to sing), Swing Wing, and Jazz band. Sixty four campers enrolled during the first season, representing three states and Canada. A few additional "day campers" commuted from Old Forge by bus. The resident faculty numbered a dozen. Guest conductors and private instrumental or vocal instructors were also employed.

The year was 1947. Musical events included:

  • Brigadoon opened on Broadway
  • The Edinburgh Music and Drama Festival was founded
  • Menotti's The Telephone and The Medium were premiered (February 18)
  • Britten's Albert Herring premiered (June 20)
  • Schoenberg composed A Survivor of Warsaw
  • Maria Callas had her debut in Ponchielli's Giocanda
  • Symphonies were completed by Prokofiev (#6), Vaughan Williams (#6), and Piston (#3)

Nonmusical events included:

  • The development of the Marshall Plan
  • The partitioning of Palestine
  • The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The breaking of the sound barrier by aviator Charles Yeager
  • The deaths of Henry Ford (at 84) and Al Capone (at 48)
  • The first reported sightings of "flying saucers"

Added to all these significant events was the founding and beginning of a music camp at Otter Lake, New York, in the southwestern Adirondack Mountains. The effects on its participants were to be long-lasting, as the pages ahead testify.

Music from the Mountains
New York State Music Camp 1947 - 1996
by Robert F. Swift





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