Music Camp Scholarships: Impacting Young Lives

Have you ever wondered what happens to the money you place in those little round baskets we pass during the scholarship speeches at Bowl in the Pines concerts on Sunday afternoons at NEMC? A dollar goes a long way and every penny counts! You make a difference and Lucas Callahan is proof of this! Read the transcript of Lucas’ speech from a 2013 weekend concert. Lucas was a councilor in 2015 and hopes to return again and again! 


Good afternoon, my name is Lucas Callahan and this is my fifth year and 8th session at New England Music Camp. I have been a scholarship student at this camp for 7 sessions and I owe so much to the generous people who gave to the scholarship fun and those who made it possible for me to be at this wonderful place. I thank these people with all of my heart. Being a camper at NEMC has shaped me into the person I am today. Without this camp I wouldn’t possess anywhere near the skill that I have now. The scholarship fund helps deserving young musicians come to this magical place where they have the opportunity to work with a fantastic staff, learn amazing and challenging pieces of music, and shape themselves to be young adults.

I said this place was magical and I firmly believe this is true. I attended NEMC for 8 sessions and it was not because of all of the good times spent at the “Y” or getting annihilated by the faculty and counselors in the camper/faculty softball game. I come because of the sunsets on Burns’ dock, flag every morning, the DJ Dance, grilled cheese days, the wonderful people I meet, getting a ride from Maestro on his golf cart, the amazing seafood bisque, veggie lasagna, and delectable beef at banquet, and of course the fantastic faculty and counselors who make it all possible.

I was fortunate enough to be able to experience all of this fully and I have learned so much about music and myself as a musician. There is a saying that I always heard from my voice teacher Michael McCarthy; “It’s just eleven short months before I see you again”, he would say as I hugged him goodbye and the first time I heard that I thought he was crazy! Eleven months is a really long time, practically a year, and it seems even longer in the last 72 hours before camp, where ever second feels like an eternity and the anticipation and excitement is so high you can’t sleep. NEMC is a home away from home where people make friendships that last for a lifetime. I know I will send my children and grandchildren and maybe even my great-grandchildren to this marvelous camp.

NEMC is a family and I ask that you give all you can so that another person who might not be able to come here otherwise can have the opportunity to experience the magic of NEMC. Thank you.

Overcoming Homesickness

Research conducted by the American Camp Association indicates that as many as 96% of campers experience some form of homesickness at some time during a two week summer camp experience. It is perfectly normal to feel “homesick” when away from home! We have years of experience helping campers (and parents too!) adjust to being away from home and today’s guest post highlights how one NEMC alumna overcame homesickness leading to one of the most important experiences of her life! Please welcome Brook Charlesworth…  


In the spring of 2001, my parents involved me in the decision process for my summer plans. I vividly remember exploring New England Music Camp’s website with excitement. “Yes!” I thought, “This is the place for me!”.

I reviewed the calendar of events in the packet sent to me a few weeks prior to camp but as the countdown to camp progressed, I began to get less excited, and increasingly nervous. I realized I would be able to call home on the pay phones when needed, and this asset, provided instant comfort. I ended up using the phone as a crutch much too frequently that first summer.

My first session of camp was August 2001, when there were still four weeks during second session. I was ridiculously homesick for not one week, not two weeks, but for three week of the four weeks. My homesickness was made worse because I didn’t fully immerse myself into the camp culture. Whether it was during my morning free time, during third rec before dinner, or after dinner, I found some way to call home nearly every day my first week to have drawn out conversations. It wasn’t that I hated camp—in fact, I liked it. I just missed the familiarities of my home.

As the weeks went on, the phone calls gradually became shorter. My fourth week, I completely threw myself into camp. I called twice that last week, as opposed to every day. I was too busy enjoying myself with my friends to waste time waiting on line for the phones! I not only liked it—I LOVED it. Tremendously. I no longer missed the familiarities of my own home, because I felt I was home at NEMC. Upon leaving, I cried more because I didn’t want to leave than I ever did when I was homesick.

I returned to camp the following three summers as a camper and for two summers in college as a counselor. Once I realized there was life beyond my hometown and stepped out of my safety zone that August 2001, I was able to immerse myself in camp and be completely happy, and completely me. NEMC became my utopia, my second home, and a safe environment where I was accepted for who I was. NEMC became my utopia, my second home, and a safe environment where I was accepted for who I was. The bonds I created over my years at NEMC are life lasting. My NEMC family guided me and supported me far beyond my homesick days at camp, but through high school, college, grad school, and my first three years of teaching. Overcoming homesickness at the age of 13 was worth a lifetime of happiness through friendships and family.

Jon Sirlin Remembers Davis Wiggin

Over the years, Davis Wiggin has touched the lives of countless young people and their families. We are overwhelmed by the kind and powerful words being written on our Facebook page and sent to us via email. The following is a beautiful piece written by last summer’s Assistant Head Boys Counselor, Jonathan Sirlin. 

This will be, I’m sure, one of many eulogies and remembrances written about Davis Wiggin over the next few days, and I’m afraid that I’m going to be forced to start it in much the same way that the rest of them will. There are very few people in my position, that of having first met Davis through my experiences as a camper at New England Music Camp, that first encountered the man under any other circumstances than those I’m about to describe. For us it is this moment that will stand out in all of our minds as we think back on the life of a man who devoted so much of himself to spreading love and tradition to the strangers around him, and who aspired to eliminate all these strangers by turning them into his family.


I’m one of hundreds in a generation of campers, parents, siblings, and extended family members who met Davis for the first time in the doorway of their home, welcoming in a stranger who promised to show them a very persuasive, but brief, video (as long as they had a VCR), and who only wanted an hour or so of their time to talk about a place up north in Sidney, Maine that he held near and dear to his heart. And yeah, sure, he’d love to stay for dinner, as long as you’re offering.


And this is just how my family and I first came to know Mr. Wiggin. In the foyer of a modest suburban house on a sleepy road in New Rochelle, New York, just as the leaves had finished falling and the front lawn was preparing for months of hibernation under a blanket of snow. My mother had told me earlier in the day that a man was coming by to talk to me about how much fun it’d be to go to my sister’s old summer camp. Confused by the prospect of having to already think about summer when I had just yesterday found my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles winter hat after hours of searching in my closet, I decided it was best not to ask questions and to just sit and smile while my parents tried to get me to go to that dreadful band camp my sister wouldn’t stop talking about. Besides, my mom said she’d be cooking a special dinner for the occasion, and I’m not one to ever turn down a free meal.


So, after finishing my homework and mentally preparing myself for the evening’s half-hour of hysterics with a new episode of The Simpsons, our doorbell rang. My family had tidied up the house a bit for our guest and encouraged me to do the same, so I changed out of my New York Mets t-shirt and put on a solid-colored collared shirt. When the collared shirt came out, that’s when you know I meant business. We opened the door to a cheery-eyed smiling man who was just so very happy to see us all again. We welcomed him inside and, after a few formalities and pleasantries in the entry way, we all made our way to the television room and watched the New England Music Camp promotional video.


I remember thinking the video was incredibly boring. Like, mind-numbingly, drool-inducing, watch-your-fingernails-grow boring. Not because it didn’t do a good job of depicting how wonderful the camp was, but because my sister had already told me every single thing the video said (and more), and her stacks upon stacks of photographs from summers past were in regular rotation throughout the house. She was the world’s best saleswoman, singing her cabin’s favorite songs, explaining their inside jokes, and practicing her viola eight thousand hours a day, a custom she says she learned at camp.  My family had been to the camp before, and though I was young, I already understood what made the camp special.


So, when Davis asked me if I’d enjoyed the video, of course I said yes. My parents and I engaged in a conversation with him about the prospect of my going there the following summer, and I told him I had a few reservations about being a camper. I wasn’t like my sister: I hated practicing. I liked goofing off and playing around on my instrument more than playing anything written on the page of music in front of me, and I’d had some bad experiences with sleep away camps in the past. I just wasn’t sure if it was right for me. It was in reaction to this that Davis’ smile grew the widest it had been all day, and he told me that it was for all these reasons that I should go to New England Music Camp. That the camp was really a fun, exciting environment in which music played a big factor but didn’t necessarily have to be the most important part of any camper’s experience. That the counselors are all qualified to help soothe away my homesickness on that dreadful, eternally long first night. That I was not alone in my reservations about attending a camp that had “music” in the title. That I was among dozens of other kids who would be right there along with me, unsure of their surroundings at first but soon carefree enough to enjoy every second of their time there. I had to go to New England Music Camp, he said, to prove to myself that I could do things I didn’t think I could do, and I would never be alone doing so.


Then we ate and it was awesome. Over dinner Davis had the opportunity to tell me about the traditions in the dining hall at New England Music Camp, that we got a fresh loaf of home-made bread with every meal, that everything was served family style, that tables competed to see who could finish their meal first, that we got ice cream sandwiches as regularly as we wanted. He had me at “home-made bread.” I attended my first summer at New England Music Camp in 1999, and I’ve since returned for eight summers in various capacities.


At camp over the next few summers, as I got to know Davis better and as I got to understand the world a little bit clearer, I saw that what Davis embodied in his spirit and tenacity was at the very core of what the camp stands for and what makes the place run so well. New England Music Camp has a formula that they know works: their summers are consistently enormously successful at providing a warm, welcoming environment enriched by music for countless kids who sometimes don’t really feel like they fit in so well anywhere else. It’s a place where you say grace before you sit down to eat, even if you don’t believe in it, not because of religious persecution, but because that’s just what we do. It’s a place where you’ll learn the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer whether you like it or not, because everybody around you seems to know it, and they look like they’re having a pretty damn good time singing it. It’s a place where you’re going to dress up several times a week regardless of how much you dress up at home, and no we don’t care that you only have two white button-down shirts you’ll dress up anyway, because that’s the way it’s always been done and that’s what makes us feel good. It’s a place where at the end of every night you’ll put your arm around the person next to you, whether it’s you’re best friend or a counselor you haven’t spoken a word to all summer, and you’ll sing a song about tranquility, strength, faith, and peace. It’s a place steeped in tradition, a world untouched by the insanities and injustices of the outside world, a place where every member of the community knows his or her role because it is both clearly defined and totally malleable. By the end of the summer, whether you like it or not, you belong. Davis knew how important tradition was for a healthy, joyful life. His was one filled with people who knew just how happy he was, because they got to see him smile as he watched his world thrive summer after summer, rather than crumble down and fall into the past.


As sad as an occasion this is, we must be thankful for a few things. We have to be happy that Davis lived to see the seventy-fifth anniversary of his camp. We have to smile thinking about the hundreds of faces who got to see him laugh one last time, whose lives he must have known he touched forever. We have to be happy that his and his wife Jeanette’s endeavors have created love, happiness and life in this world, especially with the recent arrival of Matt and Kate Quayle’s beautiful baby Helen, a child truly born out of a New England Music Camp romance. As long as there is love at New England Music Camp, there will be life, and as long as there is life, Davis’ traditions will live on.


I owe a great deal of the successes in my life to my experiences at New England Music Camp, and I’m happy that I can pinpoint the moment when Davis convinced me it was my time to join the NEMC family. As I continue my relationship with the camp, in whatever capacity that might be, I’ll always have a face and a moment to stamp on the birth of my time there: a smiling face, a jolly face, a face that knew what was right for me before I did. Every time we go and tell a friend, neighbor or stranger about the beauty, love, and everlasting impact of New England Music Camp, we’ll be doing Davis’ bidding, and as long as that goes on, he’s as alive as any person could ever hope to be.

Music and Memories – NEMC 75th Anniversary

Music and Memories
Written By NEMC Alumna Angela Scimonelli Myers

“Sue, you know what I remember more than anything else about this place”, I said.
“No. What”?
“When it rained, we had wet feet for days”!!!!

And so went Sue Warner Macky’s and my reminiscing on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It was followed by laughter and looks of sheer delight to be united once again in the place we knew as home so many years ago.

And so went the weekend for many of us alumni as we gathered for the NEMC 75th reunion. Some people looked the same. Some people didn’t. I could place the name, but not the face. I knew the face but the name didn’t ring a bell. And some people were exactly the same. OK, maybe a wrinkle here and a sag there, but no matter. I saw them through the eyes of a 15 year old and they were just as I had left them. At one point, I turned around and was face to face with Cheryl Campbell. “Oh, hi Angie”! “Oh, hi, Cheryl”!…as if it were yesterday.

It didn’t matter if you couldn’t place the name or the face. It didn’t matter if they were there 10 years before you or 10 years after, they were all a part of the same family. But, I get a head of myself. Let’s start at the beginning of this most extraordinary weekend.

Friday started with registration and collection of the name tag and lovely gift bag. Chit chats with people about “What are you doing now”? and “How are the kids”?, watching radiant smilesand inquisitive eyes as they entered the Wiggin Visitor’s Center. Looking at the amazing array of old photos from years past. Mary Alice Yost Donaldson was there to greet all. Mary Alice… just as warm, just as sweet and just as beautiful as she was 30 odd years ago. In fact she looks exactly the same. (I suggested we cut her in half and count the rings to make sure she is how old she says she is).

In the evening came the camper’s Honor Recital and more people showing up. As we stood outside Alumni Hall listening to these magnificent kids just tearing it up on stage, stifled snickers and gradually loudening whispers cropped up here and there from small circles of people. It was the sound of memories being jostled and stories being swapped as the night took a course toward a place somewhere in between the then and now. After the recital, and singing Peace, we made our way towards the Bowl were a huge tent had been erected on the athletic fields for our alumni reception. The tent was necessary because the attendance had outgrown the restaurant that had originally been reserved for the occasion (300 people will do that, you know). Slowly but surely, the faces started to be associated with their rightful stories. Intermittent squeals and guffaws popped up from all angles of the room, followed by short respites of mummers. Heads thrown back in laughter, more hugs, shouts to others across the room, tight clusters whispering some story of naughtiness by so-n-so with so-n-so on that night, remember? And more bursts of laughter. If you closed your eyes for a moment, it was like listening to people on a roller coaster. It was excitement, exhilaration and the pure joy of being in a most amazing and special moment. Kim asked us to sing “By The Shores of Messalonskee” and a huge majority knew the words and the tune. It started to break up around midnight (we’re old now and not the party girls we used to be…plus there was rehearsal in the morning!) but not without promises of getting together later.

Saturday brought a lovely picnic and more connecting, followed by rehearsals for the Pops and Sunday’s special event for the concert, then, on to Alumni Hall for a “State of NEMC” meeting. Here, plans were discussed for fund raising for a new building on the campus. An addition to Alumni Hall to house teaching studios and a larger year-round facility for indoor concerts; plans with a remarkable vision of the future were discussed. A new building would allow for more programs and extend the camp operations through early spring and into late fall, connecting with the local community and even providing continuing music education.

But, do we want change? Do we want a bigger, brighter building? Will it change the mission of the camp? Will it drag us out of the time warp we have come to love and cherish so fiercely, catapulting us into the modern world? Are we trying to preserve our own memories and experiences in a place that has remained the same with no interference from the outside world, our own special Lost Horizon where we have protected our past from encroaching change?…Or is it a true vision of progress that will offer more extraordinary experiences for the kids and bring in funding to keep NEMC alive into the next 75 years? Many discussions will follow, I’m sure.

Afterwards, alumni went out for dinner in groups of old friends (our group totaled 16 and lobster was had by all!!). The evening brought the Pops Concert and the kids were amazing as ever. Giora Schmidt, the magnificent violinist, performed with the faculty orchestra and stupefied everyone. A former camper who wasn’t really sure he wanted to play violin and make music his life when he came to camp, there he was, a Carnegie Hall veteran at 22 and now a world renowned violinist and master teacher at 28. But, it really doesn’t surprise anyone. There are many NEMCers that went on to sparkling careers. For Giora, perhaps NEMC was the opportunity to discover or the push in the right direction.

Sunday morning brought another rehearsal…and rain. Ah, Sunday concerts in the rain. The show must go on, after all. Some of us reunited one last time to trade emails, and more stories, to make promises of keeping in touch and plans for visits (it’s in writing, Gail). The concert was wonderful with the Concert Band, Symphony and Chorus performing and for the piece de resistance, the 1812 Overture with a 250+ piece orchestra of alumni, faculty and campers, led masterfully by Maestro Leon Gregorian. Even the pelting rain could not drown this spectacular event. It was goose-bumps all around. And then to close the concert we all sang Peace once again…


There is just something about that song. It does something to you. We all can sing it in our sleep. Sometimes when I’m looking at a particularly lovely sunset, or sitting on a beach watching the waves, that song fills my head…and my heart. I may be on a beach, but my heart is lost in a place of white birches and the sounds of melodies wafting all around me. It’s in a place of people who knew me when, of laughter and the tears of friendships ending for the summer…of kisses goodnight at the Y… of acceptance and friendship…of a dedication and discipline that no one at home can possibly understand… of fearlessly being yourself and knowing they like you anyway…of people who really get it…of sunsets with colors that God created specially for you…of meteor showers, northern lights, and snow in August…of late night swims and bonfires, of bugles calling you to eat, of music on a par like no other, of teachers inspiring you to work hard, of mentors igniting a passion for beauty and expression…of perpetually wet feet.

I’m in the car, making the long trek back home still thinking of the weekend and all the people I saw and the people I wish I had seen. I’m still laughing about some of the stories I heard. Thinking about Kim and John Wiggin, who probably crashed and burned about an hour ago. The amount of juggling, handsprings, punting and shifting they did to get this little show on the road so successfully…It was their own little Cirque du Soleil. Actually it was kind of spooky. Every time I thought, “Gee, where’s Kim”? She’d just kind of appear. Hmmm….

My whole family went to NEMC. Their kids went, my kids went and there are a ton of stories like mine. NEMC is generational and it lives on through the kids that come and go, through the music that’s performed and through the memories it cements. NEMC was the beginning of my life as an artist and a person. It formed my passion to be a performer and my fearlessness to be who I needed to be because I knew no matter what happened from my last day there until now, there would always be a place where I was accepted for me and understood what it meant to be madly in love with and dedicated to creativity and self expression through what ever medium I chose. And it lives on for this next bunch. They don’t know it now, but something is happening to them. Their memories are being forged and their hearts are being lost to a place…and a time…and Peace.

Joanna Sirlin Returns to NEMC

GUEST POST: Joanna Sirlin, Viola Faculty

I just came back from the New Faculty meeting at Kim and John’s house and I can’t help but feel like I’m in a dream.  Being back at NEMC feels like stepping back in time–or rather, stepping into a time capsule.  So much here is the same.  There are so many familiar faces–The Wiggins, the Gregorians, Laura Joella and so many more–and I feel like I saw them just yesterday.

I was a camper here in July of ’96, ’97, and ’98 and now I am here as Viola Faculty for the first time.  The campus has the same feel to it, comfortable and fresh at the same time.  There is an energy here that is invigorating and calming.  I am both inspired and relaxed at the same time. This is still the absolute best place to practice in the whole world.

NEMC means so much to me and my family.  My brother and I have been here as either a camper, counselor, staff, or faculty for most years since 1996.  Now, for the first time, we are here for the summer together, me on faculty and he as assistant head boys counselor. This place and the people are the same, but we are different.  He’s not the little kid he was when I first came here.  Now, he shows me the ropes and takes care of me, unlike when we were younger and I was always looking out for him.

It was my experiences at NEMC that influenced my decision to become a professional musician and music educator, and throughout the years with all of the hours of practicing, the late nights gigging on the road, and all of the auditions taken, I always kept NEMC in the back of my head as a reason I went through with my decision to stay in music.  I hope I can pass on the same love and dedication to my students here.  In many ways I feel the same as when I was a camper, but I am not, I am different.  I’ve earned my Masters and Bachelors in Music Performance and traveled the country performing and touring.  I’ve been teaching for many years.  I’m recently married.  My husband hasn’t been to NEMC yet and I wonder if he will feel as home here as I do.  I’ll write again when he visits at the end of July!


Joanna Sirlin, BM MM, is a Suzuki and traditional teacher at Turtle Bay Music School and the Town School. She is the Assistant Principal Viola of the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra and also the Westchester Chamber Orchestra. She is also an active freelance violist in New York City.