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Songs of Summer

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Each day at Green River Preserve is nestled between musical parentheticals: the morning is marked by the whole community singing ‘Win-de-ah-ho’ to greet the rising sun, and evening by ‘Sisters Brothers’ to thank one another and the now setting sun for the incredible day that has just come to a close. These songs become necessary, grounding rituals for campers both new and returning, giving pause to otherwise transitory times of day in which the present is now being made the focus, rather than what is to come.

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Returning to GRP this summer for my first year on staff after seven years since being a camper, I have come to realize that it is songs like Windeaho and Sisters Brothers that truly defined music as a permanent form of ritual or grounding in my life. Just as we do at camp, I have started every single day since coming to GRP with listening to or playing music, even if only for a few seconds. But a question I still find myself asking, especially as a music student, is why does music fill this great place of significance for us? What makes music such a special shared experience? Why does a rousing chorus around the fire of ‘Banana Slug’ or the ‘Campthem’, despite these songs’ silliness, still feel like a deeply sacred moment?

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French composer Claude Debussy once remarked that in its truest essence, “music is the space between notes”. This quote used to trouble me, but returning to my home away from home this summer has revealed to me what this sentiment means about the music that defines both our lives at GRP and beyond. Beauty needs a certain amount of space to be appreciated. Just as the space between the notes of a song allows them to resonate, reverberate, and reach their full measure of expression, it is the moments of camp between our songs that allow them to establish the weight of ritual. We each have a different day as we venture throughout this land, yet we each hear slivers of the songs we sing, all around: in the bubbling current of the Green River itself, in the wind as it sifts downhill between the trees and over the opening of our ears, or in the constant duet of insects and songbirds. But it is when we come together and bring the parts of our day together to make a whole through song, that the beauty of these spaces between our songs becomes apparent. For through these songs of summer, we have chosen to share the beauty, the joy that we seek, with one another in a ritual we are committed to each day.

Story by Meaghan Bonds with photos & videos by Brandon S. Marshall