The Interlochen Bowl was empty on Sunday mornings. Rows and rows of the mental green chairs cascade down to the wooden stage, shimmering in a wet gloss. I pulled at the zipper of my red windbreaker. The rain turned steady. Down the path, sat the cluster of individual practice cabins, S Huts we called them. Each hut built of honey stained wood, their roofs drenched in chartreuse moss, carefully placed in between tall pine trees. Flutteringly came from the harp building on the bluff to the left, but nearly all of the S Huts were empty.
This was my final summer attending Interlochen Arts Camp, college in Chicago awaited me in the fall. Months ago, I declined a seat in the wind ensemble program. I loved my two previous summers at camp, but it seemed cruel to spend my last summer at home away from my mother. And I wanted to bask in the final days of unencumbered youth by the pool. My sister would be next to me with headphones on, my brother splashing his friends in the pool. Maybe I would drink for the first time with Erin and Olivia in someone’s basement. I even lined up an internship and promised my best friend, Adri, to go to all ten nights of Summer Fest, a music festival back home in Milwaukee. Then I got a call two weeks before my high school graduation. The orchestra program had a last-minute cancelation. There was no choice, I could not turn this opportunity down.
Weaving past the S huts with pianos, I got to my favorite by the dark green cabins with red trim. The Intermediate Girls Division looked like Christmas, a welcomed sight compared to the brown cabin I called home for the summer. S Hut 12 sat there waiting for me, the door half open. I climbed the two cement stairs and shut the door behind me. The hut was moist and musty, only chairs and music stands inside. My feet shuffled the sandy cement floor, the metal feet of the chairs screeched when I rearranged their order into a U shape. Careful not to pinch my hand as I slid the sticky windows back, I opened one on the north and south walls. Regardless of rain, the air was always thick with moisture, something about the Northern Michigan air and being locked in by surrounding lakes. A dry towel was something you missed, like your dog or mom’s cooking usually around week three of camp. A cellist a few huts down worked on arpeggios and the bassoonist, in the hut next to mine, started the first measures of their Mozart concerto. The rain dripped from the roof outside one of the windows. Drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop. After drop.
One of the tween-filled cabins erupted in high pitch screeches, pulling me back to the reason why I ventured out in the morning at 9 A.M. while most of the camp was sleeping in, a perk of Sundays. I arranged the extra music stands, one in front for my sheet music, two on the right flipped over like a table to hold all of my tools: reeds, pencils, water, swabs, tiny screwdrivers, cork grease, key oil, and a metronome. The two chairs on my left held my case and dripping coat. I unzipped the case, revealing my clarinet tucked under the soft polishing cloth. Folding back the cloth, I pulled out the two middle joints and pushed them together, careful to align the bridge key. Then the bell at the end, and the barrel at the top leaving just a sliver of space for tuning. Finally, I gently pushed on the mouthpiece and placed my clarinet on its stand.
In the box of reeds, I rummaged for the one with four tick marks. I removed the reed from its plastic holder and plopped it in the small cup of water, letting it soak. After a few seconds, I picked up the reed and pulled it between my lips, removing the excess water. The reed returned to the face of the mouthpiece where it had been placed four times before; the black leather ligature tightened just enough to secure the reed in place.
Slowly, noodling through low registered warm-ups, sound bounced off the thin wooden walls out through the open windows, playing with the bassoonist and cello down the way. Everything rung with freshness and warmth. My upper body swayed slowly, side to side, as my fingers and breath took control. The bell of my clarinet left the resting position on my knee and circled in the air. Scales became mediations and solos became stories of late night s’mores, a first kiss by the lake, making friends from Serbia to Detroit, and never wanting to leave the four walls that surrounded me. The only time that existed was the clicks of my metronome at 60 beats per minute.