If you’re young, American, and living in Michigan, and if you like performing, you may be lucky enough to spend part of your summer at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, a summer school of the arts located on a 1300 acre campus in the Manistee National Forest. If you’re really talented and work hard, you may one year be selected for one of the 8 or so ensembles that have been coming over for a European tour every year since 1969.
And if you live in Europe, you may be lucky enough to live in one of those towns that welcome these young people. Here at Laroque, we’re among those fortunate people.
The Blue Lake Jazz Ensemble first came here 2 years ago. Their director, David Jensen, and the leader of our own LDO Big Band, Michel Alvarez, hit it off. So when plans for this year were under way, both men were keen to see Laroque included in the itinerary.
But what an itinerary! The band landed in Paris on 17th June. From Elbeuf in Normandy, they passed through Belgium to reach Germany, Denmark, Germany again, then Austria. Then they travelled 1588 km to reach Laroque d’Olmes, a coach journey that took a whole 24 hours. After staying with us, they were due to travel overnight to Paris and the plane home on July 9th.
They might have been tired, punch-drunk with cultural variety and new experiences, but they had to be welcomed with a party. It was here they met their host families. What would two 16 year old boys make of the fact that they got to stay with us instead of a French family? Pleased, as it happens. Grappling with unknown languages – French, German, Danish over 3 weeks or so takes its toll. At least we were a bit of a rest.
The concert on Thursday evening was what we were all looking forward to. Well, not me so much. Malcolm had provided translation and interpreting services last time, so this year, he thought it should be my turn.
All went well at first: I’d seen Michel’s speech in advance, and David’s response contained no surprises. But when it came to introducing the pieces….well…what IS the French for ‘Dance of denial’? Or ‘Struttin’ with some barbecue’? We decided the titles didn’t matter; I bowed out, and then discovered the remaining repertoire was quite translatable, thank you.
But those Americans! The performance they turned in was exciting, exhilarating, excellent, extraordinary. Impossible to believe that some of the group were only 13, and that few had left High School. They’re so professional. LDO Big Band was on form too, so the high spot of the evening was when the two bands came together to perform. Their pleasure and pride in working together communicated itself to an already delighted audience, and the evening ended on a high for us all.
This opportunity to play together is apparently what makes little old Laroque worth the detour for the Blue Lake musicians: it’s not something they do elsewhere. They’d like to send a different band our way next year, David’s year off. It seems Laroque is now firmly on the Michigan map.
The rest of the stay was given over to sleep, lots of it, and sightseeing, rather less of that. We climbed Roquefixade to see a ruined castle, and took in the medieval town of Mirepoix. Others had different days-of-yore experiences: Foix and Carcassonne.
The trip ended on a sad note though. One of the group had lost her passport, and despite every effort, it couldn’t be replaced in time. She’s still here.