It’s been Blue Lake time again: that time of year when for 3 years now, we at Laroque have come to expect great entertainment from the musicians of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan, USA, as well as some music from our own LDO Big Band.
This year, we welcomed a slightly different group from previous years – the International Jazz Band. Mostly still in their teens, these players have been selected for the European tour not only because they’re good at what they do, but they’re hungry to become even better. They want to seize the opportunity to spend time in cultures other than their own, and to perform in locations throughout parts of Europe, from prestigious concert halls and cathedrals, to smaller town venues like ours.
At the end of last night’s concert, the band’s conductor and group director Bill MacFarlin, spoke of how these chances for young Americans to travel and make music was a real opportunity to foster international friendship and understanding.
We’ve been watching that at work over the last 3 days. The Blue Lake team, 17 of them, arrived in sunshine to a big welcome group in the Municipal Park.
The event went well, but it was easy to see the Americans and French weren’t mixing much – it was too hard to communicate: Malcolm’s and my interpreting skills were much in demand (Not that we’re much good. I listened to our French head honcho, Michel Alvarez, and carefully interpreted it to Bill McFarlin. Bill raised an eyebrow. ‘Do you realise’, he said ‘that you’ve just said all that entirely in French?’).
Later, down at the bar with older students and members of LDO Big Band it got a lot easier. The giraffe of beer may have helped.
It was next day that real change took place. First of all, there was a Master Class, with Lucas Munce, acclaimed as a saxophonist back in the US (AND for his clarinet and flute playing too), and Parker Grant, a young jazz pianist also gaining recognition. After a slow start, the need to exchange musical knowledge overcame shyness and the language barrier.
Then after a shared meal it was time to rehearse. Towards the end of the evening, members of the French and American bands sat together to practise the pieces they planned to play together to conclude Fridays’ concert. It was wonderful to witness them, heads together as they pored over their shared scores, animatedly and enthusiastically discussing their music. Their mutual comprehension of each other’s tongues seemed to have moved up a gear, but above all they now had a shared language – music.
By the time Friday’s concert came, these musicians were friends. They greeted each other affectionately and settled down to listen to each other’s performances with relish. When they had to squeeze themselves together for those final numbers, placing themselves alternately American/French, they were confident to give the music their all. They loved it. The audience loved it.
At the moment of parting, there were hugs and all round and quite a few sniffles too. As ambassadors for their country, Blue Lake do a pretty fine job.