This week, Becky and I have been teaching at Virginia State Music Camp at Eagle Eyrie, the Baptist Assembly outside Lynchburg. Actually, the real name of the event is Music and Worship Arts Camp, sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Richmond. Baptist churches are independent but cooperate through agencies like the VBMB for missions and support. This gathering is an arts camp with a decided musical emphasis for fourth grade through high school students.
The assembly at Eagle Eyrie is 57 years old and perches on the side of a steep mountain. It had fallen into a state of disrepair several years ago, with peeling paint, broken fences and walls, and old fixtures. A largely volunteer committee, headed by our former senior pastor at Manassas Baptist Church, Bill Higgins, restored the property. Today it looks fresh and new, with beautiful plantings and landscaping.
The Music and Worship Arts Camp is coordinated through the Worship and Church Music Ministries division of the VBMB, headed by Tom Ingram, Field Strategist/Worship and Church Music Specialist, and Debbie Cobb, Administrative Assistant to Empowering Leaders Team. They are dedicated, humble, Spirit-filled servants who essentially put together a school for 350 children each summer, along with their other duties during the year. They work with a committee to establish a theme (this year’s was, believe it or not, “The Gift of Christmas.” The kids have been singing Christmas carols all week. That helps to counteract the extreme heat we’re having here closer to the sun) beginning in February. Becky is on the committee as are several other Virginia church musicians such as Fred Horn and Bernadine Donovan. (I don’t know the names of the others on the committee.)
Tom and Debbie are assisted at the camp by several energetic interns either in college or just out of it, Laura, Hilliary, Ariana and Megan. There were thirty-eight faculty members this year, along with numerous chaperones of church groups. These faculty members are incredibly talented and experienced musicians who are a joy to watch work with the children.
I slid in as a teacher by teaching a class in song-writing, using my experience teaching writing which is more developed than my musical skills. The class was called “Lots of Lyrics,” and the students showed great insight and creativity writing words to familiar tunes, writing poems based on the Psalms and writing a Christmas carol. One of their songs was used in a worship service.
Class selections include handbells, a vocal ensemble, banners, guitar 1 &2, instrumental ensemble, interpretive movement, make it/give it (students make an item which is give to an orphanage or shelter), orchestra, piano, ‘scapes (visual art project), puppets, stomp (students play trash cans, pots and pans, and some other more or less indescribable instruments), voice, drumming, and worship leadership. Each student is also part of a choir, Alpha for younger children, and Omega for the older ones. The choirs are usually directed by musicians from out of state, although Becky directed the Alpha choir a few years ago. Imagine directing a choir of 135 children!
There is also a Delta level for high school students, who help with classes and learn what is involved in being a worship leader.
The Worship and Church Music Ministries division also sponsors an All-State Choir and Orchestra in February, with students chosen by audition from all over the state. They work with a director and produce some beautiful music.
I think you can tell this week, while exhausting, was a mountaintop experience for me, both literally and figuratively. Seeing the leaders work with the children, who were exceptionally well-behaved and enthusiastic (with some exceptions–they are children, after all) was uplifting. One of the teachers in another class I overheard was talking with his students about eventually taking the places of the church musicians now working. Their experiences at camp are a start, he said, and they could work until they are ready to step in at some point in the future when we can’t minister any longer. Judging from what I saw this week on the mountaintop, thanks to the efforts of a lot of people and the grace of God, that future is very bright indeed