(This post was written by Summer Camp Director, Trevor Graham-Wilcox.)
What would Camp Stevens be without “Love Potion #9” and “One Tin Soldier”? For me, that is impossible to imagine. Since my first days as a camper, singing from our legendary songbook at Community Gathering has helped define my experience with this place. So much so that I decided to learn guitar at age 11 solely so that I could learn the camp songs.
Returning to Camp Stevens a few years ago as the Summer Camp Director, It was quite a moment when I realized that the Camp Stevens Songbook could be a dynamic entity. Songs like Leonard Cohen’s heartbreaking epic “Hallelujah” could be added, and old bores like “On Top of Old Smokey” (No, it’s not about meatballs, but a cautionary tale about moving too slow in romance.) could be rightfully retired. Each year I look at the songbook and make hard decisions, and exciting additions.
In order to be in our songbook, a song must meet the following criteria:
- Song must work as a group sing-a-long, without too much of an emphasis on vocal ornamentation and inflection (parts of “Brown Eyed Girl” really push this).
- Song must be appropriate for children, hopefully with understandable themes.
- Song must either be culturally well-known (i.e. “Don’t Stop Believin”) OR easy enough to catch onto during a first singing (i.e. “Swimming to the Other Side”).
- Song must be easy enough to play on guitar AND rhythmically obvious enough to be played by multiple guitars and other instruments without prior rehearsal (“The Wind” by Cat Stevens is left out because of this, despite what a perfect camp song it would be.).
There will always be exceptions to these guidelines, but in general I keep them in mind when making changes to the book. Some new songs go over really well right from the start. For example, “Ring of Fire” took off so quickly that it has probably surpassed songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “Clementine” in popularity. Others might take more time and work to become accepted. Passionate campers and staff have fought for more obscure new songs like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “I Would Walk 500 Miles” to be played more often. One song that is close to my heart is a Hank Williams song about a train called “California Zephyr,” sung in this video by Glennis and I.
It’s getting to be the time of year when I finalize the 2012 version of the songbook. I have some ideas, but I would love to hear yours as well! What song is destined to be ring out from our amphitheater into the warm summer air?