SIDNEY — Julia Schnee, 14, remembered her first summer at New England Music Camp — she was the last chair and fumbled through music selections.

In this, her third summer, Schnee auditioned for and was selected to play oboe during an honor recital.

“Now I get it,” said Schnee of Rome.

“I can feel it rather than trying to survive the piece.”

Schnee, whose younger brother Nathan also attends camp, said, “It’s not about conquering the instrument, it’s about being a part of it and of something bigger.”

New England Music Camp, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, is something bigger.

For three generations, Wiggin family members have directed the camp, which strives to foster a love of making music, development of responsibility, enjoyment of lakeside living and an appreciation of lasting friendships.

In 1937, Paul and Nina Wiggin started the camp for young musicians on the shore of Messalonskee Lake.

They ran the camp until 1969, when their son, Davis Wiggin and his wife, Jeanette, took over. They directed the camp for youth ages 11-18 through 2009.

Since 2010, Davis and Jeanette’s son, John Wiggin, and his wife, Kim, have embraced continuing the camp’s legacy.

The third generation of Wiggin camp directors met in 1973.

Kim Wiggin was a camper and her husband-to-be, who was four years older, was the music librarian and afternoon lifeguard.

Kim Wiggin, who laughs when she recalls volunteering to be John’s cardiopulmonary resuscitation “dummy,” said she knew from the moment they met that some day that she would marry him.

In addition to directing the camp, John Wiggin owns a construction business in Scarborough and Kim Wiggin is a teacher.

The Wiggins raised three sons at camp and one, Matthew Wiggin, is an actor, singer, dancer and writer.

Kim Wiggin is far from being the lone former camper who has returned to work on campus.

Alumna Fiona Bryan is director of marketing and public relations.

She said promoting New England Music Camp is easy.

“It literally changed my life,” said Bryan, who smiles while listening to Madison Luck, 16, a four-time camper from Mount Desert Island, share his stories.

“It made me who I am today. They’re the same experiences generations apart,” said Bryan, who attended in the 1980s and earned an undergraduate degree in violin at Vanderbilt University and a master’s in violin performance at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Those universal experiences include trips to Reid State Park, hanging out at the canteen, relaxing beneath the majestic towering trees in the Bowl-in-the-Pines site of summer concerts, watching lakeside sunsets, bonding with other campers who share a passion for music, smiling for the all-camp photograph and singing “Peace of the River,” by Glendora Gosling and Viola Wood, to close the session.

The camp blends mornings of challenging music instruction and practice with afternoons swimming and sailing as well as tennis, basketball and soccer.

Evenings feature recitals and on weekends there are concerts.

“We’re all here for the same purpose,” said Schnee. “We all ‘get’ each other and we all support each other. We have a musical connection.”

Luck, who plays cello and alto sax, said, “We’re pushed here. It’s a hard course, but it’s fulfilling in the end.”

Former camper Martha Guenther, now its full-time director of program development and outreach, said chores help participants mature and accept responsibility.

Bryan agrees. “The discipline brings about confidence … but there’s a reason we have rest hour.”

The rustic, well-cared for residence cabins, as well as the 300-seat Alumni Hall and Lodge are homey and inviting.

The Lodge, a former resort hotel, is where campers and staff eat meals family style. Decades-old wall plaques contain names of recipients of the coveted Honor Musician Awards and Honor Camper Awards.

A modern visitor’s center showcases more than 70 years of camp history and the canteen is a popular hangout where burgers, nachos, ice cream and shakes supplement dining hall fare.

Tiny one-room practice cabins dot the front lawn. Many have pianos.

Bryan said the approximately 60 pianos on campus provide never-ending work for a technician.

The famed Bowl-in-the-Pines is so named because of its location amid towering trees. It is one of the camp’s original structures and houses indoor rehearsal rooms, studios and places to play ping-pong.

John Madden can often be found conducting at the bowl. Most other seasons, Madden directs the Spartan Marching Band at Michigan State University.

Both Kim Wiggin and Bryan spoke of the importance of maintaining the successful legacy and traditions of the rural camp — which does not allow campers to use cell phones or the Internet — by embracing technology’s benefits.

For example, campers listen to music on iPhones and Bryan regularly updates the camp’s website — — and streams recitals live so parents can watch their children’s performances.

A few future campers have the opportunity this summer to gain insight into camp.

Bryan, who lives in Colorado and is the founder and managing editor at MomActive, brought her three children, ages 11, 8 and 5, with her to Sidney for the summer.

While Bryan works to promote New England Music Camp, her children will soak up the sun, harmonious melodies and lakeside living.

Her oldest, she said, will attend the camp’s second session, beginning July 25.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


Violinist Giora Schmidt, a distinguished New England Music Camp alumnus, will perform a public concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at J. Duke Albanese Performing Arts Center at Messalonskee High School in Oakland.

Schmidt has performed with symphony orchestras around the world; in 2003 he debuted at Carnegie Hall.

According to, Schmidt began playing violin at age 4. Schmidt’s parents are professional musicians from Israel. His mother was on the faculty at New England Music Camp for a decadev.

For tickets, call 465-3025.


New England Music Camp hosts free public concerts Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 14, at 3 p.m. in the Bowl-In-The-Pines on campus, off Route 23 in Sidney.

The camp also hosts free student and faculty recitals Wednesday and Friday evenings through Aug. 12, inside the camp’s 300-seat Alumni Hall. For times, call 465-3025.

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