SIDNEY — Martha Geunther can point to the orchestra on stage and pick out several sets of siblings. And even a few parents.

“It doesn’t just feel like family, there are entire families here at a time,” she said. “My sister and my brother came here as campers before I did. That’s how I heard about it.”

The New England Music Camp, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, recently drew more than 300 of its alumni to the pine-dotted camp on the shore of Messalonskee Lake to show their support, perform or simply reminisce.

Indeed, the camp often seems like something of a family reunion. Officials have said that, in a given year, 10 percent to 15 percent of its students have some familial connection.

Founded in 1937 by Paul Wiggin, some 160 students descend on its campus to make music and enjoy summer in Maine for seven weeks each July and August. Campers begin their session by auditioning, after which they are placed in a band, an orchestra or a choir. They rehearse in the groups for an hour each morning, and they also take classes and private lessons. Afternoons consist of typical summer camp fare: Canoeing and kayaking, sailing, swimming and ball sports.

Morning sessions are led by a staff of 50 music instructors, most of whom are college professors, music teachers, or studio musicians. Counselors — usually college students — supervise the campers in the afternoons.

Many former campers have gone on to perform for prestigious groups, including the Chicago Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony.

Giora Schmidt, a violin soloist from Philadelphia, credited the camp with unlocking his potential.

“I was here when I was 12, and it was a turning point,” he said. “It was the first time I had recognition outside my parents and my regular teachers. I took that recognition and ran with it.”

At age 28, Schmidt has already toured the globe, performing in places such as France, Israel and Japan. And his work has been praised in the New York Times, Newsday and the Miami Herald.

He took time to encourage current campers and engage in what he described as “fiddle talk.”

“I don’t view what I do as a job,” Schmidt said. “It’s a life in music. That’s why people come back to this place. We all want music in our lives in some way.”

Tony Ryan, of Westport, Conn., also came for the camp’s alumni weekend, and said his experience led to many lasting friendships.

During the regular school year, he said he sometimes corresponded with fellow campers using rather unique methods.

“We would make a cassette tape and then mail it to somebody like an audio letter. They would flip it and send it back to you. This is old technology,” Ryan said.

He stressed that it was easy to make friends at camp because everyone shared an interest in music.

Bill McCartney, an alumni who is now on the board of trustees, said he hopes more people from Maine will take advantage of the program the camp has to offer.

“We would love to have more Maine students take advantage of this facility,” he said. “It’s not just that we’re located in Maine. We want this to be more of a musical and cultural presence in Maine.”

The free summer concerts also stream live on www.nemusiccamp.com — the camp’s website.

Geunther, who directs program development and outreach for the camp, is based in New York and performs in the chorus of the New York Pops.

She said she is planning to speak at schools across the country to promote the camp and its mission.

“This experience reaffirms your love of music because you’re creating something with other people,” she said. “You want to work together to create something that people will enjoy.”

Dan Harrington is a correspondent who lives in Augusta.


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