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10 Years of Great Music Camps
By Richard Ferguson

As we embark on our tenth anniversary of chamber music camp excellence, we have been filled with a flood of emotions.  When the Ashtons, Mindy Hillman, and us began this journey in 2001, we had no idea what a huge impact it would have in the lives of the students who attended or in our own lives.  As with all great things, the music camp had to pass through a great deal of tribulation and opposition during its formative years.  The first annual Mountains & Strings was equivalent to laying train tracks just seconds before the train's passing over them.  Since we were only 23 years old Brian Ashton and I were inexperienced in matters of business to say the least.  We were so excited that we just knew the details were going to fall into place.  Obviously, some reconciling of differences was in order, since Brian had at least been to a music camp before and I had only dreamt of one and seen a documentary on Itzhak Perlman’s summer music program.  Due to the fact that Brian and I were willing to talk things out and reason together no matter how strange our ideas seemed to each other, our differing points of view soon formed into the foundation of a very unique music camp experience.  As ideas became reality, we began to see that each of our respective visions was much more far reaching than either of us could have anticipated.  This led to a wonderful, even unexpected outcome.  My sights had been set on how to give the students the experiences that I had missed out on in my own life and tailor them to fit the needs of students regardless of the level to which they had been Suzukiyzed.  His vision, although, mind boggling to me at the time, included involving the students in outdoor activities that would teach them principles of leadership and team work.  These are but a few of the principles upon which Mountains & Strings was founded.

            Some have asked, “Why the name ‘Mountains & Strings Chamber Music Retreat?’”  That is a good question.  As all of us were brainstorming names, we agreed pretty easily that the name should include the words “Chamber Music Retreat” because we wanted it to be different than any old music camp.  The funny thing is that to this day we always call it “The Music Camp” when planning it or discussing it.  We spent quite a few days on the main title.  One of the names we liked but discarded was “White Pine Chamber Music Retreat,” because it just didn’t sound right.  One day when I came home for lunch, KaraLyn listed off some names she had thought of.  I can’t remember what they all were, but when she said the words “Mountains & Strings,” we both broke out laughing because it sounded like “Mountains & Streams” or “Mountains and Springs.”  After rolling around on the floor for a while (I know it doesn’t sound funny now, but for some reason it really tickled our funny bones), I got up off the floor and it just hit me, “Why not ‘Mountains & Strings?’ it sounds funny at first, but it has a certain ring to it.”  We talked about it and soon everyone had agreed that “Mountains & Strings” was a perfect name.  Even now, people misunderstand the name and call it “Mountain & Strings,” and other close approximations.

The first year, we secured a lodge called “Pine Basin Lodge,” which was in the mountains above Swan Valley.  We charged $130.00 for the week, but we only spent 3 days at the lodge and finished the camp out in Rexburg.  It wasn’t ideal, but the scenery was still beautiful.  Even with that tuition price, we had to literally beg people to send their students.  Of course, most of our own students came, which was why we wanted to have a music camp in the first place.  We ended up with 40 students, and I will never forget how I felt when we loaded them onto the bus and started driving towards the lodge.  We just kept looking back over all of the students that were chattering, giggling, and getting to know each other, and I just kept saying, “This is all our fault! These kids are all here because of us!”  I know it sounds cheesy now, but we were excited.  We had sent Mindy and Natalie ahead in our van to meet the Sysco food truck which had already gone to the lodge and left because no one was there. When we got to the lodge, there was no food truck and no food, yet we knew it had passed us on the way there. Mindy and Natalie ended up having to chase it down and get it to turn around and bring back the food.  When the bus arrived, it soon became evident that the lodge was locked and that we had no way in.  It soon began to snow, and we realized we were all going to die.  I climbed up on the roof and tried to call our contact who was supposed to meet us there.  I can’t remember how we eventually got in, but we did.  Our first meal was exciting, since we all had to share the same fork.  One would eat, and then we would wash the fork and pass it on.  Natalie & Mindy had gone on to Driggs to secure some other things that we had forgotten, but we had not thought about silverware.  We had assumed that the lodge would be equipped with such things.  I found a little room up in the lodge where I could get cell phone reception, called the grocery store in Driggs.  I asked if there was anyone in the store named “Mindy Hillman” or “Natalie Ashton.”  It turns out they were actually finishing checking out and about to leave.  I told them that they had better buy some

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