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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Lark in the Morning Music Celebration 1996 (Lark Camp)

By Ryan Thomson

I've explored music and dance camps nationwide for over 20 years and "Lark camp" proved to be a pleasant surprise as one of the most musically stimulating events I've ever attended. Its not that this camp necessarily has the best music or faculty. There are lots of other excellent camps. Its just that this camp comes closest to satisfying my own eclectic musical tastes. In the course of a typical day I found myself playing fiddle in a lively Celtic session, attending a class in Yugoslavian dance music, pounding the ivories at a swing and jitterbug dance, and sitting on Persian rugs jamming on Arabic music while belly dancers circled round.


The camp is situated in the foothills east of the town of Mendocino in a redwood forest. The rustic setting includes small cabins with fireplaces but no electricity, plenty of camping space, dance floors, dining halls, fire circles, and secluded wooded areas. The days were moderately warm and comfortable, evenings cool enough for a sweater. The camp started Friday night and continued through till the next Saturday morning when sleepy attendees were wakened by announcements via a megaphone to hurry and pack up so that the next group of visitors can settle in. (The camp site is used throughout the summer for other groups and events) 


This is the largest camp I've attended at approximately 500 persons. There is a "half camp" option at either end of the week but I stayed for the complete event. Class scheduling is somewhat informal as hired instructors were supplemented by anyone(students or staff) who wanted to teach additional classes of their own choosing. The printed advertising for the camp mentioned that folk music "professionals," were welcome. 

Since I perform and teach folk music for a living, I found this to be an inviting feature. In addition to the classes I attended as a student, I helped a beginning fiddler set up an instrument, explained chord construction to a small group of accompanists, and shared other bits of musical knowledge with many others. A teacher learns as much or more than the student in the process of teaching and so I came away from the week with a treasure of new musical knowledge.


It would take a couple more pages to list all of the music and dance attractions available but I'll mention some of my personal favorites: Celtic fiddle with Dale Russ; Bosnian fiddle with Slavko; continuous Celtic sessions; Greek sessions; the Klesmer orchestra; contra dancing; swing vocals class; cuban percussion class; Mexican music; French Canadian tunes with Kevin Carr; English Morris dancing in the wee hours; middle eastern food, jams and dancing; the circle of wheezing hurdy gurdys in the woods; and the numerous impromptu jams and performances that would appear at any hour of night and day, including a noon time concert by an orchestra of ocarinas. 


Unlike other camps which have a particular weekly musical focus, Lark heads out into almost every conceivable direction simultaneously. It takes a bit of self discipline to limit one's activities and still obtain the requisite sleep, nourishment, and rest. But if music is your priority, Lark's the place! For more information visit the Lark camp web site.

Written By Ryan Thomson, 1996

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