August 2011 – Reflections on a sunny week in Utopia.
A few weeks of mixed weather has passed after leaving the singing camp (www.riseupsinging.co.uk) with a head-full of tunes and a definite and most unusual sense of loss at its ending.
My normal life of batting around chasing locations and light was placed on hold and instead I found myself immersed in a community of about 80 people, singing, dancing, cooking, swimming and generally hanging out in a big campfire circle in a beautiful field just north of Buckfast Abbey. A babbling Holy Brook runs through the site, its sound a constant reassuring presence.
My fellow campers, in tents, yurts and camper-vans surrounded my small green froglike tent, but the effect was totally different from staying on commercial campsites, as I do when on location in my motor-caravan. Usually I pull in my horns and mentally distance myself from any near neighbours, concentrating on the photographs I have been asked for; as quickly and creatively as I can, and at the minimum day-rate cost to my clients.
However this was not a full on commercial job and from my arrival time when I was met and greeted by Felicity a core group member of Rise up Singing! on “meet and greet” duty and told that I was in Ruth’s sub group, it was obvious that these guys knew how to put people at ease and had done this process many times before. I started to feel at home remarkably quickly and by the time of the first big meeting (pow wow) any qualms about suddenly facing 80 new people sitting in a huge circle had evaporated.
Felicity excelled herself at the first big meeting, after a delightful bit of banter with Daverick Leggett, the groups instigator and leader, concerning the impossibility of her remembering the names of all 80 people sitting in the circle. In short – she did, faultlessly! Even considering that she had met some attendees on previous camps and knew her fellow members well, it was quite a trick! During the next few days it became very obvious that the core group and teachers at Rise up Singing! are a remarkable group and after five years of running the camp, they know exactly what they are doing.
The camp chores, cooking cleaning and other tasks are done by the members in the 6 sub groups resulting in a rota pinned up in the camp kitchen and discussed in the daily meetings of the sub groups. Right from the start the people in my sub-group seemed like old friends.
The kids (even the teenagers) at the camp enjoyed themselves hugely with an ongoing program of activities run by the kids team, enabling parents and carers to attend the workshops. Most of the teenagers were quite talented and joined in the workshops as adults.
As the name of the camp implies, the day starts early, with campers woken by a strolling minstrel in time to go to the morning session run during the week by three leaders in turn, the main session later in the morning after breakfast, is run by Helen Yeomans, (www.gloriouschorus.co.uk) who teaches all-comers of mixed ability to sing together in 5/6 part harmony. After the morning session there is a daily pow wow where issues are raised as necessary. After lunch there is free time in the early afternoon and a choice of late afternoon sessions catering for different styles of singing – from Gavin Frank (www.listentothevoice.co.uk) or Rob Carney (www.myspace.com/sweetserenader) and/or a series of songwriting/creativity workshops facilitated by the impressive and shamanic Ruth Jenni. One afternoon is devoted to a group walk to a local Dartmoor tor and on to the nearby River Dart for swimming.
After dinner, there is either informal singing around the camp fire or a more structured form of entertainment put on by one of the teachers and/or the attendees. On the last night of the camp there is a brilliant cabaret staring the attendees, teachers and core group. A wood fired sauna is lit most evenings for anyone who fancies a sweat and a splash in the pool under the stars.
For me personally, a whole week of entertainment from some great voices and musicians was fantastic, but more than that, the amount of support, affection and camaraderie from my fellow attendees and the Rise up Singing! core group went deep and I will miss it.
How much better it would be for us all, if our society with its fixation on money and yet more objects for consumption, could evolve into one with inbuilt tribal feelings of love, care and well- being.