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The Soundtrack of Camp

18 May 2022 9:29 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

What is the soundtrack of your summer camp season? Is it largely the same as it was 50 years ago? The sound of rustling trees, children's laughter, waves lapping the shore, buzzing insects, screen doors slamming, clanging cookware, lawnmower, cheering, dinner bell, lifeguard's whistle... many of the background sounds of camp have stood the test of time. But what about the music? 

Singing is an integral part of most camp experiences, especially at church camp. We have traditions of sung meal graces, songs for worship, songs for campfire. Some of us sing on hikes and even for announcements. There's always singing at our talent shows and end-of-camp performances. Guitar accompaniment and a cappella songs (including the rowdy "repeat after me" variety) have been standard fare from our camps' earliest years.

A recent article from Nelson Strickland on the Summer Camp Society blog got me thinking about how the soundtracks of our camps get changed and updated. In "Five Simple Ways To Step Up Your Music Game This Summer," Nelson, a former DJ turned full-time camp pro, challenges camp leaders to think outside of our usual boxes in choosing music for camp. He reminds us that recorded music can be a powerful way to set a mood and bring people together. Unlike the soundscapes mentioned above, recorded music is a somewhat newer addition to camp life. Depending on your site, sometimes music is played to set the tone for a large-group gathering. Maybe staff listen to music while working in the kitchen or shop. Perhaps your program includes a camp dance. Is there music for cookouts, swim parties, or dining hall meals? Is music played on the bus? Who gets to choose those tunes? Who decides what's "church camp-appropriate"? Are counselors allowed to play music in cabins or in program areas? If your camp plays music in any of these ways, Nelson invites us to expand our playlists. Are there familiar TikTok songs that work for camp? Do your playlists include music from other cultures? If you have international staff, let them curate a collection for you! What's comforting, happy music for your campers? – is it K-pop or hip-hop? Trying new things and being inclusive are generally-shared values at our camps, but does that extend to our musical choices? Nelson's "Five Simple Ways" introduced me to unfamiliar genres of Lo-Fi and Kidz Trap. What else might we be missing? 

Just as we're challenged to expand our playlist repertoire for recorded music, I also encourage summer camp leaders to review the standby songs we sing. As you know, "we've always done it that way" isn't a great reason to keep doing it the same old way. Here are some questions to spark conversation with your team:

  • Are there some traditional songs that no longer meet the cultural and educational goals of our ministry? 
  • Are there lyrics that feel insensitive these days? 
  • Do the religious songs we sing reflect the theology we actually want campers to learn? 
  • How can we introduce new favorites that reflect cultural literacy and align with our camp's mission? 
Let this be a fun, ongoing challenge for your camp's staff. These conversations and the sharing of songs and playlists can break down barriers, help us learn about each other, and expose us to new worlds through music. 

Camp Dickenson in the Holston Conference curated a fun Spotify playlist that provided some camp-nostalgic listening during the pandemic in 2020. Check it out here  If your camp has publicly-accessible playlists, please link them in the comments below.


Pictured: Author Jen Burch sings with campers at Camp Alta Mons (VA), circa 1992.

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