Blog  Cultivating a Musical Culture at Jewish Sports Camp 

Cultivating a Musical Culture at Jewish Sports Camp 

By Songleader “Coach Music” Emily Groff

Jonathan (“J-Ro”), a 6tgrader, laces up his cleats and runs onto the field for another day at soccer. Asher, a Counselor in Training (CIT), grabs his tennis racket and runs onto the court to help campers be the best tennis player they can be. While both J-Ro and Asher are returners to the camp and take pride in their sport, there is another thing they take pride in: music. J-Ro and Asher both had the chance not just to play sports all day every day but also to grab their guitars and lead the camp in song alongside me, the camp songleader. 

This summer, our camp theme was “and”. We wanted to let campers know they are more than just athletes. To drive this point home, as songleader-or “Coach Music” as I was known – I wanted to show the camp that you can be both an athlete AND a musician. I encouraged them to join me as much as possible whether it was shaking an egg shaker during services (in what we called our “holy stadium”) or helping lead the group in songs during Shabbat. We had campers and CITs leading Shabbat strolls with guitars, a camper playing saxophone and another playing piano in a Saturday morning service, campers and staff leading prayer in services, campers leading siyyum with me, counselors and campers helping to lead song sessions, and even a camp doctor playing the drums for a Shabbat service.

It was important to me that campers saw other members of the camp community being musical. Just as important, however, was them seeing their songleader lace up and play sports. In addition to working with music at camp I got to improve my tennis game, learn how to correctly shoot a basketball, and even play lacrosse for the first time!

We also had some campers who wanted to experience music for the first time. For those campers, I created a drum circle. The drum circle sat in the middle of the Holy Stadium and followed the drum leader when playing during certain parts of the service. In addition, some of those campers joined the Shabbat Stroll with drums!

Campers also helped me write a camp song entitled 6 Points (To Get Me Home).” I wrote the chorus, and knowing I wanted all three session to participate, I had a music elective from each session be responsible for writing one verse. Each session learned as much of the song as was written at the time, and whether it was only one verse or the finished song the feeling behind it was incredible. Each camper involved in writing it got to come to the front after I taught it. Watching how much pride they took in it was a highlight of my summer.

By the end of the summer, campers were constantly seeing their staff and their friends being involved musically. On the other side, they also saw me lace up and play sports. They saw that athletes can be musical and musicians can be athletic. It is hard to create a culture of music at a camp by keeping things separate – you create it by showing how music exists even within the world they live. By showcasing the incredible athletes at 6 Points as people who enjoy making music and by showing their songleader as someone who is willing to join a game or a match, a musical culture is enhanced and enjoyed.

I asked J-Ro and Asher to write about their experiences with music at camp this summer: 

J-Ro: Part of short songs I write come from my love of soccer. Soccer opens me/my mind up. Just as much as soccer shows passion and spreads throughout the world I feel music can do the same. It brings people together through the passion and love. Being surrounded by so many Jewish musicians this summer was one of the greatest feelings. I’ve learned just as much from them as I’ve learned in [sports] majors.  

Asher: This is my 8th summer here at 6 Points. When I am in the front of the holy stadium, I get a similar feeling to when I’m on the top of my game, slicing tennis balls on the court. Much like music, sports have a rhythm. Sports can be just as much of a performance art as music can with fancy tricks to show off your skill. Music and sports have many similar traits and to say they can’t go together is ridiculous. The inclusiveness of different kinds of people at camp in music this year (doctors, campers, coaches, counselors) also humanizes it and brings the camp together.  

“There’s six minutes left in the game, six laps left that I have to go, but with my team by my side I only need Points to get me home”  – 6 Points (To Get Me Home) 

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