It’s the first Tuesday in August, and a small group of tweens is walking the grounds of Tanglewood Music Center with Monisse Reed, program coordinator for a summer camp they are attending a short distance away in Lenox, Mass. The kids are part of a larger group that arrived at the camp yesterday, from cities and towns across Massachusetts, for Week 6 of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Days in the Arts (DARTS) program. Today they are making their first visit to Tanglewood as DARTS campers.
One of the stops on this guided tour is a bronze bust of Aaron Copland, commissioned by Boston Pops Conductor Laureate John Williams and newly installed in Tanglewood’s so-called Formal Gardens. “John Williams is my idol!” declares one of the instrumental students in the group. Reed points to the three-note motive carved in one of the paving stones leading up to the statue. Asked what the notes are, one student points out that it’s difficult to tell, since there’s no clef in the carving. Reed decides which clef it’s supposed to be, then plays the tune on her iPhone. She explains that the tune is the opening to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, one of the pieces planned for the prelude to tonight’s “Tanglewood on Parade” concert by the BSO, Boston Pops, and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
All this week, Reed and the other DARTS leaders will be plying the kids with such details about the music and art they’ll be hearing and seeing, exposing them to new avenues of self-discovery, self-expression, and awareness of their fellow campers.
Now in its 43rd summer, DARTS brings 400 middle-school students from throughout Massachusetts to Lenox during its eight-week season, providing each group of 50 kids with five days of hands-on experiences in instrumental and vocal music, dance, theater, and visual art, as well as exposure to the Berkshire region’s cultural riches. Each week features an instrument demo by a BSO musician, opportunities to observe the orchestra in rehearsal and performance, an all-student talent show, arts workshops culminating in a series of Thursday evening presentations, and creative writing exercises based on their DARTS experiences. The campers also visit nearby museums and attend theater productions and dance performances. This week’s field trips are to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, and a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th-century English comedy of manners.
DARTS originated in 1968 as a one-day bus trip by Boston students to Tanglewood for a BSO concert. The next year it expanded to three days and included an excursion to Jacob’s Pillow, thus initiating a cultural partnership that continues to this day. DARTS soon became a five-day experience, and over the years it has developed partnerships with numerous other arts institutions in the Berkshires region. Now the program draws fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade students from 30 cities and towns in Massachusetts, almost all of them enrolled in public school systems with which the BSO has established a relationship. One hundred of the 400 slots each summer are reserved for students from Boston, where BSO musicians are especially active in education programs at the K-8 Edison School. Tuition is on a sliding scale based on ability to pay, with 27 percent of the students coming from minority backgrounds; no family pays more than $500 for the week. DARTS funding comes from a variety of individual donors, corporations, and foundations.
Claire Carr, the BSO’s manager of education programs, runs DARTS with Reed, an elementary school music teacher in the city of Lawrence, Mass. Carr says that students are selected through a variety of methods: demonstrated talent in the classroom, perhaps an essay contest, sometimes by lottery in a community where interest is especially high, or active recruitment by teachers “in some urban communities where DARTS is not something that families have even imagined their kids being able to do. We do not turn anyone away simply for an inability to pay.” Carr strives for “a mix of urban, suburban, and rural students in each week. One of our big goals is teaching the kids to respect diversity. We do a lot during the week to help them get to know one another, to come out of their comfort zone rather than just sitting next to someone they might already know. We’re always rooming kids from different kinds of communities together; we tell them, ‘This is the friend you haven’t met yet.’ ”
BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe notes that the field trips provide valuable exposure to a variety of art forms, as well as “filling a few seats” at cultural institutions in the western part of the state. But the greater value of DARTS, he says, is its “emphasis on active music-making,” something that aligns strongly with the BSO’s educational mission. Relating a story that speaks to the value of the DARTS experience, Volpe tells of attending a Red Sox game some years ago with then-Music Director Seiji Ozawa. An African-American man in his 30s, recognizing the conductor, spoke out. “Thank you, Mr. Ozawa!” he said. Ozawa inquired which concert the man had attended. “It was DARTS, Mr. Ozawa. It changed my life!”
Experience in a particular arts discipline is not a prerequisite for participation in DARTS except for those campers who elect to attend as instrumental students. (Others focus on dance, theater, vocal music, or visual art during their DARTS week.) “We can’t teach kids how to play an instrument in four days,” Carr says. “But we do teach them ensemble techniques and how to work together.” The instrumental concert during Week 6—one of five presentations by the workshop groups that were attended by all campers, faculty, and counselors-in-training (DARTS alumni who are now in high school)—included a unique rendition of Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony by an “orchestra” led by DARTS faculty member Todd Millen. The ensemble had one each on violin, flute, French horn, tuba, percussion, and bass, plus two on clarinet, two on trumpet, and three on alto sax.
The result was, well, interesting. Students of varying ability had come together in two and a half days to produce something that demonstrated, if not technical proficiency, an earnest effort in ensemble playing and cooperation. And like all of the other performing, visual arts, and creative writing presentations this week, it was an effort warmly applauded by the other campers, faculty, and staff. DARTS, says Carr, “is all about building a safe, positive, non-judgmental community where they can experience and create art.”