Joyful Times at Summer Music Camp
Remembering music and dancing at Silk Hope Farm Heritage ParkBy Jessie Lang | Photos by Dean Lang
There is a memory that holds a special place in my heart. A place and time that has shaped who I am. For me, this is the Silk Hope Farm Heritage Park, which hosted our Chatham County Junior Appalachians (ChamJAM) Summer Camp.
This music camp was my greatest inspiration as a guitarist, mandolinist and Appalachian musician. I spent many of my formative summers there, and it was always what I looked forward to most during my summer break. The memories of this camp, the people, and the park often come to me when I look back on my childhood. They are a big part of who I am today.
When I think about this place, a smile always lights up my face as images of the historic park come flooding back. It was out in the country, amidst green rolling hills. Old rustic buildings were scattered about the park, full of old farm equipment. The large, wooden barn where we gathered for assemblies and meals seemed ginormous to my 10-year-old eyes, and there was always much excitement about.
My sister Chloe and I would attend together each summer, and when we arrived every morning, the scenery was so beautiful. The sun would just have risen, casting a golden glow over the park. The vibrant green grass would be gleaming from the early morning dew and the sky was full of soft clouds, each day filled with new adventures and lessons.
I walked into the large wooden doors of the main barn where music and laughter would be drifting happily inside. A lovely fiddle tune would be dancing through the air. Throughout the day, squeaky fiddles could be heard from all directions, but it was a comforting sound. I studied fiddle one year, but focused on the mandolin the next few years, and it has become my beloved, secondary instrument behind guitar.
After music classes in the morning, one of the best parts of camp would be the “homemade” water slide, slippery as a seal’s skin. Children’s laughter filled the air as we took turns escaping the heat on these hot summer days. We also enjoyed lessons in everything from contra dance to old-fashioned cooking methods, a welcome escape from today’s busy life styles. We cooled off on those hot days with cold, refreshing lemonade and enjoyed petting the horses’ soft, fine hair. My favorite part had to be sleeping over with my best friend, Mary, at her campsite. Her dad, Tim Tron, was the director of our JAM affiliate, and was like a second father to me. After riding horses in the late afternoon, we would stay up for a bit and share secrets.
On Friday night of the camp we had student performances followed by a big contra dance. An old-time string band and a dance caller could be heard all throughout the barn. We would dance for hours, swinging from partner to partner in perfect beat to the music. The moon was a bright beacon in the night sky, and a cool breeze would sweep over the barn as feet stomped and frolicked to and fro. By the end of the week, I would be exhausted, but a good kind of exhausted. Fulfilled. Happy. I never wanted this week to end.
Today, all that remains of ChamJAM summer camp are fond memories. The children have grown up, many dear folks have moved away. I haven’t been to the park in a few years, but I imagine it to be much different. The laughter of music and kids won’t fill the summer air, the wind the only sound, and it just wouldn’t be the same to me. The park hosts other community events, but none are as dear to my heart as the ChamJAM camp was. It shaped my future — my days now full of music study and performances of my own.
The colors have faded, but I know the feeling of it will always be with me. A fondness of the place I grew up in is forever with me. A deep appreciation for all it taught me, the wonderful teachers and children that came together each summer to make music and memories. The joyful sound of string instruments being played in a safe haven in the middle of Silk Hope, North Carolina.
Silk Hope Farm Heritage Park (silkhopenc.org) continues to host events throughout the year, including OId-Fashioned Farmers Day every Labor Day weekend.
About the AuthorWake Electric member Jessica Lang, 16, is an award-winning vocalist and instrumentalist from Wake Forest. She received the bulk of her training through the Junior Appalachian Musicians Program.
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