LAKE LUZERNE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Last year, the Luzerne Music Center went without its usual 160+ students bringing music into the air of a woodland camp alongside the lake, with COVID-19 keeping the space quiet.

Instead, the sound filling the air was that of new cabins being brought to the camp thanks to a large financial gift, and this year those cabins are hosting the center’s annual batch of enthusiastic music students. and the students are happy to be back.

“We had to have mandatory recreation, because they wouldn’t stop practicing,” said center CEO Elizabeth Pitcairn at the camp on Wednesday. “They were starting to get sore muscles.”

The 100 or so students out on the lawn to practice on Wednesday are mostly starting a 4-week stint going through the month of August.

For camp counselor Cole Rouse, in his fifth summer at the center, there’s already been a lot that he’ll remember.

“We played an entire Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and we learned it in two weeks.”

Like many, Rouse is from out of the area; in his case, Sarasota, Florida. The center usually sees kids coming in from around 22 states, but this year it’s closer to 12.

The camp is also used to seeing 20 or more visitors from outside the country. There are far fewer this year, but everyone there is feeling the drive to learn and the crunch to do well.

“Every single day we have a rehersal for about an hour, and on Saturday we had our first chamber concert,” explained Marco Cardozo, who is at the camp from Venezuela for his very first year.

Homes away from home

Kids come to the camp to learn to play a variety of instruments, and this year, they’re able to do so while staying in new cabins with running water and bathrooms, a step up from where they used to be.

Those new log cabins are joined by a brand-new lot of suite cabins for up to 36 instructors. Each one cost around $50,000, with Pitcairn estimating around $1.4 million spent on the lot of them.

That money was a lot easier to spend than it might have been, thanks to a financial gift last year of $500,000 from the estate of singer-songwriter Jack Lawrence. From there, getting the cabins in place was a rush that came right up to the start of the 2021 season, once it was clear there could be a season at all.

“We’re in a state of shock that it all happened so quickly over the last year,” Pitcairn said. “We also consider it our silver lining of COVID.”

The cabins add an extra degree of safety and comfort that means a lot to students as well as staff and parents.

“Just that they all have safe housing, decent conditions. One child is here with an $80,000 flute.”

Upgrades have also includes new lights across the campus, which Pitcairn says has helped the center reduce its power bill. Those new cabins meant revamping the septic system, and now the whole center is on the next level of functionality.

Looking ahead, the center also plans to replace aging kitchen equipment, such as a stove that only has two functioning burners. Equipment upgrades there will cost around $10,000.

Performing arts

This summer, the students at the center are performing as much as ever, but with less of an in-person audience.

Instead, families have tuned in via livestreams on Facebook.

“People are very understanding and appreciative that we’re keeping the kids safe,” said Pitcairn.

Fellow students are there to see their peers perform, though. The center has been able to keep everyone COVID-safe, enforcing masks under many circumstances.

“We wear our masks and just take them off when we’re seated for concerts, resaturant-style.”

Even with fewer students than normal, there are as many teachers as ever. Classical musicians stay for 4 or 8 weeks, and teach violin, cello, viola, percussion, piano and more.

And fewer students doesn’t make the value of that education any different. The center’s tuba teacher only has one student this summer, and the two of them were out on the lawn on Wednesday practicing alongside many others.

Pitcairn says that the real value in the improvements at the center is that it allows every young musician learning there to do their art better.

“We’re about more than music. It’s about the socialization and the friendships and the lifetime of professional contacts that develop out of coming here.”

And the students feel the same.

“It’s always really impressive that we’re able to learn so much in such a short time,” said Rouse, who kept plucking at the strings of his cello even as he was interviewed.