It was August of 2003 when I showed up at songwriting “camp” for the first time. A good friend had been talking about SummerSongs for months — the classes, the teachers, the community, the beautiful location — and it sounded just up my alley after months of dealing with a divorce and sitting home alone writing sad songs.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made: Over the next year, I wrote dozens of new tunes, debuted a new album and never looked back. And, I’ve been to SummerSongs, many, many times since, both in New York and California. I literally have hundreds of friends and comrades from around the US and the globe through the SummerSongs community, all of whom “get” the thrills and chills of writing and sharing songs.
However, if you’ve never been to this kind of music retreat before, I know there are always lots of questions about what the experience is like. Here are some answers to a few of the most common ones:
1) What IS SummerSongs?
SummerSongs supports and nurtures the songwriter in all of us. It is primarily a camp for adults, though families are welcome to join. We take classes in singing, songwriting, guitar, piano, creative process, and performance. We listen to each other and appreciate each other’s creative process.
2) Do I need to be an experienced songwriter? Or, am I TOO experienced?
These are two groups of people who, over and over and over again, say after camp that “this has changed my life.” For the beginning songwriter, the life-changing experience is the sense of empowerment that comes with realizing that even if you’ve never written a song before, you can find your creative muse and your spirit in a supportive and nurturing environment. On the other hand, there is PLENTY to gain even if you are a professional musician. There is so much to learn — and it gives you a new perspective on what it means to be an artist. That is, art is for the world, it’s for your community, for the people you love and the people you just met.
3) Why is SummerSongs such a powerful experience?
One of the most powerful things about coming to songwriting camp is the fact that you are there with your peers — you’re there with others who are interested in you, interested in what you’re writing about and they are also sharing their songs. The mix of listening and sharing is incredibly, deeply inspiring and empowering. You’re sharing not only in song circles, in which people sit around and play songs for each other, but also sharing on stage at nightly “coffeehouse” open mics and student shows.
4) How did SummerSongs get started?
Penny Nichols, a well-known singer-songwriter and vocal teacher originally from Orange County, California, founded SummerSongs with an initial camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains in 1999. She says: “Back in the 80s and early 90s I was teaching out of the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, a big music camp outside of Seattle. I came home and I realized that this connection and this socialization of songwriters is very important, because we get very isolated. So, along with a few other female songwriters, we started having quarterly weekend get-togethers where we’d talk about songwriting, write songs and eat a lot of strawberries and coffee and chocolate. I had an opportunity to put a songwriting class together — there were 27 students and that was the first SummerSongs. After that I formed a nonprofit corporation and started doing it full time.”
5) Is SummerSongs a “competitive” and “critical” environment?
No. Um, NOT! SummerSongs is meant to be a supportive, encouraging, enriching creative experience. We are all there to listen to one another, to share with each other. We encourage participants not to criticize another student’s work unless they ask for critique first!
6) What are the accommodations like at SummerSongs?
At SummerSongs East, which takes place at the Stony Point Center, 30 miles north of NYC near the beautiful Hudson River, all of the accommodations are semi-private dorm-like lodge rooms with baths that are shared by three rooms. You can also upgrade to a private lodge room, or to a private room in an 11-room luxury B&B on the property which has private baths.
At SummerSongs West, the accommodations are in six-bunk lodges (big plus: The whole camp overlooks the Pacific Ocean!). However, we also reserve a group rate of rooms at the nearby Cambria Lodge — if you prefer to upgrade to that option.
7) What are the teachers like at SummerSongs?
The teachers, coaches and facilitators at SummerSongs are carefully curated and are typically touring, award-winning artists and performers with many years, even several decades, of experience teaching adult students at retreats. Some may be brand-new to SummerSongs, others are beloved instructors who come back every year. In all cases, they are there for you — supportive, encouraging and meant to help you take your creative process to the next level!
8) What is a typical day like at SummerSongs?
There is no typical day at SummerSongs! Every day is whatever you want it to be — you can participate in as much or as little as you like. There IS a lot going on you can take advantage of: Two class periods in the morning, two after lunch, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions you can sign up for and post-dinner open mics, staff shows, song circles and jams. But, you might just want to designate a period as perfect for a nap, or set aside some quiet time to take a walk or just noodle on your guitar.
9) What if I’m on the fence about a songwriting retreat like SummerSongs?
Do yourself a favor and take a chance!
10) What if I have additional questions?
Reach out! You can get in touch with me at sharon at sharongoldmanmusic.com — if I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll know exactly who to pass it to.
Get ready to register at www.summersongs.com!
SummerSongs West: June 1-5, Cambria, California
Teachers include Penny Nichols, Brett Perkins, Joyce Woodson, Michael McNevin, Ed Tree, Severin Browne, Steve Postell
SummerSongs East: July 23-29, Stony Point, NY
Teachers include: David Roth, Sloan Wainwright, Johnsmith, Abbie Gardner, Penny Nichols, Glen Roethel, Mark Dann