AHA! | 620: Elizabeth Pitcairn on Luzerne Music Center
The Luzerne Music Center is a summer music camp for young musicians that was founded in 1980 by a cellist from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although the camp was closed this summer due to COVID-19, the administration used the opportunity to push forward with major renovations that had been in the works for many years. Lara Ayad chats with the center's CEO and Artistic Director, Elizabeth Pitcairn.
Elizabeth, welcome to a house for arts.
It's a pleasure to have you.
- Thank you very much.
- So tell me a little bit about the Luzerne Music Center,
what is its mission and what is the history
of this place in upstate New York?
- Our mission is to serve children who are very gifted
at music ages nine to 18.
And it was started as a music camp in the 1980,
actually by a cellist from the Philadelphia Orchestra,
because the orchestra would come up
to Saratoga Performing Arts Center,
he and his wife, a concert pianist,
would rent a home in the summer
as many of the musicians did on Lake Luzerne.
And they realized that the camp was for sale.
It had been Camp Tekawitha,
and for many years, it goes back a hundred years
as a children's camp. So they purchased it and
they made the emphasis chamber music,
orchestra, solo playing.
We have always had children from around the world,
and 16 different countries were represented last summer.
Some of the children come for two weeks,
four weeks or even six or eight weeks.
And they're all, they audition online
to come to the program.
They've, many of them have studied chamber music
and orchestra with the Empire State Youth and Symphony,
So they take private lessons and they just play
a few minutes and we can place them in the program.
- Yeah. So how did you become the CEO
and Artistic Director of the LMC?
And I also understand you are a violinist yourself.
You play on the famous red violin,
that's inspired the movie of the same name, right?
- That's what it's said to have happened.
I, as I said, I went to the Luzerne Music Center.
I started playing the violin when I was three years old
and I'm from the Philadelphia area.
So I knew the founders of camp from the age of 10.
I studied with a teacher out of Wilmington, Delaware
when I was 14, and she was on faculty
at Luzerne Music Center.
So, she invited me to come and I was enraptured by the camp.
I learned so much music in a short amount of time.
It's not a cutthroat pressure place.
It's a place that nurtures children,
gives every child the opportunity to perform.
And you just don't have time to think or be nervous or worry
because you're running from one, or her sole activity
to a lunch to your afternoon activities,
swimming in the lake, playing tennis,
playing basketball with your friends to dinner,
to an evening concert where you might hear musicians
from the Philadelphia Orchestra,
either playing at our camp,
or we get bused to SPAC to hear them live.
There's just no time to be even lonely or miss home.
And so, then you asked,
how did I become involved with the camp?
Well, the directors, I think they saw very early on,
I didn't know it,
that they wanted me to become the successor of the camp.
So there was a bit of grooming involved and they believe
strongly in my abilities, in my career.
So they presented me and other rising stars, for example,
at Lincoln Center in the year 2000
and rented Alice Tully Hall, memorable events like that.
They brought me to the camp every year as a guest artist.
And then in 2008, when Burt Phillips knew he was dying,
it was the last time I saw him.
He asked me if I would become the future artistic director
of the camp. And that was 2008.
Then I joined the board in oh nine and became the full CEO
in 2012, and right away was tasked
with the renovations of the camp.
- Right? Cause I understand you're now
putting in new cabins, new residences
for the students or for people coming to,
to use all the benefits of the LMC.
- That is what we are doing. So, as I said, it's,
it was a children's camp going back a hundred years,
originally with tents and then little wooden cabins.
And they were at the end of their life, their useful life.
And we have children coming from around the world
with clarinets and flutes and trumpets and violins,
cellos, violas, they're valuable,
and they need to be in secure,
safe surroundings as do the children and the teachers.
So we discovered these wonderful log cabins
made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
and they, they are kit cabins.
And they're so well constructed and they're going to be
climate controlled and they should last for the next
hundred years. So we're really excited about it.
We had all of our plans stamped and permitted.
We've been working on this project, toward this project,
which happened to be called the 2020 Capital Campaign
since the last 10 years.
And so we thought we would phase it out over several years,
but when COVID happened in March
and we saw the writing on the wall,
and saw that we wouldn't be able to safely open this summer,
which we hope to open next summer,
we are working on that very hard to safely open.
We decided that rather than phase it out over several years,
we would go for the entire project,
meaning that we can now open in summer of 21 with the cabins
for the kids and not have to wait several more years.
And so this is our silver lining.
Our COVID blessing.
They're making a lemonade out of lemons, right?
- It sounds like you really kind of harnessed
some of the challenges that are emerging right now
in order to actually open up a better future
or a brighter future for the LMC.
I'm kind of wondering what kinds of programs,
when you think about also the history of the LMC
since you've been CEO,
what are some programs that really come to mind
when you think of something that's really fantastic
or popular and will you plan to continue those programs
moving into the future after these new cabins are opened up?
- Well, we,
we do plan to move into,
maybe expanding our numbers even
because we have now 12 cabins coming in.
Each cabin sleeps, eats children.
So we could, we normally have 140 children
a summer, and we could potentially have,
so it might be 70, 75 per month,
but we could move into the eighties, 85.
Just offer more opportunity, maybe have a younger program,
maybe have an amateur adult program too,
and maybe open our facilities to other arts groups to use.
We also have two stages that we use. One is open air,
seats an entire orchestra.
And the other one is an indoor lodge,
which has just been named
the Jack Lawrence Performance Lodge because Jack Lawrence,
who was a famous songwriter and wrote all or nothing
but at all for Frank Sinatra
- Frank Sinatra, right.
- Has just given us a half a million dollar gift,
and that is how we were able to start the construction
in July, because I really didn't know how we were going
to accomplish this, but we met the trustee of his charitable
estate and I told her our needs and what we wanted to do.
And I, she was really liked the idea of carrying
on his legacy in a manner where he would continue
to be known and maybe better known.
So we'll have a small archival museum as well,
which will house his original manuscripts
that the children will both play,
and then the public who come to our concerts
that we present in the summer,
because we put on several concerts every summer
with famous guest artists and with the students performing,
we've had Chris Brubeck and Triple Play, for example,
from the region.
And we have hundreds of people who come in the summer,
they will be able to actually go in, open to the public,
the museum on those concert nights and see,
and also it will be a dedicated composition studio
for our composer in residence,
because many of our students also study composition.
- Right. I'm wondering what is the,
what is the special gift that music gives to children
and to young adults? Because you know,
your goal is to sort of bring these students
and these children together.
What does music give to young people,
and to people in general,
that maybe other things don't provide?
- Well these children are very special,
as you might imagine, because
in that day that I described of one activity
to another, their attention spans are really phenomenal.
When you see nine, 10, 11, 12 year olds
sitting for two hours in an orchestra rehearsal, learning,
- I can't even get my students to sit for 20 minutes
in class on Zoom.
- So there you go, there you go.
And they just love it so much.
And they're playing music that ranges from a special
Star Wars arrangement, So I mean, they're, they love that.
And they get, you know, they get Mozart,
they get a whole variety of styles of music.
They're just really special kids, these kids,
and they get to be with their peers.
Some of them have never had a campfire experience.
What if they grew up in an apartment and city life,
or they didn't have much.
We have a number of generous donors who support
student scholarships, which is how we're able to offer.
So, if a child is worthy musically of coming to the program,
we do everything we can to find them a sponsor.
- [Lara] Right.
- And then when they come,
they have the outdoor camping experience.
So they experience nature as well as their music.
- Right.That sounds like such a fantastic program.
And I would love to come and visit one day.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth.
- Thank you very much.
- Pleasure to have you