The National High School Orchestra performs in Dallas in 1927.
The National High School Orchestra performs in Detroit in 1927.
“Let’s get this show on the road” was a common expectation in the heyday of traveling theatre companies and circuses; in today’s market the opportunity to attend performances by major orchestras, ballet, and opera companies in America’s smaller towns has all but disappeared.
When a teenage Joe Maddy heard the Minneapolis Symphony play on tour he was dazzled by the performance, and when it was over he rushed backstage to ask his question: What would he have to pay for the privilege of playing in such an orchestra? When the musicians convinced Joe that they were paid to perform both at home and on tour, they planted an idea in the mind of the young man who within a decade would dream of touring Europe with his National High School Orchestra, an obsession that haunted Joe for the rest of his life.
Touring has played a big role for Interlochen throughout its history. Our first opportunity arose in 1929 when NHSO was invited to perform in Switzerland for a World Conference on Education, and to extend the visit with concerts in London and other major European cities. Considering that the initial season of Camp resulted in a $50,000 debt, and that the young orchestra needed time to mature, the decision was made to plan a trip for 1931 instead. The Camp debt rose to $70,000 in 1929 and a new crisis arose for the following school year: the music educators scheduled their convention for the last of February in Atlantic City while the National Educators Association Department of Superintendence were to meet in Chicago only a few weeks later. Knowing that he could ill-afford to lose the support of either organization, Maddy wisely chose to turn what would be a dilemma for anyone else into a golden opportunity to win new friends for Interlochen. Not only would they recruit two orchestras, but the eastern one would use the Atlantic coast journey as the jumping-off point for concerts in Philadelphia, New York and Washington.
In 1933 the entire Camp traveled to Chicago to give five days of concerts at the Century of Progress exposition, and the Camp’s 12th season would end with travel by special train from Grayling, Michigan, to Flushing, New York, for the World’s Fair in 1939. These special appearances provided greater exposure for the Camp and valuable experiences for all the Campers. The sensational New York debut of 9-year-old conductor Loren Maazel led to to an interview with the city’s legendary Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.
In his 1957 convocation address, Trustee Roscoe O. Bonisteel described the remarkable growth of the Camp over those past 30 seasons and predicted that another of Dr. Maddy’s long-awaited dreams, a “National Arts Academy,” would soon become a reality. After annual postponements it truly did in September of 1962, only a few weeks after the National High School Orchestra and dancers performed at the White House. Dr. Maddy was soon to be 70 and he hoped that the D.C. performance might be the road to fulfilling that one last dream. The U.S. State Department had sent a number of artists to perform in the Soviet Union, and Van Cliburn’s performances had won the hearts of the Russian people. Why not send an international high school orchestra to show what the free world could produce? President John F. Kennedy had introduced the Interlochen campers’ performance and said he would listen while he worked in his office. Surely he would be attracted by the thought… . But it was not to be.
Yes, touring has played an important role for the Camp; and our next archival article will explore the Academy’s substantial years of regional touring, occasional visits to the east coast and Canada, and student exchange visits in the new century. The fact remains: With the single exception of the Academy Chorale visit to Denmark in July 1973, no large ensemble has yet crossed the oceans.