Local student gets to visit Europe, perform music as part of Blue Lake program
Carlie Wilson | Staff Writer
Olivia Van De Ven, a freshman at Grayling High School, is currently taking part in the chance of a lifetime as part of the Blue Lake International Choir. As part of the group, Olivia will be visiting Europe and performing during a series of concerts.
Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp is located in the Manistee National Forest in Twin Lake. Blue Lake has been training gifted students since 1966 and trains more than 5,400 elementary, junior, and high school students each summer.
Blue Lake offers a variety of programs for students in areas of dance, music, art, and theater. The camp holds as many as 175 performances during the summer months.
One feature that sets Blue Lake apart is its International program. As part of the International program, campers are taken to countries in Europe such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The attending students take part in local culture, staying with residents of each city and country they visit. The program also holds around 10 community concerts throughout the trip, performing a variety of musical pieces during each event.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime,” said Theresa Van De Ven, Olivia’s mother. “It’s something she’ll always remember and will be able to take with her wherever she goes.”
“Olivia has been singing since she could talk,” said Theresa. “Her grandfather owns a professional karaoke machine. From the time she was just little, Olivia and her siblings have been putting on little shows for us down in the basement during our family holidays. As she got older, Olivia grew as a performer, and she became a little more serious about music when she entered the fifth grade. Fifth grade was when I could really see a future for her in music.”
As far as her Blue Lake career, “Olivia went to their camps for a two-week session last summer and was then invited to go International,” said Theresa.
In order for campers to participate in the International program, they have to attend a summer session and then be invited to audition.
“Every year Blue Lake sends a group for choir, ballet, band, and orchestra over to Europe. Through their mentors and teachers at Blue Lake, students are then invited to be auditioned for a chance to go International. About a month after the audition the campers hear whether or not they’ve been selected. You have to be invited; you can’t just go International. So we were very excited when she was given the opportunity to go,” said Theresa.
The Europe sessions last around a month and a week, according to Theresa.
“Olivia left June 9 for what they call an ‘Intensive Week’ at Blue Lake, where the group holds 10-hour rehearsals from that Friday until the following Saturday. At the end of that week, they put on a show for the parents. They previewed the show to us before they hopped on the bus and rode to Chicago, where they then flew to France,” said Theresa.
The students do not do concerts every day that they are there, according to Theresa.
“Whatever their host families are doing, that’s what they do. They don’t have a performance every day, but they do rehearse each day for a certain amount of time,” said Theresa.
Olivia is not the first student from Grayling High School to attend the Blue Lake International Program.
Seth Patterson, a 2017 graduate of Grayling High School, attended Blue Lake International in the summer of 2014, traveling to France, Germany, and the Netherlands during his tour.
Patterson participated in Blue Lake’s International Concert Band tour, playing bass trombone in the “Blue Lake Southern Winds.”
“They called us the ‘Southern Winds’ because we traveled to the southern parts of each of the countries we visited,” said Patterson.
Patterson described his experience as being comparable to a rollercoaster.
“We do all of these amazing things, we go to these large concert halls, and play for large crowds of people who may or may not speak the same language that we do. We didn’t go over there and hang out with people in the street like we would have if we stayed in a hotel. I spent a majority of my time with my host families. We get immersed in the culture around us, which is, I think, the coolest part of this experience,” said Patterson.
The Blue Lake International program makes a point to surround their students in the cultures of the places they tour.
“Some of the families that we stay with don’t speak any English, and some of them do speak a little bit of English, which makes communicating a bit of a struggle,” said Patterson.
Aside from staying with host families, another feature of the International experience is being able to perform for the local people.
“The concerts are just incredible – the venues that you’re performing at, the size of the halls, the big auditoriums, the sound. We played around 20 to 25 songs throughout our tour, and we would play around 10 songs each concert. We would change our set each time we performed,” said Patterson.
Patterson said that his trip was “life-changing.”
“It’s truly one of those things that you do that is hard to quantify how much of an impact it had on your life. You meet these people, you do these things, you play this music, and you’re just there, getting lost in every moment,” said Patterson.
Blue Lake International “changed everything,” said Patterson.
“I remember the worst thing that happened to me on the trip, but it ended up being the best thing for me in my life as a whole,” said Patterson. “I was playing a song, a song I did not know. I was bad at the song and did not know it at all. We were at this town square in the middle of France, and there are people walking around. My conductor let one of our counselors guest conduct, and the actual conductor comes back and pulls up a chair. Heather, the guest conductor, starts this song that I do not know, and (the actual conductor) sits down next to me and watches me pretend that I know how to play this song through the whole thing. At the end of the song, he stands up, puts his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Learn your music.’ It hit me like a truck; it wasn’t an insult because I deserved it. It was such a hard moment to swallow, and yet looking back on it now, I know that was the moment that changed how I looked at everything around me.”
“That moment changed how I looked at everything, and not just how I looked at music, it changed how I looked at school, how I looked at homework, studying, things like that. It changed the way I looked at theater, and the amount of work I put into memorizing lines. That moment when I was told to learn my music was when everything started to matter more for me,” said Patterson.
Not only is the trip a learning experience, it’s a growing experience.
Patterson said that his trip allowed him to “make so many amazing friends. You make friends on these trips that begin to feel like family; you’re with them almost every second of every hour of the trip. After three years I still talk to these people.”
“I’d recommend Blue Lake because you’re not just gonna go, you’re not just gonna see the world. You’re gonna go and see the most beautiful and breathtaking images of your life, you’re gonna meet people, and you’re gonna go and learn so much about music and culture and just about being a better person. You’re working hard the whole time, and the experience is unbelievable,” said Patterson.
For more information on Blue Lake, you can visit its website at www.BlueLake.org. The page has information on pricing, summer camps, information on how to audition, and a list of the programs they offer.