- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

INTERLOCHEN, Mich. - Donine Pettys listened raptly to hundreds of young musicians playing Liszt’s “Les Preludes” in an outdoor amphitheater as twilight cast shadows across a nearby lake and a gull soared overhead.

“This is my annual pilgrimage,” said Mrs. Pettys, a former teacher at Interlochen Center for the Arts who has attended its summer concerts for more than 30 years. “I come back every year for my renewal.”

Tradition is deeply ingrained at Interlochen, one of the nation’s foremost training grounds for aspiring artists. Nevertheless, change is the buzzword these days on the tree-shaded, 1,200-acre campus in Michigan’s northwestern Lower Peninsula, where the ranks of distinguished alumni include opera legend Jessye Norman, newsman Mike Wallace and singers Norah Jones, Josh Groban and Jewel.

Administrators are revising programs, rethinking longtime customs and making personnel changes that have drawn praise and catcalls within the close-knit community. The goal is to retain Interlochen’s historical mission while adjusting to a changing society and becoming more financially secure, says Jeffrey Kimpton, named Interlochen’s seventh president in 2003.

“People expect more today,” Mr. Kimpton says in an interview. “Parents are getting ready to invest their most precious asset — their child — plus some money along the way.”



Founded in 1928 as the National High School Orchestra Camp, Interlochen includes the summer camp, a high school academy, a day school for younger students, two public radio stations and a year-round performance festival. Aside from music, the curriculum includes creative writing, dance, theater, visual arts and academics.

The nonprofit center operates on a $28 million annual budget and provides $6.3 million in financial aid. Its $34 million endowment is small by industry standards. Tuition provides 85 percent of earned income.

Costs are rising, and facilities need upgrades, prompting a quest for new revenue sources. One got started this summer: continuing education for adults in subjects such as chamber music and photography. A motion picture arts program — the first major addition to the curriculum in 30 years — begins this fall.

However, administrators stirred passions by tinkering with the venerable summer camp, which draws more than 2,000 youngsters ages 8 through 18 and features competitive ensembles such as the World Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Despite its sterling reputation, Mr. Kimpton says enrollment was in a decade-long slide when he arrived. The student-faculty ratio was 2-1.

Thirty-seven faculty members, 29 in the music department, weren’t asked to return this year. Critics contend the total was higher, but Mr. Kimpton says there’s always turnover, and some teachers left voluntarily. Either way, this year’s music faculty was around 100, down from 140 in 2004.

The housecleaning wounded feelings. Some of the departed teachers had been around for decades.

Another change: The summer session, previously eight weeks long, was shortened to six, a concession to multitasking youngsters’ increasingly crowded schedules.

The reforms prompted online debate among Interlochen alumni.

Drew McManus, an arts management consultant who studied tuba as a camper in the 1980s, wrote articles for ArtsJournal.com that accused administrators of lowering standards, which they denied.

Compensating for the two lost weeks, camp routine became more intense, Mr. Kimpton counters. Rehearsals were lengthened and participation in chamber ensembles was emphasized.

Mr. Kimpton, former music school director at the University of Minnesota, met with prominent alumni and supporters after becoming Interlochen president. They overwhelmingly backed the reforms that have been made, he says. Camp applications jumped 15 percent the past year and enrollment stabilized.

For all the changes, Interlochen is fundamentally the same, he says.

“Nobody wants to get rid of all our traditions,” Mr. Kimpton says. “We have to keep the ones that fit — and tweak the ones that need to be kept up with the times.”

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