One could argue that the beautiful northern Michigan woods makes it own kind of music. Sounds of native wildlife and wind rustling through the trees can be quite pleasing to the ears. Imagine human beings adding their own beautiful music to such a scene. In 1928, three men imagined exactly that.
Joseph Maddy, T.P. Giddings and Charles Tremaine established the National High School Orchestra Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. The three men had previously collaborated on projects for the Music Supervisors National Conference. In the 1920s, the MSNC was the nation’s main organization concerning public school music instruction. Many schools added music classes in the years following World War I, and Maddy, Giddings and Tremaine advocated the practice. Maddy was a University of Michigan music professor and chairman of music in Ann Arbor public schools. Giddings supervised music in Minneapolis, Minnesota schools. Tremaine, a New York businessman from a piano manufacturing family, proved adept at financial matters.
In 1926, MSNC President Edgar Gordon asked Maddy to organize and conduct a student orchestra concert for MSNC’s national convention in Detroit. Giddings and Tremaine helped him in his endeavors. The concert went well, and Maddy received high praise. In the next two years, he prepared similar programs for conventions in Dallas and Chicago.
Flushed from this success, Maddy wished to gather a similar orchestra where the student musicians could live and perform together for several consecutive weeks. He discussed his thought with Giddings. Ultimately, a Detroit businessman named Willis Pennington offered to sell some land near Traverse City. Maddy and Giddings agreed and later brought in Tremaine to handle financial matters.
The first National High School Orchestra camp convened at Interlochen in 1928. That initial class consisted of about 115 student musicians, who lived in tents and small cabins. Over the years, the camp would grow. Beginning in the early 1930s, Interlochen offered theater, dance and visual arts classes as well as music classes. Music continued to be emphasized for awhile, though, and the camp was renamed the National Music Camp in 1932.
Finally, in 1962, the Interlochen Arts Academy opened as a year-round facility. In his book Interlochen: A Home for the Arts, Dean Boal notes that it was “the nation’s first independent high school for the arts.” Today, the Interlochen Arts Academy High School and the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp continue to offer instruction to arts students.