Besides a few years of Catholic school choir where I would more often than not perform the rookie mistake of locking my knees while trying to stand on the side of the church altar for an hour, eventually half tumbling to the ground in the middle of a service, I do not sing in public. Shower singing, singing to my pet parrot (in order to make him squawk in annoyance), and singing wildly out of tune at great volume in the car are all in my repertoire, but producing music for a crowd isn't on the menu. I spent four wonderful summers at a boys' camp chanting, whooping, and bellowing battle cries, but singing was considered below the acceptable duties of manliness. (Even though I'm not actually a man.)
And then I came to CFA.
A few hours into my first retreat as a professional staff member, I was asked to perform in a skit— the ever-classic "Invisible Bench." That was acceptable enough, as I had a full two weeks of drama training in middle school and had even blessed the 8th grade stage with my presence as The Head Elf of the Christmas play. And then all of a sudden I was supposed to be co-leading a song. A song I didn't know, for one, and a song that, upon explanation, sounded like a lot of gibberish. I couldn't understand why we thought the strangers in the audience would enjoy gobbledy-gook entertainment, and why I needed to participate. And then there were hand gestures. Hand gestures.
However, wanting to remain well-liked, or at the very least, well-employed, I went along with it, alongside a couple of summer staff members. And it was.. fun. And it didn't matter that I messed up seventy-five percent of the nonsense words, or that my hand gestures were wildly out of sync. And weirdest of all, the small crowd of dads and daughters and sons loved it. And sang along.. Repeat-after-me-style, of course.
Why do we sing at camp? Why is it beyond acceptable and actually fun to look so silly, often in front of such a large crowd, and often entirely out of tune?
I don't think there are any concrete answers, but trust me— if you've given it a try, no matter how reserved you think you might be, it's fun. And beyond fun, it's a true collective experience, which is at the heart and soul of what camp is. "Camp" is never actually a singular noun; "camp" implies a group of people with possibly nothing else in common except a mutual appreciation for being outside and living communally, even if only for a short time. And therefore, communal singing becomes okay and enjoyable. It isn't rare to have campers and counselors cite campfire songs as their favorite camp activity, over horseback riding or high ropes or sports or swimming or cook-out. It's a shared moment, generally wacky and outside of societal norms. It is especially poignant to see a teenager who came to camp sullen, aloof, and disinterested, one evening standing beside an excitable eight year old, both of them belting out "Three Shortnecked Buzzards" while flapping their pretend wings and skipping in the air. It is incredible important as a young person to have moments where one can set aside the cool factor and be a little silly, in a group setting.
And so, I leave you with one of my favorite camp songs, performed in the summer of 2009. "The CFA Song." Take a good look at the audience members, and how different they are. But yet they can all pretend to milk a cow or flush a toilet, and laugh, and sing. It's not technically cool, but at camp, it suddenly is.