A Humble Beginning in a Rural Village
Music Camp International was born in June 2001, in Coronini, Romania, when Connie Fortunato accepted the encouragement to expand her work with Romanian youth and university music students. With over 30 years experience in teaching, conducting, research, and curriculum development – and 20 years of conducting music camps in the United States – her conviction that all young people have music inside compelled her to bring the healing gift of music to youth in post-communist countries where for decades they had been imprisoned in a dark bleak world by a tyrannical communist regime that reserved quality music education for an elite few.
Many, if not most—young people, never had the joy of hearing, let alone experiencing the wonder and sense of accomplishment in learning to play an instrument or raise their voice in jubilant song with others. Connie’s first-hand knowledge of the power of music to bring dignity, hope, and self-confidence gave her the courage to devote her energy to change an outdated paradigm and provide a positive and encouraging learning environment where each young person could discover and develop the “music inside” to an amazing level of achievement. The first camp involved over 80% of the young people in the village. University music majors, fulfilling their summer internship, served as teachers. 157 young people attended.
A Long-Term Commitment is Made
At the conclusion of the first camp, it became obvious that in discovering the “music inside” these children had also discovered a piece of themselves that gave them dignity, hope, and a new sense of self-confidence. But not only were the children changed—their community was changed as the evidence of previously undiscovered and undeveloped talents of their children shattered the previous paradigm that only a “few children” were “musically talented.” Children, who had never been heard, now had a voice. A commitment was made to return the next year and explore the development of Music Camps throughout the country.
The following year in Cluj, Romania, Mihaita “little Michael” attended camp and participated from his wheelchair. Every day his mom held his book and helped him enjoy the children and discover his own “music within.” Although Mihaita was not allowed inside public stores—because of his disability—his wheelchair was placed on the stage and he sang with the children in the concert—accompanied by members of the Transylvania Philharmonic.
The expanding commitment of Music Camp International to work with vulnerable children—whether special needs, orphaned, or placed under the supervision of the Department of Social Services—has brought a stunning awareness that these children also are talented.
A Trip to Kiev Brings New Opportunities
In 2002, Connie traveled to Kiev to explore the possibility of expanding into Ukraine. Interest and enthusiasm were exceedingly positive. In the Spring of 2003, Music Camp International conducted its first training seminar for local professionals, and in June conducted its first Music Camp in Ukraine. 288 children attended. The first American team of volunteers came from Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California. Team members taught craft classes, supervised recreation, assisted in music electives, and fell in love with the children of Kiev. The culmination of the camp was a concert in the House of Recordings in Kiev. The standing room only crowd listened in amazement as the children performed what they had learned in just one week. Much of the repertoire was of the great masters—Handel, Haydn, and Saint-Saens. Members of the Kiev Symphony Orchestra accompanied the children. The government television channel filmed the concert. Never before had an event like this been held in Ukraine.
Changing Paradigms, Changing History
The healing gift of music has given hope and dignity to many who have previously been overlooked in a society that provides its resources for the “privileged” and the “promising.” Many children have held and played an instrument for the first time. Many have discovered their singing voice. All have experienced the joy of music in a positive and nurturing environment. All have participated in making beautiful music with the finest professionals in their community. And ALL have discovered that in blending their talent with other children—from diverse backgrounds and social status—they can achieve a life-changing experience that is not possible alone.