Friday, July 25, 2014

A week at Camp Ogontz

When asked how I should describe Ogontz Suzuki Institute on my public food blog, my dad said, “Eclectic. Use the word eclectic somewhere in there.”

Which of course made me cringe, because nearly everything involving real people in real life makes me cringe, but also because I’m not sure if the adjective eclectic really has any use beyond offering the user a sense of intellectual superiority.

Thankfully, there a lot of other words one can use to describe this place. 

camp ogontz cabins gardens
Mmmkay June, so what are you talking about?

First and foremost, let me tell you that I have spent the past five days (or so) at this strange New Hampshire location, by Ogontz lake (wherever that is), where members of the Suzuki music community come together play classical music for days on end. I know. Sounds boring. But I wouldn’t be telling you about it if it was, would I?

camp ogontz rehearsal hall cabins
Don't lie, you tell us boring shit all the time.

Essentially, it’s a former rich girls’ camp out in the White Mountains renovated to fit modern folks’ needs, including such luxuries as a weak Wi-Fi connection, lots of electricity, and spiffy little kale gardens in between the rows of cabins. Yeah. A few yards outside our ever-so-rustic sleeping quarters (open-air cabins, we’ll have you know) there are goddamn lampposts fitted with kales, carrots, cucumbers, and cabbages and everything else that begins with that sort of consonant. I don’t know where they got the idea. Maybe Pinterest.

Around Ogontz, you may pass by nondescript buildings, like the barn or the pump house or the riflery, and catch haunting melodies as they float out—oh, who am I kidding; you’ll hear toddlers and teenagers alike scraping away on their violin or cello or whatever, playing some half-assed scale or something, with cries of “Keep your bow straight!” or “Vibrate vibrate vibrate!” or “Phrasing, please!” or maybe “Think of the children!” in the background. That would be so-called master classes, where a single student is paired with a single teacher for the ultimate humiliation experience. You see, one is expected to make eye contact in these sorts of situations, which causes me to have a severe allergic reaction.

In addition, all students are expected to attend such things like fiddling class, orchestra, chamber groups, and possibly more, as if that wasn’t enough social interaction for the next few months.

This might seem confusing, but ‘tis the life of a Suzuki violinist.

barn orchestral rehearsal camp ogontz
A view from below the barn.

Up in the first picture you can see a line of cabins, with the kale gardens in front and the latrine all the way in the back. I saw a big spider in there once—specifically, a female fishing spider guarding her egg sac and shooting us pissers dirty looks like she owned the place.

Life is goddamn hard in the mountains.

The second picture show the very top of the rehearsal hall, where we all bare our souls for a single recital at the end of the week. It’s a very traumatizing experience.

river camp ogontz
In case you didn't know what a river looked like.

I’m trying really really hard to explain this, I truly am, but you are probably still confused by this whole concept of “Suzuki violin”, so let me briefly summarize what, exactly, this mysterious cultish practice is. The Suzuki method of music teaching originated with Japanese violinist Shin'ichi Suzuki around the mid-20th century. This particular way of propogating classical music (largely violin, but also with cello, viola, and a few other instruments) differs from the traditional method in that it emphasizes learning music like a language as opposed to, well, some other philosophical concept. Like math. I don’t know.

Education starts from a very early age, as early as two years old. As for myself, I began “playing the violin” (if you could call it that) when I was four, before I was young enough to protest my parent’s decision—probably the average age people tend to start these days. Suzuki students learn music by ear, not by reading notes; just like how young children learn to speak by listening, not reading. 

log camp ogontz river
The log on which I took the former picture.

And of course, there is lots of listening. Meaning one often ends up listening to the same few tracks over and over again until you 1) are really fucking sick of hearing “Gavotte in G Major” or whatever and 2) know the piece so well you could play it in your sleep.

In developing this method of learning to play such antiquated instruments, Dr. Suzuki wrote up, oh, about ten books full of music to torture his students for years on end, the first book starting with a few variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (commonly called “The Twinkles” by insiders) and the last book ending with this really scary Mozart concerto. Two of them, in fact, because fuck you. 

camp ogontz barn
The barn, again. Where the orchestral music-reading torture commences.

I am currently learning the first piece in Book Eight, a sonata by now-deceased composer John Eccles (really an unfortunate name). In fact, I’d say pretty much all of the music in these books were written by people who are now dead. Rightly so, since the only classical music being written today is post-modernist technical masturbation.

bunny rabbit
I took an embarrassing amount of photos of this bunny, and I don't know why.

But that’s just my opinion.

So this camp is basically a circlejerk dedicated to rah-rahing about how awesome the Suzuki method is. Also torturing ourselves by actually trying to read music, which is something Suzuki students are notoriously bad at.

A relatively new garden, with one of the houses / class locations up on the hill.

Understandably (or maybe not), I wasn’t too thrilled about being sentenced to this school-like environment in the middle of the summer, when I was perfectly content to lounge around the house all day trying to ward off the tides of depression—especially since so there are so many goddamn people at this camp. Like, people who try to talk to you and stuff. Just…no.

And who wants to get up at 7:30 to go to fiddling class anyway? Not this bitter bitch. 

Trees. Just cuz.

But there is a plus side to this smorgasbord of effort and socializing: food. The food is fucking great at Ogontz, about 80% of the time, and the other 20% is dedicated to food that is just okay, mostly because it’s stuff that picky little June doesn’t like, such as lasagna (blech) or anything containing mushrooms (what the actual). This is because the head chef is from some fancy pants New York restaurant. Maybe he works for Wylie Dufresne. Or David Chang. We can’t know for sure.

I did sign up for the vegetarian option, and thank god, because nearly every single meal seemed to be either steak or bacon or—*crosses self*—lobster bisque.

Why people seem to delight in drowning a majestic, functionally immortal creature in a bath of heavy cream is beyond me. 

The riflery, where I had my master classes, and where there not actually any rifles.

Except for that one day when the main course was just a slab of cooked portobello mushroom (which, ew), the food was absolutely delicious, almost better than some restaurants. The first night’s meat-free option was deep fried cheesy polenta cakes topped with sautéed vegetables, with a side of freshly grown vegetables including radishes as big as a supermarket carrot and so crispy and spicy that the lack of hummus was hardly a tragedy.

Then there were some meals that the chef was totally phoning it in, such as that half a zucchini stuffed with a couple tablespoons of mystery non-meat and about a half teaspoon of melted parmesan. Like, seriously? Mr. Dufresne would be ashamed.

The stairs leading up to the riflery.

But most important were the baked goods. Ah yes. Our days began with buttery raisin scones (somewhat bland and in need of lemon zest of whatever, but buttery nonetheless) and were carried on by cookies the size of one’s hand—snickerdoodle, peanut butter, chocolate crinkle, and oh man—then concluded with a freshly baked bread alongside our dinners and a hefty bowl of dessert, from stone fruit crisp to chocolate cake to panna cotta.

Now, I might mention that everyone is assigned a chore at Camp Ogontz, like dishwashing or housekeeping, and being a four-time veteran of the camp, I knew which job was best: dessert serving. Obviously. You get to go into the bakery and gawk at the massive industrial-sized stand mixers as they whip up gallons of whipped cream and then carry groaning trays of dessert into the dining hall. The serving practically does itself. But sadly, I did have to do a bit of pushing with the panna cotta, since very few people seemed to know what it was. A pity.

A view from above the waterfall.

And did I tell you that the water is served in mason jars? No. I did not.

The so-called Troll House, where the cellos do their string-scraping.

That, in a nutshell, explains the dichotomy between Ogontz’s rustic façade and the reality of its conditions. We can pretend to be living out in the wilderness because we stay in literal log cabins without siding or air conditioning, and we can pretend the gross bathrooms are evidence of our struggle against the elements, but actually we are just a bunch of mostly white yuppies drinking out of mason jars and eating fresh kale salad and hiking it about a quarter mile to the non-groty, non-spidery new bathrooms over at Ogontz Hall, which is evidently some multi-million dollar architectural development where the yuppies will be able to camp out during the winter, as if five days of this shit wasn’t enough.

The main road.

Stairs up to Sutherland (another building).

Okay, I’m done being a cynical killjoy. The main reason I am telling you about this is to show you these beautiful pictures. Because god, that place is gorgeous.

You might not care a lick about the camp itself, but its setting is really something.

Ogontz Hall. Still under construction.

The lake. Did some kayaking around there.

Another view.

A signpost, with the dining hall in the background.

Just a bunch of kale. And stuff.

The view from just outside our cabin.

Next post, we’ll be back to cake. Or something. With less photos.


P.S. I forgot that last post was my 50th post on the blog. It’s miraculous, really, that I’ve lasted this long. But most of all, thanks for reading. That is the most important thing.


  1. Congrats on your 51st post!
    That place looks absolutely gorgeous June, and I almost wept a little at the thought of not being a master of strings, instrumental ones that is... The photos are stunning and I wished we had some similar place here close to Glasgow, I would retreat there for a couple of nights for sure. The food sounds great, although I am sorry to hear about the mushroom incident...Hopefulyl there was enough fresh bread and such to fill you up nonetheless. And panna cotta! Man I've only had it once, but it was soooo good :D
    Welcome back home, I hope you're not too traumatised after all the socialising ;) x

    1. PS. I was meant to ask you, what's your favourite, easy, one base (no layers) with some tasty frosting? I need to make a vegan cake for a wee get-together tomorrow evening :) You could maybe e-mail me a link or something (iiiif you have time.. No worries if you're too busy to get back to me, but I thought I'd take a chance :) x

    2. Like a basic cake base? I think that the one I used here ( was my favorite vanilla cake, so if you halved the recipe it would make one eight inch layer. It was really good, it has everyone's seal of approval from the party :) Is that sort of what you were looking for?

      And I'm glad you like the pictures too! :D

    3. Bingo! Just have to try and see if I can find some vegan butter now, post-work mission! Cheers, will write it down now :D x

    4. Oh, and if you want you can use margarine. Most brands don't have dairy in them I think, and it's a lot easier to find than Earth Balance and such! :)

    5. I was thinking that! I usually use Flora light, but not sure if it has dairy in it. Gonna pop along to the health shop and see if they have Earth Balance though, t'was pay day today and it would be nice to treat my friends proper cake philosophising-style! ;) Aaaalso you mentioned bananas in the "how to" but not in the ingredients list, easy mistake, will one be enough for half a portion of the cake? :) x

      PS. My student friends used jam jars or mason jars a good few years ago and I loved it, so rustic! Seemed a little out of place in a posh place like that camp though, but hey! It's cosy if anything :)

    6. Oh thanks for pointing out the bananas mistake! I will fix that. Sometimes I use tofu or bananas in cakes like that, they both work. :) I checked the ingredients of flora light, it appears to have a little dairy in it. I think Earth Balance is the best, but some margarines don't have dairy. Hope you can find some! :)

    7. Awh thanks! And worry not, the local health shop must must must have some vegan butter or Earth Balance, I shall find out in but half an hour :) Hope you have a fantasmic weekend ahead missy! x

    8. It's out of the oven! Oh my! It turned a bit volcano-y, but my mum's chocolate cakes always do that too and it's the bomb! Can't wait to put the frosting on and top it with berries :D Thanks for the reeeecipe! Used vegan butter :) x

    9. Awesome!! I hope you like it! Berries sound like a great addition :)

  2. Ughh, you're wrong, I found this is awesome! Including all the beautiful pictures. It's probably wrong that the first thing I thought of was american pie and band camp, but meh, gotta go with it. Sounds like there was a lot of kale there, laughed at the mason jar cups, that really is a thing right now. Happy 50th blog post!

    1. Haha I guess this was sort of like band camp! I literally LOL'ed when I saw the mason jars, my family did not understand at all. :P And thanks for reading!! :)

  3. Hey! You're in my neck of the woods! It isn't all as beautiful as the White Mountains (see: Manchester) but I'm glad you liked it! Also, cabins in winter? Um, no! I hope they stay somewhere else! Loved the pics!

    1. Glad you liked them! I think they are planning on building Ogontz Hall for that, so it will be all nice and heated in the wintertime. It's pretty cool on the inside, too, they use trees as support beams and stuff. :P Anyway thanks for reading!! :)

  4. Hi June, what a picturesque place! sounds like a good time!