Reminiscing about summer camp and the Fountains of Rome

This Sunday I’m lucky enough to begin a fantastic gig: hosting CBC Radio 2’s weekly classical music performance program, In Concert.

Preparing tomorrow’s show put me in mind of summer camp – and thus conjured up all kinds of feelings and recollections.

Once upon a time there was a camp called Toronto Music Camp that happened every June, right at the end of the school year on the shores of Lake Couchiching, near Orillia, Ontario. I spent five years there as a camp counselor. I think it still exists, but these days it’s called Music by the Lake.

TMC wasn’t all fun and games (although there were many of those, too) – it was a lot of hard work – hours of rehearsal every day. The large ensembles used to rehearse in a cavernous barn with a tin roof. I remember one year we were playing the Planets by Gustav Holst and it seemed as though our endless repetition of the first eight bars of section J provoked Mars, Bringer of War to open the heavens upon our heads. The sound of the rain thundering on the roof made it impossible for us to continue.

Another year it was so cold, the coldest June in decades, that we had to light as many candles as we could find just to stay warm in the 19th-century farmhouse where the chamber ensembles rehearsed.

Those were five of the happiest fortnights of my adolescence. In those days it felt like there was TMC, and the rest of the year until the next TMC – two different levels of existence.

The mother of all musical summer camps in this country is a residency with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada – and I think that the instant camaraderie of the camp experience must have something to do with the magic that the NYOC produces year in and year out. This Sunday you can hear a fabulous concert by the NYOC on In Concert, beginning at 11 am in all Canadian time zones (except 11:30 in Newfoundland) on CBC Radio 2.

The first piece on their program is Le Fontane di Roma, The Fountains of Rome, by Ottorino Respighi.

Fisheye lens photo of the Fontana di Trevi, Rome

Any Roman will tell you that living in Rome is kind of like living in a museum that’s open 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. A chief attraction at the grand museum of Rome is the Fontana di Trevi – the Trevi Fountain – the most famous of Roman fountains. It’s pretty much always crowded there.

But it’s one of those things that, when in Rome, you simply must see. It’s unimaginable not to see the Fontana di Trevi, and unimaginable not to toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, thus guaranteeing your return to Rome, according to tradition.

So you put up with the crowds.

But that’s not my favourite Roman fountain. My favourite Roman fountain is so commonplace there are 2500 exactly like it scattered all over the city.

It’s like an old friend that you stumble upon down a winding alley, after you’ve gotten happily lost in the back streets of Trastevere – you’re parched from hours of wandering in the heat – and there it is – the nasone – the humble drinking fountain – carrying pure clean Roman water, the same water the Ancient Romans drank and brought to the city with their aqueducts two thousand years ago.

Whenever I get a chance to hear The Fountains of Rome, I like to spare a thought for those little fountains, along with all the grand baroque fountains that inspired Respighi.

By the way, nasone means big nose. It’s the colloquial name for these fountains. I think Gonzo would agree that it’s the perfect name.

Thanks to Carlomorino for the photo of the nasone fountain, and thanks to Sonse for the awesome fisheye-lens shot of the Fontana di Trevi above (CC BY 2.0).

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