Reflections on California Brazil Camp 2016

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I’ve been reflecting on how my experience at California Brazil Camp relates back to my normal life. It’s wonderful there, but we couldn’t sustain this lifestyle (off the grid playing music nearly 24/7 in a redwood forest) all of the time - real life gets in the way! The after-camp glow starts to fade as more time at home passes, but I’m keeping the spirit alive - I’ve practiced Brazilian music daily since returning home, both by myself and with others, and have issues stopping, because there’s just so much great music to work on!

To hear some of this music and read what camp is all about, see my previous post. Also, the amazing Eric Crawford (camp photographer) has hundreds of great photos here.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I love this camp (it was my 5th time there this year), but as an introvert, I do struggle with balancing the desire to learn and experience as much as I can (classes run from 9am-9pm, followed by multiple teacher/student jams in various places) and meet new people with the need to sleep and avoid total overstimulation. FOMO at Brazil Camp is real, but I know if I stay up until 4am, I won’t be functional the next day to continue pushing my brain to the limit. So, even though it seems like I went on a cool vacation (and it was exhilarating), I really just replaced one kind of overwhelm with another.

Despite my desire to unplug, I still had fall scheduling emails to write, so I did actually sneak over to the bakery with wifi across the street from the camp. Making the fall schedule for my students each year is also an overwhelming process, so I easily became stressed. Luckily, Guinga’s class (look him up, he's amazing!) meets at the bakery, and I heard them rehearsing the most beautiful and peaceful song, Domingo de Nazareth. Along with a cat who was hanging out there too, it really helped ease my stress!

How did I deal with overwhelm at camp? By riding the wave of my ebbing and flowing energy - taking whatever time I could to rest, take a walk to town, or even practice (a solitary activity). I knew that the week would be intense and that pacing myself would be the only way. So why don’t I do this more at home? I take very few breaks during my workday, even the part spent at home during the mornings/early afternoons. Isn’t this the reason that people have flexible jobs? I clearly need to apply this habit of intermittent rest to my normal work life - planning a trip once or twice a year isn’t a sustainable way to live. Sarah Von Bargen of Yes and Yes wrote a brilliant list of ways to recharge when you only have a 10-minute break - use it!

When it’s time to leave camp, I always have mixed feelings - not wanting the connection to this music to fade, wanting to continue having a brain undistracted by technology, and enjoying a break from the real world. At the same time, I am exhausted and can’t wait to get back to my own bed, office, kitchen, and the ability to easily communicate with loved ones. Travel is always an interesting reset button for our routines - while I am definitely a creature of routine, I do enjoy the opportunity for forced minimalism, as it forces me to worry about fewer small/unimportant things.

Being at camp always forces us to leave or expand our comfort zones (part of my reason for starting this blog), and this time I did this in a number of ways: trying the advanced choro class, even though I wasn’t certain I could hang with them (turns out I could), trying the vocal class (I don’t totally feel comfortable with singing), and by midweek, even being ready to sit in at the jazz tent or the roda de choro in the evening, but I didn’t get the opportunity again - next time!

Though I was feeling the humility of being a student (do we ever get over, that, really?), in many ways I did feel quite comfortable: being in a familiar setting, and being around “my people”, which makes me feel most like myself. I find myself gravitating more easily to this feeling at home, to more of a sense of ease and less of unnecessary complication (although there is plenty going on for a teacher in September).

Thoughts to take forward

Brazil Camp is like my North Star - even though I only get this immersive of an experience once a year, it provides me with so much material, in this case new piano techniques, a deeper understanding of samba and baião grooves, new level of rhythmic feel, etc. It was clear to me how much I had grown and learned since last summer, and it’s addictive. In other words, samba is a vitamin that I should never let myself get deficient in! When I stay committed to playing music I love, it helps fuel me for all aspects of my musical, work, and regular life.

 Can you smell the redwood leaves? 

Can you smell the redwood leaves? 

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer