Into the Woods: An Overview of Interlochen Arts Academy

Interlochen is more than just a summer camp, with six program areas including the Interlochen Arts Academy. The curriculum for high school students prepares them differently than traditional pre-college programs.

Whenever I ask someone who attended Interlochen Arts Academy about their experience, the answer is always a variation on a theme of nostalgia, gratitude, and a desire to return there, even if just momentarily by sharing a story about a favorite teacher, a cabinmate-turned lifelong friend, or a treasured spot on the campus. 

Interlochen Arts Academy’s campus is an idyllic setting. The Academy’s website describes Interlochen “as an immersive arts experience that fosters a sense of closeness discovered only through a deep, shared appreciation. Generations of artists and arts enthusiasts have experienced the special and intangible magic that transpires on Interlochen’s beautiful campus, nestled between two pristine lakes and surrounded by quiet pines in northwest Michigan.”  

To that end, it makes perfect sense why Interlochen proclaims that it’s “Where wonder ignites creativity.” Interlochen is synonymous with arts camp to artists worldwide. In addition to the beauty of the surrounding nature and Interlochen’s storied past, there is so much activity and so many people involved in the cultivation of this community of creativity that many refer to as magical. Specifically, the Interlochen Center for the Arts comprises six program areas: Interlochen Arts Camp, Interlochen Arts Academy, Interlochen Online, Interlochen Public Radio, Interlochen Presents, and Interlochen College of Creative Arts. 

In 2028, Interlochen will celebrate 100 years of offering an immersive arts experience to generations of artists, and the Academy’s dedication to ensure what they call the next generation of creative changemakers is undergirded by what they’ve designed and described as The 

Interlochen 5: Five Key Capacities, which become foundational to Academy students’ mindsets, motivation, and method. These include mindfulness, wellness and resilience; creative capacity; interdisciplinary perspective and collaboration; global and cultural perspective; and community and citizen artistry (visit interlochen.org for extended descriptions of each).    

Interlochen’s longevity, its devoted community of worldwide alumni, future students, and supporters is supported by focused and far-reaching programming. Its primary student reach is, of course, its legendary Arts Academy Boarding School and Interlochen’s annual Summer Arts Camp. Those seeking to join from beyond Interlochen, Michigan, or those who are older than the grades 3–12 age bracket can join the Interlochen experience through the Academy’s rich offerings of online arts programs. Similarly, lifelong learners can continue to engage through Interlochen’s College of Creative Arts. Interlochen offers its own Public Radio station, in addition to regular webcasts and campus and venue webcams, offering streaming glimpses of Interlochen’s programming and locale in real time. 

While Interlochen’s offerings are wide ranging—from gardening to composition—and applied instrument and voice specific, this article will focus primarily on Interlochen’s offerings as they relate to student singers, their teachers, and readers wishing to know more about studying voice at Interlochen Arts Academy.

Laura Osgood Brown

Dr. Laura Osgood Brown is an instructor of voice and opera at Interlochen Arts Academy and is also coordinator of its Classical Voice Intensive. She is in her ninth year of teaching at Interlochen, and her enthusiasm for the institution, its unique locale, and the students and communities it serves is palpable as she shares about the school’s specialized offerings for young singers. Interlochen does offer learning opportunities for much younger singers, with an initial focus on core experience in grades 3, 4, and 5, developing into a more intensive voice experience for junior high-aged students. Osgood Brown advises that “We are a boarding school for high school singers and also offer a postgraduate year, which is basically a gap year to focus in on your art.” 

Students in Interlochen’s production of Cendrillon, 2018

The curriculum for Interlochen boarding school high school students is comprehensive, clearly preparing precollegiate singers for the educational path ahead in applied study at the collegiate and conservatory level. Interlochen’s online description of their voice offerings reads as a primer and a clear and methodical path for singers planning to apply for college voice programs: “Sound vocal technique and appropriate literature that is voice appropriate to the individual singer is foundational to the program. We also teach voice specific elements, such as: mastery of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a strong emphasis of text interpretation, and a thorough study of college audition skills.” 

Students in Interlochen’s production of Cendrillon, 2018

Dr. Osgood Brown elaborates on the significance of this experience for a high school vocalist at Interlochen, in contrast to the more common precollegiate route of studying with a home teacher, singing in a school chorus, etc.

“I think that one of the unique things about our program in voice at Interlochen that I would like to highlight is that we provide opera training and experiences for high school singers, something that most singers won’t have access to until college. We really work to provide appropriate and formative experiences for students who may be completely new to the genre through our creative programming and arranging and our pedagogical processes. Our goal is to allow students to explore the different facets of vocal training through individual voice lessons and studio classes as well as choral ensembles and singing for the stage.”  

Students in Interlochen’s production of Cendrillon, 2018

She describes the Interlochen 5: Five Key Capacities mentioned above and how she, the voice department, and its students are experiencing them, especially regarding global and cultural perspective and community and citizen artistry: “The world is changing, hopefully for the better. And I think we’re so lucky at Interlochen that we get to be those changemakers. We’re not constrained by a certain curriculum or tradition. It goes back so much to just the fundamentals of our campus, really, because we’re not just a music school. We have all arts represented. We are an international boarding school, so we’re trying to bring in minds and voices from all over and really working to reflect that in our programming as well. So, trying to mix things up and work and do collaborative projects between voice and dance and musical theatre and pop voice.” 

Students in Interlochen’s production of Salieri’s Falstaff, 2018

Another compelling part of her description of what singers can expect centers on being present and an actual part of the creation of new music, reflective of the experiences of those on and around campus, in addition to writers and other artists worldwide: “We also collaborate with both professionally established composers as well as student composers to generate and develop new works for the voice—and explore a number of interdisciplinary projects, as we are an arts school rather than just a music school. So, we can do projects with theatre, dance, visual arts, creative writing, film and new media, etc. You know, the thing about high school students is that you might come in with some passion and some knowledge, but also you’re like a sponge. And our job is to actually keep all those doors and windows open.” 

To accomplish this, Interlochen Arts Academy boasts a robust performance calendar throughout the year. Interlochen’s performance offerings are as diverse and wide ranging as is its areas of study, from fully staged ballet to more intimate performance experiences. Their Signature, Second Stage, and Discovery Series provide numerous opportunities for Interlochen student artists as well as acclaimed visiting artists. And their commitment to bringing the arts to everyone is well demonstrated in their Accessibility Series, composed of inclusive performances enabled by sign language interpreters, relaxed lighting, and sound, and more. 

In the summer of 2020, I was invited to teach for Interlochen’s Summer Arts Camp online at the height of the lockdown and served as an instructor for Musical Theater Song and Dance Lab as well as a private voice instructor. I may not have had boots on the ground during that time of the massive pivot to online, however I felt totally immersed in something very special. It began with the crescendo of community that came along with joining Interlochen—a thorough and intensive faculty onboarding, the warm welcome from faculty and staff, and the speedy rollout of a technological and curricular plan rapidly designed to ensure that COVID-19 wouldn’t prevent a new summer class and their families from experiencing Interlochen. I saw how Interlochen did not waver in furthering its mission to engage and inspire people worldwide “through excellence in educational, artistic, and cultural programs, enhancing the quality of life through the universal language of the arts.” 

I asked Dr. Osgood Brown what her favorite part about the Interlochen campus is that one can’t find anywhere else. Her smile was big and her answer immediate, “Everything—living between these tall pines and there’s water everywhere, and you can just see sunsets everywhere you go. And I know people complain about the snow, but it’s beautiful. It looks like a holiday card because it just snows a little bit every day in the winter and just coats those little pine trees, and you’re in this little arts colony in the woods. Then think about how much music is inspired by nature in the woods. You can be singing Goethe while you are literally in the pines. I love it.”

To learn more about Interlochen Arts Academy and its myriad offerings for learners of all ages, and for application information and access to Interlochen’s Public Radio station and other web resources, visit interlochen.org.

Peter Thoresen

Dr. Peter Thoresen is an award-winning voice teacher, countertenor, and music director. His students appear regularly on Broadway (Almost Famous, Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Moulin Rouge! and more), in national tours, and on TV and film. He works internationally as a voice teacher, conductor, and music director in the Middle East and Southeast Asia with the Association of American Voices. He is an adjunct voice faculty member at Pace University and maintains a thriving private studio in New York City; he also serves as music director with Broadway Star Project. Thoresen has served on the voice faculties of Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, Musical Theater College Auditions (MTCA), and Broadway Kids Auditions (BKA) and holds a DM in voice from the IU Jacobs School of Music where he served as a visiting faculty member. He teaches a popular online vocal pedagogy course for new voice teachers and performs throughout the U.S. and abroad. To learn more, visit peterthoresen.com, @peter.thoresen (Insta), and @DrPetesTweets (Twitter).