“All I ever need is a song in my heart
Food in my belly
And love in my family.
All I ever need is a song in my heart
And love in my family.”

So go the lyrics to one of the numerous songs that Outdoor Academy students and faculty sing before one of Rick and Lupe’s delicious meals. We gather in a circle around the dining hall, join hands, and make announcements before the leader of the day chooses a song. Semester 48 is into singing…they belt out the tunes with gusto, swinging arms and stomping feet. And it’s not just before meals that we sing. We start our days with a song as part of Morning Watch, and we end our evenings with a song at Goodnight Circle. Cheoah, our music room, is a popular spot to hang out, practice instruments, or spin some of our old record collection. Each student brings to OA with them a USB drive or CD with a mix of their music, which provides tunes for post-meal kitchen cleanup crews. Even just walking across campus, I often hear voices harmonizing and melodies wafting across Cabin Seven field from a pair of friends singing on the Wayah Porch. Song is a big part of life at OA.

I will admit that my first meal during my on-campus interview took me by surprise as students grabbed each of my hands and hollered the lyrics to “Left Hind Leg of a Rabbit” before sitting down to lunch, but it quickly becomes second nature to sing at OA. As we approach our 25th year, I often reflect on all of the little traditions and rituals that I notice day to day at The Outdoor Academy, wondering if they have been around since the beginning. Having spent this past summer getting ready for OA during Eagle’s Nest Camp, which is coming up on its 92nd summer, it is clear that songs—and the joy found in singing them—have long played a central role in what we do.

Some of the songs are funny and some are sweet. We welcome students to add their own songs to our repertoire, and each semester seems to settle in on some of its favorites…Semester 47 was big on “What Falls in the Fall?” (leaves and temperatures). Many of our songs, like “All I Ever Need,” espouse key principles of OA like simple living. Others celebrate the mountains in which we live or the community of which we are a part. Some songs are just plain silly, and it’s wonderful to watch high school students embrace them.

On Monday evening, we were lucky to have guest musicians on campus for our weekly Community Meeting. We were treated to an hour and a half concert by George and Andy Pond on bass and banjo. The Pond Brothers are Eagle’s Nest Camp alums and relatives of a current OA student, and they have been fixtures in the Asheville-area music scene for twenty years (several teachers were familiar with their band, Snake Oil Medicine Show, from our younger days). They played traditional standards, their own brand of “bluegrastafari” reggae-infused banjo tunes, and even a Venezuelan waltz. Students jumped up and danced raucously, and some—tentatively at first and then with more confidence—retrieved instruments from their cabins and sat in with the band. At one point, the Pond Brothers were joined by students on guitar, ukulele, fiddle, and vocals. The last half hour of the show found us breaking out the Eagle’s Nest Song Book and thumbing through pages to request Camp and OA classics.

It is clear that music plays a key role in this community. It brings us together, making our voices one and reminding us of values we embrace at OA. In a school in which we ask students to forego many of their familiar forms of entertainment, like social media and video games, music is a necessary outlet for stress relief and fun. The quality of one’s singing voice does not matter; rather, it is the willingness to embrace this aspect of OA’s culture and traditions that’s important.
In the final moments before students depart OA at the end of the semester, the community comes together with tears in their eyes to share in one last rendition of “Sweet Winds.” At the conclusion of my first semester, this was a powerful and poignant moment, looking around the room at faces that had grown dear to the OA faculty as they poured themselves into the beautiful music, so representative of the power of the place that we occupy here in the mountains. Bless my soul!

By Glenn DeLaney