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For the past two weeks, Paul Claman has been sitting around wondering “what on earth to do”.

Almost every year for the past 25 years, the Dunedin musician has organised and attended the annual Waitaki Summer Music Camp at Waitaki Boys’ High School in early January.

This year’s camp, which would have been the 25th, was cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns.

“I feel really weird. For the last two weeks, I would’ve been madly preparing camp and doing camp.”

The Waitaki Summer Music Camp chairman said it was an “absolute shame” to not hold the25th camp this year. Organisers had considered different options, including shortening it to a week instead of 10 days and using only South Island-based tutors.

“We just thought that, apart from the fact of not knowing whether we’d be able to go ahead with camp, what would we do if a lockdown happened in the middle of camp? And what would we do if people decided not to come to camp because they were worried about a lockdown happening?

“It was an awful lot of work to do to have it suddenly go wrong on you.”

Mr Claman organised the first camp 25 years ago, with Christchurch couple Al and Jenn Sands. Mr Claman and Mr Sands had regularly attended music camps at Campbell Park Estate, when they were run by Otago University’s extension department.

“Al and I .. really enjoyed ourselves, and learned an awful lot. A lot of the tutors who came to that camp were from NZSO [New Zealand Symphony Orchestra], and we made friends that we’ve still got,” he said.

When Otago University’s extension department camps stopped, Mr Sands suggested they organise something themselves.

Waitaki Boys’ was an ideal venue with a “beautiful” auditorium and had the hostel for musicians to stay in. It had also hosted the New Zealand Suzuki Institute’s South Island camp for many years.

The inaugural Waitaki Summer Music Camp in 1996 was a success, so they kept it going.

“And now we can’t stop,” Mr Claman said.

Big breaths . . . Waitaki Summer Music Camp co-organiser Paul Claman plays the tuba in the orchestra in 2019. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

“We really enjoy it – it’s great fun.”

There was a chamber music programme, usually run over the first four days, and an orchestral programme, run over the following week.

The camp attracted about 70 people, of different ages and abilities, from across the country every year. They played orchestral, chamber and concert band music, supported by experienced tutors.

“From Auckland to Invercargill – literally the length of the country. We’ve even had one or two people come from Australia.”

A lot of families used the camp as a “musical holiday”. Each year there were parents, brothers and sisters playing together in the same ensembles, Mr Claman said.

There was always a large turnout of young people who got opportunities to learn from some of the best musicians in New Zealand and had a “ripsnortingly good social time”.

“We get the tutors in from professional orchestras; we’ve got a lot of NZSO people who have come and helped us over the years. They are very generous with their time.

“[Young musicians] get a real boost from it. They get really enthusiastic about [music] and often they’re off to university and there’s quite a few who have gone on to make a professional career out of it.

“We like to think we contributed to that.”

All going well, the 25th anniversary camp would be held in January next year.

“We’ve got a good [organising committee] team, but just at the moment we’re all having a really good holiday.”