The Walden School

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For other institutions with the same name, see Walden School (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 42°54′30″N 72°03′47″W / 42.90833°N 72.06306°W / 42.90833; -72.06306 The Walden School is a residential summer music camp located on the campus of the Dublin School, in Dublin, New Hampshire, United States. It is a five-week immersive program which hosts approximately 45-60 students aged 9–18, and focuses on developing musicianship through composition, improvisation and choral training. The Walden School is widely known among its alumni and current students for providing a holistic and community-oriented approach to making music and is considered by many who are acquainted with the program to be a fantastic opportunity for young composers to mature as musicians. The Walden School takes place every summer from the last Saturday in June to the first Sunday in August. Although the majority of the students come from the American Northeast, with sizable Baltimore and San Francisco Bay Area contingents, many come from all over the United States and some from around the world. In recent years, students have traveled from the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Germany, Canada, Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey, and Hong Kong to attend the Walden School.


The Walden School was co-founded in 1972 by David Hogan, Pamela Layman Quist, and Lynn Taylor Hebden following the death of Grace Newsom Cushman, the founder of the Junior Conservatory Camp (also commonly referred to as the "JCC"). The JCC was founded in the 1940s in Baltimore, Maryland, and is widely considered the predecessor camp of The Walden School. Many of the traditions and philosophies that embody The Walden School program originated during the Junior Conservatory years. The Walden School, which began in Reisterstown, Maryland, was situated on the campus of the Mountain School from 1976 to 1982, a small rural private boarding school in Vershire, Vermont. In 1983, due to the impending sale of the Mountain School, Walden moved to the Dublin School in Dublin, New Hampshire, where it has been held ever since. A tragedy was experienced by the Walden School community on July 17, 1996, when David Hogan was one of the victims of the TWA Flight 800 crash.[1][2]



The Walden academic curriculum and teaching methodology is based on a core philosophy which employs a comprehensive and organic approach to learning music, emphasizing creativity in all aspects of the curriculum. The Walden School's general philosophy defines music as "sound organized in time."


The Musicianship course is core to the Walden curriculum. The philosophy behind the course states that students learn music most effectively when approaching it from many angles simultaneously, these core angles being singing, playing, writing, and improvising music. The Musicianship course teaches the elements of music more or less in the order that they were developed, and starts with the existential question of "what is music?" Students then proceed through a process of discovery beginning with the overtone series and improvisations inside the piano. This method of teaching musicianship breaks with conventional methods of music education, most notably in The Walden School's teaching of intervals and modes before teaching functional harmony. The Walden School has recently published a textbook titled The Walden School Musicianship Course: A Manual for Teachers, about which Walden states the following:

The Manual collects the teaching wisdom and experience of nine teachers of The Walden Musicianship Course, and chapter-by-chapter it carries us on an exciting journey. Starting with acoustical foundations, passing through a unique treatment of intervals and basic triads, a presentation of cycles of thirds and fifths, melodic modes and modal harmony, functional harmony, and computer music applications, the Manual conclusively provides a compendium of ideas about how you can relate these musical materials to creative projects in your own classroom or studio.


Composition is considered the most widely known element of the Walden curriculum, as most Walden School alumni declare Walden a "composition camp", although technically composition is not at the core of the Walden curriculum. The method employed by composition teachers depends on the level of the student. In beginner classes comprising young students who have never composed before or have very little experience, a more improvisation-oriented approach is taken, in what Walden School officials claim is a chance for young students to produce music without requiring much formal training. More advanced classes comprising older and more experienced composition students take a very open-ended approach, in that students are encouraged to compose any style they please while simultaneously receiving guidance from their composition teacher on orchestration and notation techniques. Many consider Walden School composition teachers to be more like mentors than instructors.

Many Walden School composition classes begin the summer with a walk around the Dublin School campus, listening for sounds in their environment.

Choral singing[edit]

The Choral program is one of the staple classes at the Walden School. Every member of the Walden community participates in the Walden School Chorus. This promotes community and musicianship.

Computer music[edit]

Computer music was added to the Walden School Musicianship and Composition curriculum in 2000. Since then, a computer lab had been installed on the 2nd floor of the Science Building on campus every summer, but was recently moved to Gillespie 4.

The computer lab contains eight Apple Power Mac computers, each supplied with Digidesign Mbox hardware and Reaper software. Students use a Digital Audio Tape (DAT) recorder with a stereo microphone to record sounds, and then later upload these recordings to the Power Macs and begin composing electronic pieces primarily using Reaper software. Other popular pieces of software used among Walden School students to manipulate the sounds they record are Soundhack.[3] Max/MSP is a more sophisticated digital audio signal processing application and is used exclusively among the Walden School faculty.

Festival Features

Composers Forums[edit]

The forums at The Walden School are a mix of concert and discussion, like a master class, where various student compositions are performed. Immediately after the performance, the student composer discusses various aspects of the piece with a "Forum Moderator" (Walden Faculty or Composer-in-Residence) and then also with the audience. The performance is recorded, which is a great bonus for the composers.


Walden School hosts Ensembles-in-Residence to conduct workshops, perform concerts, and help perform student pieces during the Composers Forums. These groups are established, renowned touring ensembles as well as a seasonal ensemble of musicians called The Walden School Players.


Each program hosts a resident composer who advises the participants. The featured composer also presents a lecture/demonstration of her/his own creative works.

Faculty Commissioning Project[edit]

The Walden School Faculty are active composers, performers and educators. The Faculty Commissioning Project offers several opportunities for collaborating with resident musicians and premiering new works.

Traditional practices[edit]

The Walden School community treasures its traditions and values them as essential to the "Walden experience."

Goodnight Music[edit]

Goodnight Music is considered to be the most treasured Walden tradition. In this ritual, the entire Walden community, which comprises faculty, staff, students, guest artists, and other visitors, gathers together every night in an elliptical embrace, commonly referred to as the "Goodnight Circle", and sings the song "Goodnight Music", a lullaby composed by former Junior Conservatory student and faculty member Shari Fleming in the 1940s. Usually one member of the community plays an accompaniment and improvised introduction and conclusion usually on the piano, although Goodnight Music has occasionally been played on the accordion, toy piano, and by numerous ensembles.

The lyrics and music of Goodnight Music have been passed down aurally since its inception during the Junior Conservatory years of the 1940s and 50s. Persons learning to play Goodnight Music are encouraged to figure out the chord changes on their own. This folk-like tradition leads to a variety of different performance styles of Goodnight Music, as each performer has a different interpretation of the chords, rhythm, tempo and ornamentation of the song. Several elements however must remain constant. The song must always be performed with F/G at the tonic, and the lyrics must remain unchanging. The notes of the vocal portion of the song never change, but the rhythms may change according to how the Goodnight Circle collectively interprets the performance of the accompanist.


A Walden blessing is defined as a song sung unaccompanied by the Walden community as a prerequisite to eating a meal, in particular lunch and dinner. The majority of commonly performed Walden blessings have been composed by either present Walden students, Walden alumni, or Junior Conservatory alumni. The lyrics of the various blessings fall into a variety of categories; secular and religious, in English, Latin, or even Finnish, and some lyrics are considered absurd by many. Although hundreds of blessings exist in written form, only a handful are commonly performed.

One popular Walden blessing learned in 2004 was based on a twelve tone row and discussed the literal path of food through the digestive system.

"Plow" is widely regarded as an extremely popular and sensationalistic Walden blessing. It is in two parts in D dorian and although the composer did not intend for it to end with a sudden dramatic crescendo, it has become a Walden School tradition to sing it this way.

Other popular Walden blessings include:

  • "When the Good" - a melodious, sensitive blessing in two parts
  • "Jumala" - a short and haunting Finnish folk song in E phrygian
  • "Behold" - these lyrics are derived from a Biblical passage from the Book of Revelation, more specially Revelation 3:20
  • "Earth Goddess" - often noted as a secular tribute to Mother Nature in two parts. Sometimes the last few lines are satirized by a few members of the community who choose to sing them with an alternative accent.
  • "Praise the Lord" - a religious blessing, whose lyrics ending on "Praise the Lord for He is good" often are changed to "Praise the Lord for She's a good dude", a change which is widely seen as a suggestion that God isn't necessarily male
  • "Good Food, Good Meat" - the most recently written (composed in 2004 by a Walden student) popular blessing
  • "Source of all Life" - another religious blessing, which ends on a plagal cadence
  • "Ormpa" - a rather ridiculous, and immensely popular blessing, in which eight groups sing in a fast-paced canon about various colored fish and then a seal, ending also with a plagal cadence

Saturday hikes[edit]

Every Saturday, with the exception of the first and last Saturdays, the Walden School community hikes to the summit of various mountains, Mt. Monadnock being the final and widely accepted as the most challenging mountain hike.

The Walden community assembles in six hiking groups consisting of 6-8 members, all of whom hike independently up the mountain in 5- to 10-minute intervals. Walden School officials claim this policy is designed to prevent congestion of the hiking path which could impede other hikers and lead to safety problems.


Every Saturday night, with the exception of the first, a dance is held on campus in the Upper Arts Building (commonly referred to as the "Upper AB"). Some dances have a costume theme, which is usually announced by the staff before or during the Saturday hike. Students are encouraged to be creative in making a costume of their own design, and traditionally many students create costumes from every day items found around campus, such as towels, wires, paper, as well as cheap plastic items bought during the shopping trip that same day. At every dance there are songs that are always played, while others can be played one week, but be replaced with one not played the week before.

Each dance theme is considered to create a unique atmosphere as people dressed to match the theme waltz, tango, play musical chairs, freeze dance, and square dance. The dances conclude with two rounds of "The Apple", a waltz unique to The Walden School that is danced to the traditional Irish folk song "Do You Love an Apple?", usually from a recording from the album "Now and Then" (released in 1980) by the folk ensemble Trapezoid,[4] but which can be played by visiting ensembles.

More traditions[edit]

The Walden School has a "musicianship frolic" occurring approximately halfway through its session. The frolic is a much more fun version of the musicianship demo (occurring later in the season). It is meant to showcase the main points of what has been taught in a particular musicianship class and how it was taught. The frolic has only occurred three times during the Walden School's history (during the 2003, 2004, and 2005 sessions), but has its roots in a much more serious "frolic" developed by Grace Newsom Cushman that was used to give deserving students scholarships to the Junior Conservatory Camp (The Walden School's predecessor school).

Past Walden School directors[edit]

External links[edit]

Press coverage[edit]