On April 14, 2016, Peter Katz, accomplished Canadian singer-songwriter and Juno Award Nominee, made his inaugural keynote address to the Society of Camp Directors. His simple, sincere and at times amusing message was a heartfelt thank you to all the camp leaders in the room. As an eleven-year-old camper, a “God-like counsellor” whom he adored, handed him his guitar and encouraged Peter to strum a cord. He credits the start of his successful career to that moment.
My name is Peter Katz. I make my living as a singer-songwriter, writing music, playing shows all over the world, as well as making music for film and TV. One of my proudest creations is a song I wrote called The Camp Song that was commissioned by the International Camping Fellowship for the 2008 conference in Quebec City where I had a chance to premiere the song in front of over 600 camp directors from around the world. From that performance, I’ve seen the song make its way around the globe from camps in China to Hawaii to Turkey to Russia to Germany.
My life as a singer-songwriter is built on the premise of investing all of my heart and soul into these little things called songs and then putting them out into the world… I’ve been told stories of my songs being used in the birthing room as a new life was coming into the word; I’ve seen countless videos of people walking down the aisle on their wedding day to one of my songs or sharing a first dance; I’ve been told of my songs being used at someone’s wake or accompanying their final breaths in their hospital bed.
Here’s what I want you to know about the work you’re doing. I make songs and you make people. Camp is a FACTORY for those key moments that will stay with people for the rest of their lives. Camp is a breeding ground for those defining discoveries that come to create identities and ambitions and fundamental self-confidences that people carry with them forever. You are working at the very source; you’re creating emotional safety and within that safety, comes a place where kids and young adults are able to take that risk, to push themselves to engage in a way they wouldn’t if they were paralyzed by fear and judgment.
Camp isn’t the cabins or the trees or the campfire or any of the things we typically think of. And rock-climbing isn’t rock-climbing; rock-climbing is facing fear; rock climbing is sitting in discomfort; it’s learning to trust; it’s following something through even if it’s hard. And canoeing down a river isn’t canoeing down a river, it’s surrendering to the things you can’t control; it’s learning how to work within the circumstances that are before you; it’s working with a partner to get somewhere together; it’s communication. And hiking isn’t hiking, it’s about being able to stand and see how far you’ve come; it’s about taking something slow and steady; it’s about overcoming the negative self-talk and stepping forward anyways.
I want to tell you that camp matters. I think it should be a basic human right for every young person to have a chance to experience camp [enthusiastic applause from the audience here!] and as one of your former campers, from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you. I understand all the logistics, and the budgeting and the marketing and the health and safety and the politics…But I want you to remember that you are at the front line of life-defining experiences and all of your little songs are out there in the world making an impact in so many ways that you likely won’t ever know or hear about –but it’s happening.