LONE WOLF — Clarence Ho has to step outside to tune his violin these days.
It's not the norm for Ho, a homeschooled student from Broken Arrow. He said he usually practices in silence.
But as his tuning fork sounds and his D string is brought to its perfect pitch, the front porch of his cabin in southwest Oklahoma is now his stage, complete with a full-moon spotlight.
“Tuning is a lot like taking pictures,” he said.
“You just have to know what you're looking for.”
Inside the cabin is what you would expect from a typical summer camp — a raucous common area, complete with a spirited game of cards in one corner while others sit on their bunks talking about that day's events: breakfast, girls, the evening dance show and girls.
But the abundance of musical instruments lying around is just the first of many clues that the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, held each June at the Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center near Lone Wolf, isn't your average summer camp.
Starting with its first camp in 1977, the arts institute has been committed to giving high-school-age artists from across Oklahoma a creative environment to help hone their crafts.
The two-week fine arts camp, now in its second week, accepted 270 students into this year's program in disciplines ranging from classical ballet to filmmaking.
Christina Cheng, 17, was accepted to play in the orchestra; she has been first-chair violin at Putnam City North High School for the past two years.
But she said she was surprised when she was asked to rotate in as first chair at the institute, to which the students sometimes refer casually as “Quartz” or “Quartz Mountain.”
“I am so nervous now,” Cheng said during a reporter's visit in the first week of camp. “Here people are so good, and I have to live up to their expectations. It's a challenge.”
Halls lined with talent
The hallways of the main lodge are lined with talent, and spontaneous performances can break out in any direction.
One group gathers around a piano to practice the vocal piece they've been working on for the past couple of days.
It's an all-boys choir, but that doesn't stop two girls from wandering over to listen, sharing through gasps of delight, how great their sound is.
“It's definitely going to be hard to readjust back to the school choir,” said Jacob Davis, 15. “It's too much fun singing with people with this much talent; we have twice the sound of any choir I have sung in before.”
The sun beats down on the students as they walk from building to building; it's already hit the triple digits before lunch.
But that hasn't slowed down Jackson Fall, 15, who attends Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City. Just a few days into camp, he and his fellow filmmakers are shooting their second film, a comedy short about a Greek hero seeking an oracle's prophecy.
“Quartz just blows away everything else,” Fall said. “I just love being immersed in something that I love and knowing that everyone around me loves it just as much.”
While the film crew mixes up a concoction for fake blood, just down the road six students huddle around the stop bath in the photo darkroom and watch an image appear on paper of a giant bay window with sunlight pouring through it.
As a debate of Canon vs. Nikon begins under the soft orange glow of the darkroom light, a debate of a different kind is finishing up in the room next door.
Elise Gordon, 17, knows what her style of painting is, having been through the institute before. But the recent graduate of Classen School of Advanced Studies said she wasn't sure what she would learn this time around.
“My instructor and I have butted heads, and it's just been great for me,” Gordon said. “It's been a while since I have been critiqued, but the challenge has been awesome.”
Mood to dance
Like Gordon, Reagan Collins from Jenks High School also has been through the program before.
This is her fourth year to study dance at Quartz, and she said it has been quite challenging.
“I've been trained in ballet where every step is a process, and we are learning to move a bit more this year,” Collins said.
“I really like the change, and it's definitely different, and it's really gotten me into the mood to just dance,” she said.
As the sun begins to set behind the rock hills, the students make their way across a long wooden bridge to the performing arts center.
Tonight is dance night, and eventually all 270 students are out on the dance floor, practicing the swing moves they learned that week.
It's awkward chaos as boys and girls pair up with each other, but dance instructor Alee Reed quickly squelches that behavior.
“Embrace your partner,” she said. “This is art, after all.”