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Band Camp


It was during this week in 1956 that the International High School Music Camp began. It’s located between the U.S. and Canada in the International Peace Garden near Dunseith, North Dakota. Dr. Merton Utgaard was the camp’s founder.

The camp began with humble beginnings. The first year, student housing stood in in a field of dirt that quickly became mud on opening day, and it rained almost all week.

Fortunately Dr. Utgaard wasn’t ready to give up on his dream – which can be traced to the founding of the International Peace Garden in 1928. Merton Utgaard – a young Eagle Scout – was among the 50,000 people who had gathered to witness the event.

Now jump forward to the summer of 1955 – Dr. Utgaard is employed at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He’s gotten this idea in his head to start a band camp, but he can’t settle on the location. After months of searching and “researching,” he suddenly remembered that day on the US/Canadian border and asks his graduate assistant, Marvin Fjeld, “What happened to the International Peace Garden?”

What indeed? When Utgaard brought his idea to the Peace Gardens Board, it was decided that rustic buildings erected by Civilian Conservation Corps back in 1934 could be reformatted to suit the camp’s need for barracks, rehearsal areas, and kitchen/dining spaces. From there, the idea took off. By early 1956, the newly formed “International High School Music Camp” was preparing to open, but Utgaard realized they had no money for promotion, postage or stationary. Figuring they’d need $1,000 to launch the program, Utgaard and Marvin Fjeld each borrowed $500 from their families and a local banker, and the plans moved forward.

The first session offered programs for band and baton twirling; 113 students enrolled, and that first week the Camp Band gave four performances for an International audience of nearly 10,000 spectators. Since then, the camp has dramatically developed. Approximately 2,500 students take part every year, and the offerings have grown to include a wide range of musical instruction and the creative arts. It’s now one of the largest fine arts summer schools in the world. Students have come from all 50 states, every Canadian province, and from 70 other nations, and the summer staff includes some of the finest conductors and artist-teachers in the world.

Source: Dwight Vaught, IMC Director of Operations. Minot, ND. 2005

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm