When Norm Letvin was a young child, before he picked up a clarinet for the first time, his father took him and his siblings to Interlochen's campus and said, "This is a wonderful place. I love this place. I love walking through the woods and hearing the music. This is a very special place."
"We were attached to Interlochen in our infancy, if you will," Norm said, relating the story of those first visits to Interlochen during family vacations, traveling from their home in Detroit to Northern Michigan. From those early visits in the late 1950s, an Interlochen legacy family was born that includes two generations and eight camp alumni with 46 cumulative years at Interlochen Arts Camp between them.
Norm first attended Interlochen as an Intermediate All State camper in 1962. "It was a transformative experience for me," he said. "I always had an incredible passion for serious music. When I first came to Interlochen, I found myself surrounded by like-minded people with a like-minded passion for the arts. That made it home."
Norm returned to Interlochen for three summers in the Intermediate and High School divisions, and his brother, David, attended for one summer as well. Of his camp experience, Norm recalled his excitement over putting together a group of other campers to perform Schubert's Octet in F Major, a piece that he especially loved. "Interlochen provided an environment where I could push myself."
Although he still plays his clarinet avocationally, Norm eventually chose medicine over music. As a professor at the Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Division of Viral Pathogenesis at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Director of the Non-Human Primate Research Program at the NIH Vaccine Research Center, his professional focus is HIV/AIDS research. He and has wife, Marion, raised their four children in the Boston area.
When it came time for his own children to pursue their musical interests, Interlochen was a natural choice. Three of his children were long-time campers, starting as juniors and continuing through high school, and they were often joined by three of their cousins. "It was a great place for my children who were very serious, very dedicated, and very devoted to their music," Norm said of the decision to send his kids to Interlochen Arts Camp. "But the other experiences they could get at Interlochen were also invaluable: attending rehearsals and performances, Shakespeare plays and high school musicals, living in cabins with students who were in the creative writing or visual arts programs. No matter what level you were experiencing this, it was valuable."
The last Letvin camper finished up three summers ago, but Norm and Marion continue to make their annual visits to campus. "Whether it's our kids who are playing in the concert or someone else's, it doesn't really matter. To hear the diversity of music and the kids at different ages and different levels of development, to experience all of that is just very special."
Over the years, Norm's relationship with Interlochen has changed from camper to parent and now donor. While Interlochen always held a special place in his memory, Norm said that he first started giving when his children were campers. Norm stressed that they give more some years than others but that for them the important thing is to give something every year.
Norm cited two key reasons behind his commitment to Interlochen, "The only way I could afford to go to Interlochen was because I was on complete scholarship every summer. I did not come from a family of significant means. Had I not had that scholarship every summer, I could not have gone to Interlochen and my life would have been much the worse for it. I know in a very personal way how important that scholarship support is. I would not be who I am today without Interlochen, and I want others to have that opportunity."
"I also think that the arts are enormously important, and one of the most important aspects of Interlochen is not necessarily creating the performing artists of the next generation but creating the audience of the next generation." Without Interlochen, Norm said, his own children might not share his passion for the arts, something that allows them to enjoy music, opera and theater together as a family. "At Interlochen, they learned to love something that's central to my life."
When asked about his favorite Interlochen story, Norm pointed to the layers and layers of Interlochen history that he has shared with his parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews. What started as family vacations with his own parents has turned into a locus of memory that brings together Letvins now scattered in Boston, Detroit, Chicago and other places across the country. "Interlochen is so much a part of my life and my family's life that I can't even answer that question. I can't tease apart Interlochen and family. It's all woven together."