Culture Club: At Birch Creek, It’s Still All About the Music

by John Schoneman and Mona Christensen

There are some things that just shouldn’t change, and at Birch Creek Music Performance Center, Door County’s summer music academy and performance venue in Egg Harbor, keeping the main thing in focus has sustained Birch Creek for more than 40 years.

James and Fran Dutton, the two people with a vision to educate young musicians and have them perform for public audiences in a rural concert barn, founded Birch Creek in 1976. Since then, Birch Creek has grown into a prominent Door County institution, a music academy drawing students and faculty from across the country, and a venue hosting more than 30 high-quality concerts each summer.

While Birch Creek has changed in many ways, the core tenets of the organization have remained largely the same. Jeff Campbell, Program Director for the Jazz session, was interviewed 16 years ago for Birch Creek’s 25th anniversary, where he elaborated nicely on some of these tenets:

“Birch Creek is unique because it serves a dual purpose,” Campbell said. “Most students that go for a musical experience, or most teachers that go for a musical experience do one thing. They either teach, or they perform. But Birch Creek combines both, so as a director, I have to look for people who are good performers and good teachers.

The Birch Creek student steel band ensemble performing pre-show music. Photo by John Schoneman.

The Birch Creek student steel band ensemble performing pre-show music. Photo by John Schoneman.

“Then, the students get to interact with all these professional musicians from different parts of the country. You know most of the time when you go hear a concert, you don’t have any contact with the process. You just see the concert presented and then it’s over, and then you go home.

“At Birch Creek, students get to see the entire process. They see the rehearsals, they hear the professional band preparing, they hear the teachers preparing, and so they get to see it from that point of view. They’re doing the same thing. They’re preparing concerts at Birch Creek and at home, and they get to see how a professional musician goes through the same process.”

It’s amazing how these words still ring so true 16 years later, and how they are so close to the original vision that James and Fran Dutton set forth to create 41 years ago. This year, Jeff Campbell, along with Dan Moore, Percussion & Steel Band Program Director, and Ricardo Castañeda, Symphony Program Director, still strive to hire faculty based on the criteria of being great performers and great educators. There are faculty members coming to Birch Creek from schools and universities all over the country, such as the Music Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Eastman School of Music, University of North Texas, as well as faculty who have performed with the likes of Frank Sinatra Jr., The Count Basie Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic, and many more.

This combination of elements is what makes the faculty so very valuable to Birch Creek’s students. Every summer, students learn from some of the very best educators while also performing alongside and seeing performances from the very best musicians. The students get to see and feel what it’s like to be a professional musician in the truest sense. Many students even decide to go to school for music and/or become professional musicians based on what they experience at Birch Creek.

When Birch Creek was founded, it was meant to be a place where it’s all about the music. After all these years, with campus and infrastructure improvements, with faculty, staff and leadership changes, and with exciting plans for the future, it is with confidence that we can say that we are still all about the music.


The mission of Birch Creek is to provide intensive, performance-based instruction to promising young musicians by immersing them in a professional, mentoring environment.

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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