Heart of Treasure Valley

Heart of the Treasure Valley: Mary Jane Oresik helps women come together to play music, create community

For years, Mary Jane Oresik would travel to Portland to attend a music camp for women. The weekend would feature a potpourri of workshops, so it was easy to try new instruments, learn new music, experiment.

She says: “An hour and a half (class) of something fun. Which isn’t really time enough to accomplish anything but fun.”

And then on Saturday evening, campers would play on the big stage with their workshop class. Stage fright? You bet.

“What’s really cool is, of course everybody flubs up, because you’re just learning something. ... So you’re up there making all kinds of mistakes. You’re just doing it — and everybody applauds.

“You get such positive feedback. ... It’s such a wonderful way to be so vulnerable.”

Music camp became the highlight of Mary Jane’s year. To close the weekend, everyone would gather in a big circle to thank everyone who helped create the camp and let people say whatever they wished.

“That’s when I found myself stepping into the circle and saying, ‘We need to spread this to Idaho. I am committing to making this happen in Idaho.’”

That was the birth of Women’s Voices, Women’s Vision music camp, a place for women to find their voices. This is its sixth year.

“That feeling of community and, really, empowerment for women to step into that place of being vulnerable and being supported at the same time. It’s a great feeling.

“And just to keep encouraging women to try new instruments — to find their voice, whatever it is, whatever expression it is that comes to them.”


Twenty-two years ago, a dozen women decided they wanted to create an intentional community. Together, they bought 186 acres in the mountains outside Boise, an old ranch homesteaded about 1910.

“We remember the old hippie days where everybody is sharing everything. Nope. That’s not it. Here, everybody can have their own dwelling, their own kitchen. But what happens here is we always share meals, we always share projects. We share tools. ...

“Our idea of community is intentional; we’ve made a commitment to each other to be together, to share this space and our lives and whatever it is we wish — hopefully our wonderful creative selves — but also the hard work that it sometimes takes to keep (this place) going. ...

In 2005, Mary Jane retired from her job as a project manager at Hewlett-Packard and moved to the ranch. After the mortgage was paid off, ranch members began to think about what else they wanted to do as a community.

... About how we could make it into something other than a place to get away in the summer or a vacation retreat or a time-share. Because that’s not the vision.

“There’s also, for me, this newfound idea of: Now is the time to create the place we’ve always dreamed about having in the world. Of course, music camp fits right in there.”


Each year over the solstice weekend in June, the ranch is transformed into music camp. The community cabin becomes the kitchen, weeds are whacked, picnic tables pulled together, canopies put up, the campfire ring cleaned. Students will bring their own camping gear.

The marimba class will be over here, the poetry workshop under the ponderosa in the meadow, the drumming class in the clearing by the barn; the ukulele and mandolin classes just around the corner, other classes scattered about.

“When people come on Fridays, they’re excited about camp and all that. But it hasn’t gelled yet. By the end of camp, what I see is just this warmth between people and this beauty — I don’t know — this ability to connect through music and feel what it’s like just to belong in this beautiful, supportive place.”

Some women are regulars, coming back year after year.

“I’m thinking of (a good friend); she shows a side of herself at music camp that is so very her — and you never see it anywhere else. It’s this really sort of ‘showboat theatrical’ ... lip-synching to Anne Murray in this foofoo dress thing that she would never be caught dead in, just hamming it up.”

There was an older woman who recently told her family that she was a lesbian; it was difficult for them to accept.

“One year she brought her daughter and they played (music) together. It was so touching; the daughter was able to see her mother in another element and not be afraid of the transition she had come into. It was really beautiful.”

Several years ago, the whole camp honored a ranch member and regular attendee who had died during the year. In her memory, they set a place at the table and sang her favorite song, “Don’t Fence Me In.”

“One year, I decided to do a Native American song, which I had just learned, for everybody. The name of the song is ‘You Are My Friend.’ So I did get up and drum to that. Which was (she whispers) a little scary.

“It’s sort of like the more you do it, the more you can relax and just get into the beautiful space rather than that scared place.”

That is the whole idea of music camp: vulnerability within a supportive community.

“It is a very critical step for all women to come from that place of vulnerability. We’re all vulnerable. It’s a myth that we’re not. …

“(Music camp is) breaking down some barriers; especially when you’re up on stage, there’s a vulnerability that has to occur with that. Because here you are, in front of 30, 40 people and you’re singing something, playing something, dancing, drumming, or telling everybody your poem, and there’s this sense of real vulnerability that has to happen for that.

“(And when we go home, that allows us) to be more real in the world. To be more ourselves and not so afraid to let someone see us — because really there’s a direct connection there. ...

“Just being vulnerable. Not armoring our hearts, that’s what (Buddhist teacher) Pema Chodren says.”


The Friday and Saturday night campfire singalongs are yet another place for community-building. Beginning instrumentalists get help from more experienced players; everybody sings. One of the regular teachers is a professional guitar player.

“She has this way to just bring everybody in, even if they’re a little shy, and do a little (she stage whispers) solo, say, or sing a little harmony. That’s a special thing for her to be there and just make that happen. ...

“There’s always those magic moments.”

The stage for the Women’s Voices grand finale, the Sunday afternoon student concert, is on the dirt lane, the one flat spot in the grassy meadow that rolls and tips into into a grand vista. To the right, the back side of Bogus Basin, an unusual view; beyond the stage, the mountains of Boise National Forest.

And on stage, those nervous and vulnerable students.

“The thing about music camp is, if you come and you’re a really accomplished guitarist, for instance, we encourage that guitarist to pick up a new instrument — to put them back to that place of beginning learning. Because there’s something about that at music camp that seems to be so vital.

“I mean, we allow people to show off their virtuoso; they can do a solo performance at the student performance — but they’re only allowed to do one song. ...

“It’s that whole idea of being so supported in trying new things. ... There’s permission for women to step up, to not be fearful, even though it’s still scary.”

Mary Jane is not a professional musician herself, or even close to it. “I’m a musician wannabe,” she says. She plays ukulele and some mandolin, creative sparks that came from workshops at the Portland music camp — those same sparks that propelled her to step into that big circle.

“(Making that promise) unfolded for me into an actual spiritual vow —of providing music for my community and whatever that means; to have (music) be an avenue of (more than) just entertainment.

“(In music camp), there is a sense of community and beauty and uplifting people’s spirits; there is a spiritual component of transformation in music ...

“You get to experience the magic of music, really.”

Know someone living “from the heart”? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.