Summer Music Camps

Mike Lawson • Archives • March 1, 2010

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Extracurricular music programs come in all shapes and sizes, and those students who have the opportunity to attend some type of “music camp” during their summer break are faced with a vast array of options. Between summer camps with a focus on the arts, university-run programs, and intense workshops aimed at targeting specific performance skills, there really is something out there for everyone, from the most dedicated students to those who are simply looking to infuse their summer fun with a musical tint.

To provide a better understanding of the range of offerings within summer music camps, SBO recently caught up with the directors of five prominent organizations, which, in sum, present a smorgasbord of exciting musical opportunities.

Would you talk briefly about some of the unique benefits of attending your summer music program? What experiences or skills are you hoping kids will come away with?

Heidi Stansell: The core of Blue Lake’s philosophy is to provide a setting where students can grow and excel at their own level, without intense pressure and competition. Appreciation and dedication to music is fostered by keeping it fun and building a sense of community that the students can carry with them beyond camp.

In addition, we strive to provide varied arts experiences for our campers, whether that means going to an opera, viewing an art exhibit, experiencing Shakespeare in an authentic Elizabethan theater, listening to a live broadcast of a symphony orchestra, attending a chamber music recital, observing a master class, or watching a ballet all of which are part of every session at Blue Lake.

Also unique to Blue Lake is our International Exchange Program. We annually send seven performing groups on concert tours of Europe: a symphony orchestra, two symphonic bands, a concert choir, two jazz bands, and, in alternating years, a ballet ensemble and an adult symphonic band. Members of these groups are selected from Blue Lake’s summer campers. The following summer, after one week of intensive rehearsals at camp, members enjoy a three-week tour in Europe. While on tour, Blue Lake’s International groups present a performance in each community they visit and stay in private homes with host families.

Marc Dicciani: Our summer programs are designed to give pre-college students the opportunity to study with professional artist/teachers in a college environment with other motivated students, and also the chance to see what daily life would be like in a University music school.

Carl Allen: At Juilliard, we have worked very hard to create an environment where the students get a realistic view of what it takes to become a better musician, while having fun going through the process. We have listening sessions where faculty members will play recordings and discuss the music and what we like about it. This is very important because many of the students are not going out to hear the music live, so the recordings help them to understand what it should feel and sound like. We want the kids to know how to get better in practice and performance. We have a saying: “private practice determines public performance.” Attendees at our summer program learn how to practice so that, in turn, they have a better performance.

Jeffrey Kimpton: The specific skills developed and overall learning experiences vary by age because Interlochen Arts Camp works with students from the ages of 8 to 18. The benefits, however, are the same for all age levels, even though the experiences may differ by age. Our youngest musicians rub shoulders with advanced high school musicians every day, and learn from that. The days are full of different kinds of experiences, but the value of the experience comes from an environment where everyone shares the same purpose: personal musical growth and achievement in a rigorous environment with a great faculty and world-class conductors. Living, learning, creating, performing with other students from all over the country and world who care about their art is an incomparable benefit.

Music programs at Interlochen Arts Camp provide students the opportunity to improve their skills through a demanding rehearsal schedule, master classes, chamber music and weekly private lessons with an accomplished member of the faculty. Students grow as musicians and people because they work hard as a community in an ensemble and individually through small group, chamber and private lesson experiences.

Challenging repertoire and an ambitious performance schedule give students a taste of studying music at a higher level, an important experience for any student considering a career or higher education in music. High school musicians have many opportunities to network. The music program at Interlochen Arts Camp provides music students with a valuable sense of perspective. Many Interlochen musicians are accustomed to being among the top students in their home ensembles. Upon their arrival at Camp, students encounter other musicians who are as good as they are, or better. This can help students understand how competitive it is to get into quality music programs and inspire them to raise the bar on their own performance.

L. Scott McCormick: The Music for All Summer Symposium offers a full-week experience that focuses teaching for high school-aged instrumental students, as well as professional development for teachers of both high school and middle school programs. One thing that differentiates our Summer Symposium is that a student can come and study in one of seven different disciplines, including concert band, jazz, strings, marching band, percussion, drum majors, and color guard. Additionally, all students come away with a leadership experience during their week. This allows a teacher to bring a group of student leaders from all areas of their instrumental program to one location and get a comprehensive skill and leadership boost when they return home.

Each evening of the Symposium, the students and teachers attend a live concert or event by renowned performing groups showcasing a wide array of musical genres, from chamber music to service bands to touring acts and a DCI drum corps competition.

Where does your program draw the line between serious musical study and summer fun for elementary and high school-age children?

Carl Allen: We try to make it fun, but the reality is that getting better at anything takes hard work. Contrary to what many people feel, I think that if you can make it interesting, kids don’t mind working. Sometimes it’s the parents who don’t want their child to work too hard, but many of the kids will embrace the load once they see the results. We do have to scale back on the number of hours of each teaching session because of attention span factors. If you mix it up, it can be enjoyable time for them. We also scale back on the level and intensity of certain courses, like Jazz Improv and theory.

Heidi Stansell: Our campers receive six contact hours of instruction in their chosen major. This includes rehearsal time in their major ensemble and sectional or group technique classes. In addition, they select a one-hour minor ranging from campfire guitar and music composition to world music and jazz band. The remainder of the schedule is comprised of recreation, traditional camp activities and evening performances or workshops.

Finding a balance between focused instruction and more recreational activities is critical to providing a well-rounded camper experience. Getting feedback from faculty, staff, and, most importantly, the student campers, provides an important gauge in providing the right mix.

Marc Dicciani: Summer programs consume a lot of effort, time, and money, so we decided if we were going to commit the considerable resources required for a successful program that we would ask that the students be similarly committed. We require that they be proficient on the instrument; they must submit a recording of their playing or singing and a letter of recommendation from a teacher to be considered for scholarship.

Jeffrey Kimpton: We take great pride in blurring the lines between “serious study” and “summer fun.” With a skilled faculty and motivated peers, students work toward excellence and have a lot of fun by accomplishing great things together.

There are, however, a variety of other activities available. All students have time for activities outside their studies. In general, high school musicians are more focused on their musical studies and their schedule is more demanding. Junior and intermediate campers have more time to explore other arts disciplines or for recreation. Many students take advantage of the resources at Interlochen to explore other arts disciplines through elective classes in writing, dance, film, theatre or visual arts; the number of electives varies by program and age level.

Interlochen offers plenty of opportunities for traditional summer fun, too. The camp is located in the scenic north woods of Michigan in between two beautiful lakes. Campers enjoy swimming, sailing and canoeing and take occasional trips to the sand dunes and Lake Michigan. High school students enjoy social “mixers” each week and almost everyone takes advantage of the campus ice cream shop, the Melody Freeze. Students also enjoy the opportunity to watch Camp performances or attend a concert at the Interlochen Arts Festival, the summer performing arts series that attracts a wide variety of performers in many musical genres, dance, theater and film.

L. Scott McCormick: The Music for All Summer Symposium is appropriate for high school students or those who are about to enter high school. The six-day, five-night event is an immersion into their craft of making music and experiencing music. On average, the Music for All Summer Symposium averages 1400 student participants and 225 educators attending for professional development. The Symposium curriculum infuses relevant teaching with opportunities to rub shoulders with truly world-class artists in residence.

We believe that the process of the week is the most important element for the students, to fill them with as much knowledge and experiences that they would not otherwise have the chance to participate in and allow the traditional “summer fun” element to be what they get to experience once they return home, so that their investment in scarce resources delivers an unequaled experience.

Do you align your activities with a school music curriculum, local or otherwise?

Jeffrey Kimpton: Most of our music experiences and electives exceed anything you would find in a typical school music curriculum. Students can take classes in music theory, composition, music literature, 20th century music, chamber music, jazz and more.

With tens of thousands of alumni, and a high profile national faculty, Interlochen is fortunate to be well connected with many individuals and national organizations. The nation’s very best music schools and conservatories send recruiters to Interlochen throughout the summer. While some outstanding faculty do come from Michigan, we have always drawn a national and international faculty. We view Interlochen as an educational partner with all school music programs, and the quality of our educational program helps those who attend Interlochen in the summer return to their home programs as better musicians, leaders and role models for other students.

Carl Allen: In most cases we’re getting kids not just from the local schools but from cities from afar, so it’s often difficult to know what they’ve been exposed to by way of curriculum. Ideally, what we would like to see would be more band directors, music teachers, and parents get involved in promoting music camps. We want people to embrace the opportunity for their kids and not feel overwhelmed by the idea of us coming in.

We have been developing relationships with teachers on a personal level with hopes of not only promoting the summer workshops, but to also let them know that we’re a resource for them on an ongoing basis. Often, we will communicate with a teacher throughout the year that we have met over the summer. It would be helpful to have more of them attend and observe their students in the workshops. I believe that when a student sees that involvement from their teacher during their personal vacation time, they will have a different perspective and rapport with them during the school year.

L. Scott McCormick: Some of our faculty comes from Illinois State University’s applied instrumental faculty, who serve as the host location for this event, however of our over 125 member teaching faculty only about 15 percent of them are from our host school. We attempt to bring the best and most relevant faculty available to us.

Marc Dicciani: We run two one-week music programs in the summer. During the first week students are all grouped together and take classes in their major instrument drums, piano, bass, voice, et cetera. Coursework includes private lessons, workshops, clinics, special guests, and performing with other instrumentalists and vocalists in ensemble and band workshops.

The second week is a jazz workshop where students from the different major areas come together to attend clinics, take classes in improvisation and private lessons, and play in large and small jazz ensembles. Students can elect to take either week or both weeks. During the jazz workshop week, we closely align our activities with our undergrad curriculum. We work with high school band directors and private teachers throughout our region and in a few other geographic areas across the country, and even with a few schools abroad.

Heidi Stansell: As a Michigan based camp with 84 percent of our students coming from our home state, Blue Lake has always seen itself as an extension of the Michigan school arts program. From its inception in 1966, the camp has worked closely with the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association to ensure our curriculum compliments school instruction and we maintain close ties with the state’s leading music educators, many of whom are on our faculty.

We are in the process of evaluating our curriculum to ensure it meets the state’s revised arts standards and benchmarks.

What are some of the common obstacles that students might face in a camp program?

L. Scott McCormick: As students, parents, and music educators determine the kinds of summer music programs that they might attend, it is important to understand the outcomes that they are attempting to achieve before making the decision. One challenge that we all face today is the economic realities of choosing a camp experience. Make sure that you are comfortable with the faculty, the host organization and facilities that you will be attending. Ask about things like adequate and qualified supervision and medical staffs.

Jeffrey Kimpton: The best advice is this: if you are serious about your instrument and want an intensive experience, then a summer music camp is something you should try. It provides an opportunity to focus on music without competing with academics and other school activities.

It is important for students to come ready to meet new people and try new experiences. At Interlochen, our cabin counselors strive to create a strong feeling of home from the first minutes; they understand that this is new for many students, and returning students help make that transition a positive one.

Heidi Stansell: If students come to camp with a good attitude and open mind, they will have a positive experience. Our goal is to provide a non-threatening, supportive environment where campers can grow and thrive. Blue Lake’s staff is thoroughly trained to assist our students with adjustments to camp life.

Marc Dicciani: Sometimes students aren’t completely prepared for the intense level of practice and study, and the advanced level of the other students in the program. Also, because we’re located in the arts district in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, some students can become distracted by all of the concerts, jazz clubs, and other events that are presented throughout the area on a daily basis. I think as long as students approach coming to our program with the understanding that it’s an intense program for serious music students, they’ll be okay.

Carl Allen: Some of the challenges that some students face are the attention to detail that we require. We ask that they focus and retain what’s being covered. Some students are not used to this, but we feel without it progress becomes almost impossible, given the short amount of time that we have. As for the preparation process, just continue to practice and come with an open mind and willing spirit to learn.

Is there anything in particular that you wish more people knew about summer music camps?

Heidi Stansell: A summer music camp experience prepares students for increased success in their school music programs, nurtures personal growth and encourages independence and self-confidence. Lifetime friendships and memories are formed at camp that help to shape and define young adulthood.

Marc Dicciani: Although the duration of these programs is usually short, the amount of learning and the depth of experience that takes place in a couple of weeks can positively affect the student for many years.

Carl Allen: Yes, we want people to know that we bring in professional musicians who care about our students’ growth and development. We are there to help them learn and show them how we deal with the same challenges that they have or have had.

Jeffrey Kimpton: The opportunity to experience great teaching, learning, and performance in a spectacular location is something every musician should try in the summer; many never get the chance. If you are serious about making music and have the chance, you should go to a summer music camp.

Scott McCormick: The right summer music camp experience can be the catalyst for a student to come of age with their instrument and decisions about their future. We have untold numbers of stories of students making the decision on becoming a music educator or performer from being a part of our own Summer Symposium. Whether a student is going to become a music teacher or performer the other major benefit from participating in a good summer experience is that a safe away-from-home collegiate campus experience prepares your young people for the next phase of their lives.

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