Roundtable: Summer Music Camps

Mike Lawson • Resources • March 17, 2014

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Four directors discuss the evolution of Summer Music Camp offerings in their areas

Once again, even as a harsh winter just barely starts showing signs of easing its grip, it’s well past time to begin thinking about summer plans for elementary, middle, and high school music students. Considering the great variety of summer music camp opportunities that exist around the country, SBO recently reached out to four experienced directors to discuss the summer camp opportunities in their respective areas, misconceptions about summer music camps in general, and what these organizations should do so that they might continue to flourish.

Joining the conversation are Tony Luzzi of Searcy High School in Searcy, Arkansas, Michael Tiskowitz of LaGrange Middle School in Lagrangeville, New York, Dan Carlson of Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Richard Saunders, director of Music for the Somerville (Mass.) Public Schools.


School Band & Orchestra: How would you characterize the summer music camp opportunities for middle school and high school students in your area?

Tony Luzzi: Arkansas has wonderful music camp opportunities for students of all ages. The camps are designed to entertain and to educate in a manner that gets kids excited about music. I believe that the various band camps in our area are among the best and I encourage our students to attend a band camp if at all possible.

Mike Tiskowitz: We have a few locally run summer programs in our area [Lagrangeville, N.Y., some 70 miles northwest of New York City]. I am an administrator and one of the conductors for a local summer program that serves about 300-400 students each year. We’ll play anything and everything that motivates the students to play more. No grades, no practice charts – just playing and recapturing that love for their instrument. We also have an elementary orchestra and middle school programs. In our area, there is also a three-week Summer Strings program that serves quite a number of students in their full day program and another weekly band program that serves middle school through adults. There are also two programs held at colleges within a several-hour drive.

Dan Carlson: There are many great summer music camp opportunities in our area [Sioux Falls, S.D.] for both middle and high school. We have at least four or five great camps within a reasonable driving distance. The students we have had attend these camps have all had great experiences. The opportunities for middle schools are as readily available as those for high school students.

Richard Saunders: Opportunities for summer music camp in our area [just north of Boston] sometimes fall victim to inadequate publicity and inadequate outreach to the community of students who could benefit tremendously from them – in particular, students who have limited parental involvement, English Language Learners, and students with special needs. The public schools do not act as a resource for summer camps that do not function under their umbrella. There is also the problem that many students who could really benefit from summer camps are forcibly enrolled in summer school for academic remediation.


SBO: What are the most common misconceptions about summer music camps that you come across among students, parents, and in general?

MT: A lot of parents, and kids, have this preconceived notion that all music camps are only for the most serious players. Music camps can be for any level of player – from the first or second year player to the student with plans to go to Eastman. It’s all in how the camp is designed.

DC: Students are sometimes tentative about stepping out of their comfort/friend zone. They are hesitant to choose to participate in a performance experience where they are unfamiliar with the other musicians in the group, especially in an extended stay environment. I can personally attest to that, as I attended two of our local music camps when I was in high school and had these same trepidations. Because of that, one misconception is that it is scary and uncomfortable to attend a music camp. In actuality, they are generally very warm and inviting atmospheres. There are usually a lot of great mixer activities involved with the experience.

RS: I would surmise that one of the biggest misconceptions about summer music camps is that it is only for the wealthy. There is also a perception that a student must show incredible “talent” to go to the camps, especially for older children.

TL: The students are always excited to go to band camp. Just the thought of going to band all day long catches their interest. As for the parents, the thought of their child being many miles from home is challenging. We always field calls regarding the safety and supervision of their child. We assure them that not only will their child be taken care of, but they will also get a great musical experience over the course of one week. In general, I think the greatest misconception is that people don’t know about the tremendous amount of fun that the students will have in such a short amount of time. Before they ever get out the door from the concert, they are asking when next year’s camp will be scheduled. You can’t beat that kind of planning!


SBO: Have summer music camps changed in the past five-10 years, and if so, how?

DC: The biggest change I have seen in many of the music camps is declining enrollment, and especially a decline in the number of older high school students that attend. It seems to be that the perception is that music camps are not for older students. 20 years ago when I was a camper, much of the band was made up of the upper level, older high school musicians from around the region. It seems that is not so much the case anymore.

TL: I don’t think music camps have changed as much as society has changed. The material that we teach is timeless, but the manner in which we present it is the part that has evolved. I remember a time when all we needed was a baton, music, and maybe a chalkboard. Now, if you can’t teach without some technological twist, the students seem less interested. The camps have not changed as much as the presentation. Also, the level of monitoring student whereabouts at all hours of the day has increased with the strengthening of student safety policies. Our students’ safety has always been our number one concern.

MT: Personally, I have not seen too much change.

RS: The summer camp I have been involved in has remained consistent in the format but has expanded its outreach into the community and provided more financial help to ensure a greater diversity of attendee.


SBO: What adjustments are necessary to keep summer music camps relevant going forward?

RS: Greater outreach to nontraditional attendees could help in moving summer music camps forward. Also, greater coordination with public school music programs could help in publicity and promotion as well as reaching out to students who have limited parental involvement. Of course, increased financial assistance for working class and poor students will help in moving forward as well.

TL: Camps are forever in a forward motion. From the various music that conductors share with our students to the newest teaching techniques that keep us intrigued, we are always looking forward to the next great discovery. You cannot have a dynamic camp while remaining stagnant; therefore I applaud the faculty and staff for finding new ways, as well as using some of the old ones, to give our kids the best summer music education possible. It was 32 years ago that I attended my first band camp and it is still exciting to watch my students get to experience their first day at camp.

MT:  It’s important for summer music camps to keep in mind what parents and students are looking for. Adding non-music activities – casino nights, carnivals, dodgeball games – helps break up the day and reinvigorate the students for afternoon rehearsals.

Every year camps get more expensive. Unfortunately, many families have less and less disposable income. Scholarships to attract first time students are a great way to attract new campers, plus their siblings, neighbors, and friends. Word of mouth is your best advertising tool.

DC: I think some of the decline is due to there being more opportunities for kids to spend time and money in other competing activities. If music camps want to compete with these other activities, they need to work even harder to get younger students involved before high school. Once they hook the kids, they will want to come back for more, but it seems much more challenging to get high school students to want to attend a music camp if they have not participated before. It is also very important that music camp curricula are very diverse so that students have the opportunity to plug in in many different ways. The more variation the camps have, the more marketable they will be for the masses.


SBO: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about summer music camps in your area, what would it be?

TL: I would like to see the camps lower their cost so that every student that wants to go to band camp, and every family that wants their child to have the opportunity to go to band camp, can do so without causing hardship on their financial situation. Everyone needs a little help and this would be a big thing to many families.

MT: Hands down, to get more students involved. Make them affordable for any students that would like to go.

RS: The magic wand would be to make summer music camps become more inter-generational. Too often, students only learn or make music with students in their age group. I believe there is great benefit in learning music with a wide variety of people present. I would also create opportunities for participants to be in mixed level ensembles and to learn from each other as well as to learn how to mentor and teach. I would also create more opportunities for elements of improvisational music making and for dance.



Michael Tiskowitz teaches at LaGrange Middle School in Lagrangeville, N.Y., where he directs the 6th-grade band program and serves as program director and conductor for the Arlington Summer Band Program. He is also on the conducting faculty at Western Connecticut State University’s Summer Music @ West Conn. Tiskowitz is a member of the Executive Council for the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), serving as Zone Representative for the Hudson Valley Region.


Dan Carlson is in his 15th year teaching band at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D. This past fall, he took over the head position at Lincoln High School – a position previously held by his father for 14 years, during which time they taught together as a father-son team. Carlson received his bachelor’s degree in Music Education from South Dakota State University in Brookings in 1999, and his master’s in Music Education from the American Band College of Southern Oregon University in 2004.


Tony Luzzi is the band director at Searcy High School in Searcy, Ark., and a 19-year veteran of teaching. In addition to his high school duties, Tony also teaches 6th grade brass methods, conducts the 7th grade band, and oversees the Searcy Band Program of over 450 students. He holds a B.A. in Music Education from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Ark. and a master’s degree in Music Education from Northwestern University. He is a member of the Arkansas School Band and Orchestra Association, the American School Band Directors Association, Phi Beta Mu, and is a Sergeant First Class with the 106th Army Band at Camp Robinson, North Little Rock, Ark.


Richard Saunders is the director of Music for the Somerville, Mass. Public Schools. He holds a master’s degree in Music Education from the University of Mass. at Lowell and Advanced Kodaly Certification from the New England Conservatory of Music. A trained jazz pianist, Saunders loves learning new instruments and has recently been working with the violin. He loves community music making and strongly believes in the need to promote it.

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