Summer Camp: How a Week at Music Camp Can Lead to a Lifetime

Mike Lawson • • February 5, 2016

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You never know where the road might lead. Or where the journey begins. Now is the time when your young musicians might be starting to think about attending a summer music camp. It could be a current or future All-Stater, looking to further develop their musicianship. It could be the student with moderate talent, who’s completely dedicated to show choir or marching band and wants to step up as a leader in those ensembles. It could be the quiet kid sitting in the back row, the one who just loves orchestra or choir and wants to meet others who share the same interest.

It could be the one whose parents want them out of the house and off the smartphone for a week. Hey, I’m a parent too… I get it.

Whatever the reason, the right music camp experience at the right time can have remarkable implications not only for a student’s musical abilities—but so much more. Having worked several music camps over the years and seeing the personal growth that takes place, it is amazing how sometimes the student musician who needs to make that leap the most will almost magically take it, often discovering a career path they didn’t expect, or finding a passion they didn’t realize existed.

I should know, because I can trace most of my life back to a single week in Whitewater, Wisconsin in June of 1982.

I was the student with moderate talent, but about to take on a leadership role in the ensemble. It was the longest and furthest away from home I’d ever been by myself, and it was a rigorous camp schedule. As a matter of fact, at the end of the first day I was contemplating calling my parents to bring me home…but knowing that wouldn’t fly, I stuck it out. A good thing too, because by the end of the week I was fully engaged and ready to go home and make EVERYONE in the ensemble love making music as much as I did.

Something had changed in me —I still don’t know what it was. It may have been the inspiration from the incredible clinicians I was experiencing that week. It may have been the charged atmosphere, being around so many who loved music as much (or more) than I did. It may have been from reaching down deep inside to keep up with the schedule and my peers, finding talents and motivation I didn’t even know were there.

This experience, plus the success that stemmed from what I learned, planted the first notions of becoming a high school music teacher. While a music education major in college, I returned to that camp as a counselor for five years, helping to create the same type of magical experience that had affected me so greatly. It shaped much of my teaching. A friendship from my counseling experience led to a graduate school position, where I got to know another music education major whose path was similar to mine… and who in fact had also attended that particular camp.

This summer, we’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage together.

Grad school led to teaching in larger music programs, and opportunities for travel with performances in festivals and theme parks. That experience led to a second career in planning performance travel and creating performance opportunities for dozens of groups and hundreds of student musicians each year. Through it all, it has been a privilege to help young musicians—just like I was all those years ago—with memorable performances anywhere from a Disney park to Carnegie Hall, from the Tournament of Roses to the Macy’s Parade, and everything in between.

Besides the musical aspects—the growth opportunities of working with incredible teachers and finding peers outside their home programs who share a similar passion—summer music camp can often be a first step into a larger world that gives them their initial experiences of networking and making connections that could set them on a long path to great rewards and success in life. It might be meeting the professor that becomes a mentor, or making a friend who becomes a lifelong professional colleague.

And yes, maybe even meeting a future spouse.

When I consider how the path of my life could have been different had I not spent that week the way I did over 30 years ago, it can be fairly staggering. And I realize how fortunate I was to have a music teacher and parents willing to support me in that venture. Thank you to those of you who encourage your students to pursue these camp experiences and put them within their reach. Your actions can truly change their world in unimaginable ways.


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