By Greg Scapillato
Now is the ideal time of the year to present opportunities for summer music study to your students and their families. There are many different kinds of summer music camps available for your students; I’d like to share some thoughts with you about the summer music camps outside those offered by your school or program.
Assisting students’ families with choosing a suitable summer music camp falls directly in line with the role we play every day. We make recommendations, provide guidance, and give instruction on music for performance, instruments for purchase, and good habits for success. In the same way, we can provide our families with the best (and most essential) information to make an informed decision about their child’s summer music study. You work hard to build trust; your students and their parents will welcome reliable information from an expert like you.
WHY SUMMER MUSIC CAMPS?
There are many excellent reasons to encourage your students to attend a summer music camp; here are some of the student benefits to consider:
• Continue Development of Performance Skills
Students spend the school year learning new skills and refining them for performance. A summer music camp will help stave off the backward slide performance skills can take during the summer. They are a great way to bridge the gap in learning (and retaining) skills and concepts over the long summer months.
• Expand View of Participation in Music
As their daily lives become routine, it is easy for our students to remain unaware of the scope of participation in music performance at their age level. Sure, they may attend a festival or competition, but those experiences will likely have limited interaction with peers from other schools. A summer music camp truly allow the students to get to know their music peers – often from distant schools – to help broaden their view of participation in music.
• Foster Independence and Self-Reliance
Especially for students traveling away from home to stay at the summer music camp, their self-confidence as individuals and as performers. The camp can provide a safe environment for a student to tackle new personal and musical challenges.
• Inspire New Learning through Novel Experiences
New or novel experiences can be powerful influences on imprinting memories in our brains. The best summer music camps are places to meet new friends, perform new music, and provide new inspiration to encourage continued study. The wonderful memories and friendships forged at a summer music camp can last a lifetime, and provide a springboard for further development as individuals and musicians.
• Build Confidence through Successful, Meaningful Music Creation
Often, summer music camps ask students to perform a placement audition to form groups based on ability. Placing students in like-ability ensembles creates a safe environment for taking risks and tackling new challenges.
• Deepen Knowledge Related to Chosen Instrument
Many performance-based summer camps will include masterclasses presented by experts for a given instrument. Summer music camps present a wonderful venue for in-depth focus on an instrument and the skill development necessary to advance as a performer.
• Explore New Avenues for Performance/Participation
Getting ready to start marching band in high school? Want to dive into jazz improvisation? Intrigued by small chamber ensemble experiences? Summer music camps offer a diversity of opportunities to explore new avenues of performance.
• Develop and Strengthen Friendships Rooted in Music-Making
Many students (and adults) are drawn to music-making, in part, for the socialization aspect. The summer music camp can strengthen existing friendships, and open the doors for new ones.
Narrowing the Field
The first step is to provide a reasonable field of options for students to consider. Not all summer music camps are created equal, nor do they all serve the same purpose. You may already know which camps your students have attended and return to your program energized, with improved performance skills. If not, you can connect with experienced teachers in the area to find out which camps they prefer for their students. In either case, refining down details to the “at-a-glance” essentials will help prevent information overload for parents.
Here’s the kind of information to include:
• Dates: When does the camp occur? Are different sessions offered?
• Age and Experience: What are the recommended student ages and experience level?
• Location: What is the setting for the camp? University campus? Outdoor setting?
• Tuition: Does enrollment date affect tuition rate (i.e. discounts for early registration)? Are need- or talent-based scholarships offered?
• Activities: Does the camp include other activities beyond performance?
• Housing: How/where are students housed? For local camps, does a commuter option lower tuition?
• Learning Environment:
• How will students build their performance skills during the camp?
• Is the camp focus narrow (i.e., flute camp), or broad (i.e., concert band, jazz band, marching band, etc.)?
• What is the caliber of instruction provided?
For the students in our program, we’ve narrowed the potential camps over the years to several exemplary camps that meet our standard. We provide our families with “at- a-glance” essentials: a few bullet points and a paragraph (or two) about each of the camp options. We then take this information and spread the word! Here’s how:
A special page is dedicated to information on summer music camps, with links directly to the camps’ websites. We also include forms for our own summer lesson program, as well as scholarship applications from our booster group.
An email campaign is sent to all parents sharing the “at-a-glance” information, links to the camps’ websites, and a link to our special web page on summer music opportunities. We’ll also include as attachments to the email any camp flyers available. If a student expresses interest, we will take the proactive step of reaching out to the parents to make sure they know, and to invite them to discuss options with us.
These are great times to share out information and give parents a chance to ask you questions. We will speak briefly about summer music camps during a transition moment during the concert, and then invite parents to follow-up with us immediately after the concert with any questions. The message is reinforced by providing print versions of the “at-a-glance” information, camp flyers, and scholarship forms along with the concert programs.
Students are the best promoters for experiences they value and enjoy. We set aside rehearsal time to present summer music camp options to the students, and ask students that have attended a camp previously to share their experiences with their peers.
Preparation for Success
In the same way we prepare students for attending an honor festival, for example, we can also prepare our students to help ensure a fun and productive camp experience. Many camps that are large ensemble-based will ask students to perform a brief placement audition. Assisting your students in identifying the audition requirements, securing audition materials, and setting practice goals for a successful audition can mean the difference between a positive or negative camp experience. It will help reduce their anxiety, especially if they are new to attending a summer music camp. This preparation process can also help reinforce the essential concepts you teach every day, showing how they apply outside the school program.
Bringing It Home
The benefits of a summer music camp apply to the individual attending, and to their ensembles when they return to school. Encourage your returning students to share their experiences with their peers, and to actively reflect on their learning. You can help them express their camp experience with guiding questions, such as:
• What was the most exciting part of the camp? What was the best laugh you had?
• Were you nervous at any time during the camp? If yes, how did you overcome this? If not, what do you think helped you avoid this feeling?
• What was the most important thing you brought to camp?
• Did you meet anyone new?
• What part of your music performance skills improved the most?
• Did you have an “A-HA!” moment at camp when something music- related clicked for you?
• Would you like to go again? Would you recommend the camp to your friends?
• Of the music you performed, which you enjoy the most? Which did you enjoy the least? Why?
The questions can be part of follow-up one-on-one, in a small group, or sharing in a large rehearsal. They can be written, submitted via Google Form, or part of an informal discussion. If you do solicit the student’s feedback and intend to share it publicly, make sure the students know this and are comfortable doing so. You can then use the best quotes from students to help promote summer music camp attendance in future years.
Every day in our programs, we devote time and energy to guiding our students’ growth as musicians and as individuals. Summer music camps can extend these efforts, providing new avenues to foster students’ development. As the music education experts, we can provide the guidance to families and students for selection of, and preparation for, a summer music camp, as well as helping students translate their experience into new understandings and growth.