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Summer music camps aren’t just for kids anymore

Kids aren’t the only ones about to head off to sleep-away summer camps. Scores of adults are packing bags—and musical instruments—to spend a week at summer programs that let them experience “camp food, lumpy beds, and music from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.—what could be better? I return to work energized, inspired, and at peace. The perfect vacation,” said Dr. Karlotta Davis, a Denver physician, avocational flutist and regular summertime music camper.

She and other avocational musicians say there is something magical about getting away from everyday stress to focus on music for a glorious week, instead of having to shoehorn music-making into spare moments in their regular hectic schedules. Once they start, many go back year after year. “I’ve been attending SCOR [String Camps on the Road] for almost twenty years,” noted Peg Beyer, a retired New York banker. “It was the first summer music program I attended after picking the cello back up (after a ten-year hiatus). The friendly environment helped in building confidence that allowed for taking risks and growth.” She has graduated now to other summer programs that have auditions and play more advanced music, but she still fits in a String Camps on the Road camp.

Summer programs help in overcoming a lack of musical self-confidence that can discourage adults from getting back into the music-making they loved as youngsters but put on hold to start careers and families. A nurturing summer program can provide enough of a boost to keep them making music the rest of the year—in part to be ready for the next summer’s music camp.

“I see it as annual maintenance for my playing,” said Washington economist and violinist David Brown. He spends a week each summer at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference in Vermont. “I get to play more there than at home, both in terms of personal practice and playing with others.” The program’s coaches—professional musicians—help “keep bad habits from setting in.” Another benefit of returning to a music camp each year: “It’s a reunion with people I have really enjoyed getting to know.” That’s why Elena Rahona, a New York environmental researcher and violinist, attends the UK’s East London Late Starters Orchestra program each summer: “I relish the lovely bubble of it all, the good friends, the music … a fantasy world where there is always someone eager to jump in for some pick-up quartets.”

Image credit: Professional violist Korine Fujiwara coaches clarinetist Georgiana McReynolds and violist Maggie Speier in Mozart’s Clarinet quintet at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference summer program. Photo by Amy Nathan. Used with permission.

Music-camp friendships made the Baltimore Symphony’s last-minute cancellation of its Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Academy Week summer program this year especially painful. “It’s not so much putting a hole in the summer as it is the dozens of friendships I’ve built up there all those years that I won’t have the opportunity to be with this year,” said Beyer, a nine-year veteran of this program for amateur musicians, canceled without warning in late May along with the orchestra’s other summer fare, as part of its retrenchment due to financial problems. Summer program friendships include the coaches—in this case, Baltimore Symphony musicians, whose jobs may now be at risk, a concern for Beyer and others. She and other regular Academy Week participants are trying to set up informal musical get-togethers this summer and hire Baltimore Symphony musicians as coaches. Other disappointed participants have been scrambling to locate spots in other programs.

Finding summer programs requires online searching and word-of-mouth recommendations, as there is no comprehensive list of programs, although these sixty programs can serve as a “starter list” for a would-be camper’s further research. Music camps for adults cover a variety of genres—classical, jazz, rock, folk, country, choral music—and a range of skill levels, from programs for newbies to ones for advanced players. Tuition can be high and taking off a week from work or family responsibilities may not always be possible, leading some avocational musicians to put together their own summer music programs closer to home, performing with summer bands and choruses, or taking workshops at a local music school.

Statistician Liz Sogge is going that route this summer, playing violin in a coached chamber music program at Baltimore’s Peabody Preparatory. Atlanta nursing professor Ann Rogers is keeping up with her flute lessons and hoping that her schedule next year will let her go to music camp again. “My advice for those who have never attended a summer program: Go for it,” she said. “It’s great to hang out with other adults who enjoy music. Don’t worry about your skills. A good program will be supportive whatever your level.”

Featured image credit: Trees. Photo by Amy Nathan. Used with permission.

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