Are You Ready for the Summer…?

March 23, 2011

As we head into winter’s home stretch, JAZZed decided to speak with a few experienced instructors about the potential benefits for students who attend summer jazz camps. For those of you who haven’t yet done much with such programs, consider this roundtable (imagine a very small “table” we limited ourselves to speaking with three teachers) a brief introduction to the topic; those of you who are seasoned vets when it comes to summer workshops and the like please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

From an administrative standpoint, are there any difficulties or challenges in “partnering” a school or independent teaching program with jazz camps or workshops?

Gunnar Mossblad: I have found very few problems. The biggest challenges are usually addressed early on in the process, and can include coordinating the schedule and facility needs with the partnering group.

How do you go about encouraging a student to consider participating in a jazz camp or workshop?

Wade Beach: If the student has set a goal that the camp could help him or her reach, I simply point this out, and the rest usually falls into place. I don’t suggest it unless I can see that there is a good match between the student and the camp.

GM: If I hear a student that I believe would benefit from a camp or workshop, I try to communicate those things about the camp that will resonate with him or her. In some cases it might be the personal musical growth that the student can achieve. In other cases it might be the value of studying with a great jazz artist. For older students I might emphasize the chance to develop their playing quickly. And I always emphasize the fun they will have.

Dave Sterner: It depends on what the goals of the student are. Some students are motivated by the social experience (chance to get away from home, et cetera), but others are motivated by the musical experience. I encourage the latter. Usually I try to encourage students who already show some success and would be further inspired by the opportunity. I am fortunate that I co-direct a local jazz festival that has 23+ high schools participate and I have the opportunity to recognize these students. Outstanding soloists/performers receive “citations” and in some cases summer camp scholarships. The Berklee School of Music sponsors five scholarships to their summer camps each year and Lakeland Community College (host for the event) sponsors eight scholarships for various activities. The citations and scholarships allow us to contact the students at a later date to encourage their participation in summer camps.

It’s a great way to keep track of some of the area’s most promising young musicians. Some of the success stories in this process have been musicians such as Sean Jones and Dominick Farinacci. Certainly we can’t take credit for their huge success, but hopefully in some small way we’ve contributed to their story.

What do you feel are the biggest benefits for students?

DS: For some, not much more than the courage to try a blues scale solo in next year’s jazz band and maybe meet some new friends, but for others, maybe the inspiration to practice harder, more diligently and with a purpose… to listen to the music they are trying to emulate… the realization that nothing will come out of your horn that you don’t put in it. These things can be very sobering to the aspiring musician, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Better they find out now rather than freshman year in college.

WB: The main one is making music with like-minded people. In other words, “group participation.” Also hopefully they can be inspired by the instructors.

GM: Most middle and high school teachers are not qualified to teach jazz, but a camp offers experts presenting the music in a proper manner, also offers the time to spend time on aspects of the jazz music that are normally hard to integrate in a jazz band class setting… like improvisation. It also fosters personal creative growth.

Any potential drawbacks?

DS: They find out that they are not [as good as they thought they were], after all. There’s no magic scale that will make them solo better. Playing time is important.

GM: None that I can think of.

WB: If a student comes to a camp with unrealistic expectations, or for the wrong reason, they could go away unhappy.

Additional thoughts?

DS: Quite frankly, I wonder if there are simply too many camps? Maybe not. Or if camps need to be more “current.” I understand we’re trying to promote jazz, (and I’m sure they exist) but rock or pop camps I’m sure would fill up in a heartbeat. Even the mighty “high school” jazz isn’t cool anymore. It’s just the closest thing to a school sanctioned music activity that kids can “almost” identify with. Berklee has certainly figured that out. If schools put together “high school rock/pop” bands: Look out…

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