Expanding Musical Opportunities
Considerations in Choosing a Summer Music Camp
By Dr. Jenny L. Neff, Eastern Division Representative of the NAfME Council for Band Education
Many times over the course of my career, I’ve had parents ask what they can do to advance their child’s musical skills. One of the experiences I always recommend is attending a summer music camp. There are many types of camps across the country with many types of focus areas, so narrowing these down can be a task in itself. But as music educators, we know going to music camp can help bridge that gap over the summer months, so students will gain new skills and knowledge instead of losing what they have learned over the course of the year.
My experiences with summer music camp started at a week-long camp at a local university near my hometown, where I was able to receive instruction from university faculty and experience college life as a young teen. As a middle-school kid, this inspired me to continue taking private horn lessons.
Later, I attended New England Music Camp (NEMC) as a camper, and I was fortunate to return as a counselor for two of my summers during college. Then 25 years later, I returned to NEMC, only from the other side of the podium—as conductor for the concert band. These unique perspectives allowed me to see the variety of benefits music camps hold for student musicians.
“[The] many benefits of summer camps [include] students developing a positive self-identity, social skills, physical skills, thinking skills, and positive values.”
The American Camp Association (2005) has extoled many benefits of summer camps, including students developing a positive self-identity, social skills, physical skills, thinking skills, and positive values. These are all qualities we foster in our classrooms, and adding the focus of music can only take our students to another level when they return in the fall.
If parents and students are looking for a music camp, they can narrow the long list of camps and summer experiences by determining what they are looking for. Are they in search of a festival experience, a college campus experience, a traditional multi-week overnight camp, or a shorter day camp? Is the student interested in one style of music (such as a jazz camp would provide), or perhaps a gender specific camp (such as what an all-girls band or orchestra camp would provide)? There are many different options to consider.
Music content can vary from camps that offer ensembles and lessons only, to those with more classes from which to choose. Many traditional camp programs offer theory, master classes, conducting, secondary instruments, etc., while others may focus on one instrument or area. For example, there are ensemble-specific camps (e.g., rock band camps), or genre-specific camps (e.g., UArts pre-college jazz program). Also, does the level of music at the camp fit the needs of the camper? The correct match could help foster musical growth for the student.
Faculty and Counselor Backgrounds
The faculty at a camp can make or break a student’s musical experience. They will spend a lot of time together interacting in ensembles, lessons, and classes. The camp should post faculty bios so families can read about their training and backgrounds, as well as their teaching experiences with young musicians.
As counselors at NEMC, we arrived early to camp to take part in pre-training and logistics of our responsibilities that included recreation and cabin living areas. The faculty, staff, and counselors working together under the same philosophy helped make the camp experience for students a great one.
Don’t be afraid to ask the camp administration for parents you can contact for their reviews of the camp. Ask others in your area where they have gone to camp and what experiences they had. Also, other directors are always a good resource.
Developmental Needs of the Camper
Choosing the right summer music experience relies heavily on what the student is ready for developmentally. Is the student ready to be away from home for multiple weeks, or would they benefit more from being home each night? One of the things I noticed about students living away from home when I was a counselor was that they developed self-reliance. They were able to start taking care of themselves without parental reminders. They learned from their peers, as they read social cues as to what was acceptable or not in dorm or cabin living.
Learning Needs of the Camper
As a conductor at camp, I always felt it was in the best interest of the camper for everyone working with the student to know the child’s strengths and weaknesses, musically and otherwise. If the student had emotional or learning issues, we could better support the student knowing these up front. I always felt badly for the rare student whose parents felt it was better not to share information that would help lead to the student’s success, rather than having the faculty and staff try to figure out what was going on.
What is the price you are looking for in a summer program? Have you factored in other spending associated with the camp experience, such as transportation to and from the camp, supplies, etc.? Many camps have scholarships available, especially for instruments they may need. And there may be other financial aid available. Be sure to check into these options as part of the search.
The “Priceless” Factor
- The camp environment can build a sense of community that students can bring back and make infectious in your ensemble.
- Students can develop long-lasting friendships with other musicians from around the country, as well as make great connections to music faculty who may be able to help them when they look for colleges.
- As many schools narrow curriculum, a music camp experience can provide new opportunities to broaden students’ music experiences by being in ensembles they cannot fit into their schedules at school. At NEMC, we often had kids who were in band at school, but could try choir and orchestra at camp without the confines of the school schedule.
- Students can give technology a break. At NEMC, we found students were happy to give up their technology and connect with other musicians, while enjoying the beautiful campground and sunsets over the lake.
- Being at a music camp allows students to focus on the music and connections, instead of worrying about grades, test scores, etc.
American Camp Association, (2005). Directions: Youth development outcomes of the camp experience. Martinsville, IN.
About the author:
Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D. is Associate Professor and Director of the M.M. and Summer Music Programs at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Before coming to UArts, Dr. Neff taught for 25 years in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, primarily in secondary instrumental music. Dr. Neff is the Eastern Division Representative for the NAfME Council for Band Education. She is also a Conn-Selmer Education Clinician.
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