by David Lee Fish
Every summer, thousands of young musicians attend educational programs across the United States and beyond. They include workshops, festivals, institutes, and other events, but we will refer to all of them as camps in this post to keep things simple.
Benefits of Summer Music Camps
Music camps offer many benefits. The most important is a chance for concentrated study at a musical level not found in school or at home. Other advantages can include:
- studying with top musicians and music educators that can lead to mentoring beyond the camp.
- working in specialized facilities like recording studios and music labs.
- discovering if music is something to pursue seriously.
- working closely with fellow students who share a similar passion for music.
- developing friendships that can last for years.
If a conservatory or school of music hosts the camp, it also serves as a great way to get to know it as a potential place to study as a college student. Likewise, it also allows the conservatory or school to get to know about promising young talent.
Camps where students stay for an extended period offer something more. It may mark the first time the participant has lived away from home with some independence. Such residential camps supervise the experience, an essential milestone on the road to becoming an adult.
Name a musical interest, and there is most likely a camp or workshop for it. While most cater to high school musicians, some accept elementary-school and middle-school students while others are only for adults. A few are for individuals of all ages.
Many camps are dedicated to a given type of music, or specialization. That is true of the jazz festival at Stanford University in California and Skidmore Jazz at the college of the same name in Saratoga Springs, New York. Other programs promote the study of a particular instrument. They include the various summer institutes for the violin sponsored by the Suzuki Association across the country and the American Harp Academy at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts.
Camps or an array of musical endeavors have also become popular. Two of the most notable are the Songwriting Workshop at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and Drexel University’s Summer Music Technology program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan also offers a Music Production & Engineering Summer Program. There exist camps that focus on Performance, Composition, Production/Engineering, Songwriting, Musical Theater, Roots Music, and everything in-between.
Beyond the type of musical experience the student wants, there are other considerations in finding a summer music camp. One is the length. Some programs are workshops of limited duration that may last only a day or two. Others can last for weeks. During a residential camp, the student may stay in a college dormitory or perhaps a cabin in a rural setting. Day camps fall somewhere between short workshops and extended programs. The
School of Rock organization puts on many of these in cities across the country.
The longer the camp, the more extensive the educational experience is likely to be. Extended programs can also be more challenging to fit into a summer of other activities and obligations.
Camps welcome musicians of all skill levels. However, a number have gained national reputations based on the accomplished faculty and students they attract. Two well-known ones for classical music are the Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, Massachusetts, and the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute in North Carolina. In the jazz realm, we can point to the summer workshop hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.
Such premier camps provide remarkable educational experiences. However, getting into them can prove almost as challenging as acceptance into a top conservatory, and the atmosphere can be highly competitive. Some of these more renown programs require applicants to apply and audition for acceptance into their camp.
For many people, the vision of a summer music camp is a program held in a pastoral setting surrounded by nature. The Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute in North Carolina certainly fit this model. However, do not get the idea that such camps offer swimming lessons and archery classes. While a program may include some organized recreation (evening concerts, jam sessions, ultimate frisbee), the vast majority of the time is devoted to music study.
Some camps take place on the universities’ campuses that host them, like the University of Michigan’s MPulse Summer Program and Carnegie Mellon’s Music Pre-College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Others provide a metropolitan experience. Two in New York City are the Open Jar Institute for musical theater students and the New York University Summer Institute of Music Production and Technology.
Living away from home at a residential camp can be challenging and requires a certain amount of maturity. Programs are good at tailoring their experiences to the development level of their students. Still, students must be able to live up to expectations placed upon them. A teen who is “not ready” for camp can wind up having a negative or even traumatic experience.
The prime age for high school music camp students is in the summers after their sophomore and junior years. Most teens have reached a level a maturity by then that allows them to negotiate the challenges of camp living successfully. It is also an excellent opportunity to explore a conservatory, college, or university a student might be interested in attending once they graduate.
Day camps and short workshops can be quite affordable. On the other hand, the cost to attend a residential camp can be significant when you total up tuition plus room and board, not to mention transportation that may include a cross-country plane flight. We can add to these costs a variety of miscellaneous expenses like lesson and classroom books and lab materials that can quickly add up.
Some camps offer scholarships to help defray expenses. However, they may require you to apply early to be eligible. It is one of the first things to consider in looking at camps, not the last.
Identifying the ideal summer music camp to attend can be difficult, especially since a family often has little to go by other than the general reputation of a program and what it says about itself in brochures and on the web. What are the fundamental differences between, say, Interlochen, Tanglewood, and Brevard? Which offers the best fit for a particular camper?
Selection cuts both ways, with students selecting camps and the camps selecting participants. Acceptance into a top program can be extremely competitive. Often, a student needs to submit a portfolio and pass a competitive audition that resembles applying to a name conservatory.
A limited time frame amplifies the importance of finding the right camp. A student is only of prime camp age for a summer or two, or three at the most. Attend the wrong program, and you may have wasted a key opportunity.
How to Look
How do you find the right camp for you or your child and then get accepted into it? One way is to ask around about the experiences of former participants. Maybe there is another student at the same school or who studies with the same private teacher who has attended a particular camp. You can also search for online reviews of different programs, but these can be hard to come by and not always reliable. You might also consider seeking out a consultant specializing in music education like those at Inside Music Schools.
David Lee Fish
Dr. David Lee Fish, Ph.D., founded the degree concentration in popular music at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, which he then directed for over twenty years. He is also the co-founder and a past president of the Association for Popular Music Education, the leading professional organization for educators in the field. Fish earned his doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan as a specialist in traditional Japanese music. Dr. Fish also holds a master’s degree in saxophone performance and remains active as a singer-songwriter. Vents magazine calls his Renaissance Records debut “One of the best albums we’ve heard in ages." Fish has penned a range of works as an author, including the highly-rated book The 5-Day STAGE FRIGHT Solution.