Band Camp

My upstairs neighbors finally convinced me to consider moving to another apartment at the end of our current lease. The 4:00am dumbbell drops just aren’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, and no matter how many times I talk to them, or how many times the super and/or the owners remind them, the noise continues. My only choice is to consider moving, again. Now I look around my apartment with the knowledge of how hard all of this stuff was to move the last time; I need to reduce the load. We’ll probably be moving into an even smaller place hopefully on the TOP floor of a building, so the first thing on my list is to finish archiving that box of old cassettes. (cue flashback music to ‘80s)


Band Camp

This is the time for kids to be out on their own for the first time, no parents. The teachers and dorm assistants are usually pretty cool, at least in the minds of the kids. Did you ever go? It was a grand time; you could eat whatever you wanted for breakfast, drink as many sodas as possible, even pour syrup on your hamburger if you’d like. We’d hang around friends making music all day, no English classes, no boring papers to write and no social studies teacher on your case! Camp was only the best parts of school.

The days are comprised of music classes, theory, instrumental sectionals, rehearsals, listening, and practice time. It is the dream vacation for any serious music geek.

But the best parts of camp are the girls. Whoops, I mean the social activities. This is really why kids should attend music camp. Face it, young musicians are rarely the most popular people in the social hierarchy of a high school. At music camp, the playing field is relatively level from a social status perspective. Looking at the larger picture, if you want to succeed in life, even musicians must learn how to relate to their peers, including those of the opposite sex. This is how humans are supposed to make friends, not by pressing a button on your computer! Ugh.

43rd Annual Wayne State Music Camp

My band camp as a youth was in Nebraska. It was a week long, overnight camp on the campus of Wayne State College. We stayed in the school’s dorms, girls on one end and boys on the other with a lobby/lounge in the middle. We ate in their cafeterias and had classes and performances in their music building.

So this blue cassette tape on my desk is a recording of the 1987 final concert. I was in the top jazz band along with Woody Witt (tenor sax) and Ryan Kisor (trumpet). It was the summer after my junior year in high school. This was actually the third year I had attended the camp as a student. The previous year, my best friend (a tuba player named Greg Swallow) and I had essentially ruled the camp, or at least we did in our minds. That’s when I picked up an odd habit of saying “Good Morning” as a greeting…

Listening to the tape of the concert, you can hear the burning intensity in Woody’s solo as well as his presence in the sax section. Woody and I both went to high school in Omaha, Nebraska. We would always run into each other at the only jam session in town, down at a place called Kilgor’s. Chuck Kilgor (trumpeter) owned this place with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and an old upright in the corner. Each Tuesday night at around 11:00 p.m., jazz musicians would gather there to play. Even at that age, Woody had this intensity to his persona, he already had the heart and mind of a monster musician. I have been extremely lucky to call him my friend though the years.

There was another standout musician on the recording. Who the %*^# is that trumpet player?? Ryan. Playing second trumpet, occasionally up an octave. He had just finished his 8th grade year and was entering high school after that summer. Damn. Since we were both trumpet players, I was able to really grasp how good he was. It was like I was a mere mortal, capable, yes, but I could feel the wind blow by as this super hero of the horn flew past me with his talent. Yet at the same time, I was the senior, so I may have been the only guy at the entire camp to give this little genius some good-natured crap. I had been aware of his skills for a few years, since the first time I heard him play. He was going into 6th grade (1985 Wayne State summer camp) and his dad, who was a teacher at the camp, had him perform on the faculty concert. He proceeded to nail Arban’s Carnival of Venice, a virtuosic cornet solo. This was my first experience of seeing someone younger than myself in a completely different league; at that age, although he was only a couple of years younger, it seemed like I was a decade older. I still feel that way when I listen to him play. Ryan is the most inspirational jazz trumpet player alive today. Yes, he really is.

Back to the concert. I was playing lead trumpet for that week’s final performance. The last song the director was pointing to the soloists and he skipped over my solo. My heart froze; that was my chance to shine, and it was gone. After the concert I was crushed emotionally because of missing that opportunity to play a solo. But it’s funny how life really works. Later that night, at the dance, the students elected me “king” of the camp. Now that was a rush. Socially on top of the world, yet knowing I had just been schooled by a freshman. Life Lesson anyone?

If you don’t know the music of Woody Witt and Ryan Kisor, I humbly suggest you check them out.

43rd Shell Lake Jazz Camp

I am fortunate to still be associated with a band camp these days; it’s the Shell Lake Jazz Camp in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. Here’s a small bit of trivia: it is the longest consecutively running jazz camp in the country! Major props to the crew.

Shell Lake is the band camp of legend for today’s students. Full of raucous musical exploration accompanied by mild social anxiety, plus all of the candy and soda from the local small town grocery, truly everything a growing student needs. Joking aside, these camps are crucial to the development of young musicians across the United States. It’s beyond learning about music, it’s about developing as a independent thinker among a society of peers. The collaboration required for a musical performance cuts across all age appropriate social barriers of race, age and sex. If only adults were required to attend music camp for a week each summer, what a world this would be!

Plus, you never know who may be playing next to you at the final concert.

Post Camp note

Shell Lake was a blast again this year, great faculty, great students and beautiful weather! I’m hoping to see everyone back again for next year’s hang.

As the director of one of the ensembles, I realized the best way to order the soloists during the concert was to point at them right before each solo. Yes, you guessed it, I accidentally skipped a student’s solo on the final concert. I made sure to apologize to him immediately afterwards, although he didn’t seem as emotionally damaged as I was. Isn’t it strange how the universe works?!?

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