The Midwestern Music Camp and University of Kansas’s faculty came together to conduct a virtual version of their summer music camp held June 15 – 17, 2020. Always popular with student musicians around the country, this year’s camp was no different. More than 1,900 students enrolled in the three-day event, free of cost thanks to generous financial support from Band of Angels , Meyer Music, Fox4 Kansas City and Yamaha Music.
The camp exceeded participation expectations:
- Included students from 46 states and U.S. territories
- 5 countries participated
- 72 virtual sessions were held
- 293 individual lessons were provided
“Because so much has been shut down nationally, giving young musicians the chance to interact with professionals unique to their instruments felt even more important this summer,” says Dr. Matt Smith, KU’s associate director of bands and Midwestern Music Camp’s director. “With the economic impact of the COVID situation, we’re seeing more events go virtual. But, I haven’t seen anything that has attempted the size and scope of our music camp this summer. Campers from 46 states and multiple countries, such as Mexico, Hungary and Switzerland participated.”
The Midwestern Music Camp dates back to 1936. Cancelling it in the wake of the pandemic would’ve been a huge disappointment for young musicians, especially with other summer activities cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Even though student musicians didn’t get to pack for overnights in dorms this year, the beat went on virtually. With most students now online learning veterans, they didn’t skip a beat in taking full advantage of a variety of camp offerings. Going virtual also meant nearly 2,000 campers could attend, compared to 300 or 400 when held onsite at KU.
“This year marks the 85th one for the Midwestern Music Camp. When it became evident that camp couldn't be held on campus, we knew we had to find a way to continue. Cancelling was never mentioned. We had discussions with our faculty to ensure they were on board. Not only were they on board; they were willing to donate their time. Mike Meyer [of Meyer Music] wouldn’t hear of this, and he was able to compensate faculty through Band of Angels,” explains Professor Sharon Toulouse, KU’s assistant director of bands and Midwestern Music Camp’s middle school camp director.
Music Camp as Usual, Kind of
The Midwestern Music Camp welcomed band and orchestra students entering grades 7 through rising college freshmen. Instruments offered included flute, oboe, bassoon, harp, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium, tuba, percussion, violin, viola, cello and string bass.
Camp leaders and University of Kansas faculty developed a phenomenal lineup of instructors to work with students via Zoom sessions, pre-recorded YouTube content, live special guest artist presentations and private lessons for an exciting, well-rounded camp experience.
Professor Toulouse says, “A parent reached out to us prior to camp to let us know how excited her child was to be able to attend camp. Her child had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been quarantined in the house, so she was looking forward to it.”
READ: Online Music Lessons Give Kansas City Students and Parents a Much-Needed Break
“Zooming” in on Sessions
Campers chose from a variety of sessions, ranging from instrument-specific content to general topics that were of interest to all campers. The sessions lasted 10 to 60 minutes each. Since many school districts used Zoom as their remote learning platform when they closed facilities due to the pandemic, campers were already comfortable with it.
The Zoom platform automatically recorded campers’ attendance. Musicians who attended six or more sessions earned a 2020 Virtual MMC t-shirt, sticker, and downloadable certificate of completion.
READ: Local Music Directors Share Practice Tips and Activities During Social Distancing
Special Guest Artists
Thanks to Band of Angels’ supporting their participation, camp attendees had the thrill of a lifetime attending sessions led by special guest artists:
Imani Pressley, the 19-year-old Grammy-nominated producer and artist.
George Shelby, the Los Angeles-based Yamaha saxophone artist, session and show musician.
Kat Rodriguez, the multi-talented artist who spent the last 10 years touring the world with Beyoncé’s all-girl band.
Mads Tolling, the internationally renowned violinist and Grammy Award winner.
“The Midwestern Music Camp has a great partnership with Meyer Music and Band of Angels. The lower cost of holding a virtual camp allowed us to invite more special guest artists to join us this year. Not just performers, but also those working in the music industry. Our campers learn about the many careers you can have in music. They see real-world activities they could be doing in their futures,” says Professor Toulouse. “For example, Imani Pressley discussed the production side, and Kat Rodriguez told her powerful story that resonated with the campers. As the Zoom conference moderator, I could see campers were commenting on and liking while listening to Kat talk about how she struggled and succeeded.”
“I Didn’t Know My Instrument Could Sound Like That”
Summer music camps, like the Midwestern Music Camp, give young musicians the opportunity to improve their playing in a more personalized environment, so they can return as better players to school in the fall. Not to mention camp attendees look forward to having experiences outside of their home schools’ band and orchestra rooms.
“Going virtual was a big undertaking. We’re absolutely delighted with the overall feedback from students, parents and faculty, especially the younger campers. A young saxophonist commented that she hadn’t heard ‘anyone do that on a saxophone and didn’t know my instrument could sound like that,’” says Dr. Smith.