Love is better the second time around, especially for amateur musicians. All summer long, music camps provide a place for adults to re-explore, reaffirm and reignite their passion for singing, playing guitar, keyboards, bass or even bassoon.
And at the end of sessions, thousands of happy campers are checking off "practice instrument" from their to-do lists, as they translate theory into action.
Most music camps are not designed for absolute beginners, but rather accommodate people with basic skills. Part of the camps' attraction is the promise of a distraction-free block of time spent learning more about
chamber music or other genres.
The low student-to-teacher ratio appeals to other players, as does the camaraderie of like-minded people. And then there's the promise of studying with recording artists and professional musicians who may have written the book on the subject, and even the occasional superstar.
Whatever the initial attraction, factors such improved skills, encouragement from supportive faculty members and just plain fun have turned many campers into repeat performers. Musician, author and educator
Tomas Cataldo has taught at the
National Guitar Workshop in New Milford, Conn., one of the workshop's eight locations, for a dozen years. He says, "I have a lot of students who come back year after year, and they get better all the time."
Hesitating Is History
Learning to play "Hesitation Blues" was an annual New Year's resolution for
Marjorie Thompson, a professor and dean of biology at Brown University, who has played guitar since she was a child.
"You go to college, get a career, get a family and your music remains at an aesthetic plateau," she laments. Thompson chose
Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio, due to her longtime musical admiration of ranch founder and guitar instructor
Jorma Kaukonen, an original member of bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, and a 1996 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Thompson likes to learn songs, "but not in a clonal way, note for note. I like to make them my own, and Jorma encourages that."
Thompson has attended more than 20 four-day workshops at the ranch since 1999. Though she has tried other music camps, Fur Peace remains her favorite.
A self-described stay-at-home mom and freelance researcher at the University of California Berkeley, Denise Kidder studied classical piano till she hit her midteens.
After a lengthy hiatus from music, she began jazz vocal lessons about five years ago. Kidder wanted to meet and play with other musicians, and
Jazz Camp West kept coming up in conversations as the place to go. Classes are often conducted outdoors at the La Honda, Calif., facility, with drum kits and keyboards set up alongside streams in groves of redwood trees.
Besides studying voice with singer/pianist
Dena DeRose and vocalist
Madeline Eastman, Kidder has taken classes in body percussion, African drumming, jazz dance and beginning jazz piano. "It's fun to find people as passionate about music as you are, and to share their perspective," she says. "And how often do you get to sing your heart out in such a beautiful setting to such an appreciative audience with world-class musicians backing you up?"
Nick Ferreri, a cardiovascular research scientist, had guitar lessons as a child and played by ear for decades, but he often heard music that he didn't know how to approach on his own.
Ferreri decided to hone his electric guitar chops at the National Guitar Workshop, less than an hour's drive from home. Its proximity was part of the original appeal, but a variety of factors bring him back to the workshop again and again.
For starters, "The classes are heavy on theory, which I use to work on things during the year," Ferreri says. "Once you know theory, you know how to create certain sounds. I can approach things from a better background; I'm not intimidated by difficult stuff."
He also has high praise for the instructors, whom he describes as "extremely helpful and nurturing, amazing players and amazing teachers. The faculty is so good, you really look forward to being in class."
What to Expect
At camp, the focus stays on music through a combination of classes and seminars, jam sessions and concerts by students, instructors and guest artists. "You hear music wherever you're walking," Kidder says. "The faculty concerts alone are worth the price."
DeRose recalls being awakened by the rhythms of a Brazilian percussion class. "That was my alarm clock," DeRose says. "It was really inspiring. I wish I could bottle it and take it home with me." Jam sessions in the cabins and campgrounds may go on till long past dark. But as DeRose explains, "No one complains because it sounds so wonderful."
The courses offered vary from camp to camp. Seminars and workshops can last from two to four hours, with several sessions daily. Cataldo says that having a lengthy block of class time works well for adult students: "They like the intensive thing instead of doing a lot of little things."
During his week-long sessions, he gives his students more than 100 pages of information, exercises and drills he's prepared. "It's set up so that you learn, then practice the written stuff. It's very satisfying."
Kaukonen believes that fun is an important part of the mix. "If it's not fun, nobody wants to do it, especially as an adult," he says. "When they're here, all they need to do is be surrounded by music and instruments. People actually do learn stuff -- it's not just a place to
The learning continues as the students and faculty interact at meals and during free time. Kaukonen says, "One of the things I always tell my students is that if we're not in class and they see me walking around, grab me -- that's what I'm there for."
The Grand Finale
The benefits of attending music camp are more long lasting than you might expect.
Thompson has gone a giant step further than most adult music students by becoming a professional musician. She's recorded four albums and plays 70 to 80 gigs a year. She's also now a teaching assistant at Fur Peace and will teach a workshop there in 2007.
Kidder doesn't see herself singing for her supper, but wouldn't mind entertaining at an occasional fundraiser or house concert. She enjoys the self-expression of singing jazz and says she feels empowered by "literally finding my voice." She considers herself "a lifer" at Jazz Camp West.
Ferreri, too, plans to "keep my amateur status." From time to time, "I start to think it's my last year at the workshop, then I remember how much fun it is, or think of something else I want to learn." He's planning to return to the workshop this year for the sixth time.
Students and teachers alike testify to the transformative effect of these musical retreats. "It's kind of hard to talk about some of the fun things that happen -- you start to sound sappy," Kaukonen says. "A huge bond of fellowship seems to grow up, you can't commodify that, you can't put it in a brochure; it just sounds silly. But there's a magical thing that happens with all the people. It's not just the place, it's because of them."
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Elzy Kolb is a freelance writer living in White Plains, N.Y. In addition to writing the monthly JazzWomen! column in Hot House magazine, her articles on the arts, travel, interior design and other topics have appeared in the New York Times, Interior Design magazine and The Stamford Advocate.