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Students Make Music at Franklin Middle

August 8, 2002

Gordon Pelegrin, 13, could have been out lounging in the sun. Instead, he and 451 other students spent the first three weeks of July at Franklin Middle School's annual Summer Band and Orchestra Camp.

And Gordon, a violinist and rising eighth-grader at Rocky Run Middle School, couldn't have been happier. In fact, it was his third year at this camp.

"I learned a lot in this class — nearly as much as in the whole year in regular school," he said. "I learned shifting my fingers to different positions and playing in different ways. It enables me to play harder pieces."

Gordon also highly recommends the camp. After all, he said, "If you like to play an instrument, you should really learn to play well — and this is a good experience."

In its 16th year, Franklin's music camp ran from July 1-19, weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., under the able guidance of director Lawrence Walker, who's also that school's band director. When it first began, the camp drew just 80 students, and it's a tribute to its talented teachers that it's now grown five-fold.

There were 22 teachers — most, band or orchestra directors at their own schools, plus six student teachers majoring in music in college. Also sharing their expertise were professional musicians such as Dave Detwiler, former Centreville High Jazz Band director and a trumpet player with the National Symphony, and Doug Raines, a freelance professional percussionist from Cary, N.C., and a drummer in the Broadway production of "Blast."

"I have a good time with the kids," said Detwiler, who's taught trumpet at the camp for three years. "You can see a lot of improvement, and there are no discipline problems because they want to be here. I have fun teaching them and seeing their faces at the end of class. They're 'high-five'-ing you, saying, 'Hey, I'll see you tomorrow.' I like their excitement."

Raines enjoys teaching at middle-school level because of the influence he can have on children that age. "I try to expose them to as many different percussion instruments as possible — everything from steel drums to timpani — before they get to high school," he said. "It's amazing seeing what they can learn to play in just eight days, and they get to work with professionals — people who are proficient on the instruments. I think it gives them the drive to keep moving forward in music."

Karen Spears, 13, a rising seventh-grader at Franklin, agrees. She's in her third year of clarinet and attended band camp for the second time. "I wanted to play better so I'd be ready for band next year," she explained. "I've learned to play my chromatic scale much faster — and higher notes. And I've been playing a lot harder music than in elementary school."

And that's exactly the goal, said Walker: To further the development of each student's musicianship in preparation for the next school year, as well as to introduce an instrument to a child who's never before played one.

"My philosophy is, if you conquer the attitude of any human being, you conquer the aptitude," he said. "Therefore, you have to have quality teachers, a good environment, good literature, a goal and a proven record. In Fairfax County, the music program is like football in most cities — it's a high-powered organization. We had [budget] cuts, but music wasn't touched."

At camp, students (mainly in grades five through eight) are divided into classes according to skill level. For example, there are four bands — symphonic, for the most advanced players; concert, intermediate level; cadet, for students who've played a year; and beginning, for new musicians. After just three weeks' training, they're able to perform in a concert, the last day of camp.

"It's a good way to start kids on an instrument," said Chris Cunningham, the concert-band director. "These fifth- and sixth-graders can go right into their school bands already knowing how to play an instrument and can maybe go into their school's advanced band."

One of Herndon High's band directors, Cunningham described the advantages received by students attending the camp. "A student in band at elementary-school level plays once a week, and a middle-school student plays every day for an hour," he said. "But here they play 3 1/2 hours a day. It would take them an entire year to get this [much experience] in fifth-grade band."

He said students strengthen their skills quickly at camp, and it's a good way to motivate them to practice during the summer. "It's hard to play an instrument alone," he added. "Here, it's a social activity, and they get to play with other kids and make friends with students from other schools."

Most of the students came from Fairfax County, but some also attended from Arlington and Loudoun counties. Besides having two band or orchestra rehearsals daily, students also had sectionals where, for example, woodwind or violin players received instruction from experts in those fields.

Students learned practice techniques, scales, how to clean their particular instruments and good music books to use. They also heard recordings of professional players. "It's completely specialized attention on their instrument," said Cunningham. "It's like having a private lesson every day."

Audrey Dawson, a 13-year-old clarinet player from Carson Middle School, came to camp a second year because "it was really fun, I learned a lot and my playing improved. I can go up to the third octave — the highest for clarinet, and I can play harder music."

Likewise, Iris Walker, 13, a rising seventh-grader at Franklin, said Tom Durante, her clarinet-sectionals teacher at band camp last year, had a big impact on her. "[He] inspired me to play better, and now I can play a lot of the scales — like C, F and G — and two octaves," she said. "This year, I learned how to sight read and to work my mouth muscles so I can play better."

"We have a wonderful staff here from all over Washington, D.C., and Virginia," said Cunningham. "And the students are very teachable and enthusiastic."

Caroline Boulanger, a rising seventh-grader at Rocky Run Middle, plays French horn and enjoyed her second year at camp. "It's fun because the teachers are nice and the music is a bigger variety than in elementary school," she said.

Since she likes fast songs, one of her favorites was "The Spiritius," which she learned for the concert. Caroline also learned some new notes, such as the dotted 16th, and said camp was a "fun experience" because she made more friends who enjoy playing music like she does.

Daniel Lee, a fifth-grader at Centreville Elementary, and Raleigh Waters, a sixth-grader there, both improved their cello playing. Said Raleigh: "I learned how to play faster, and I'm getting better at the notes." Mike Alston, a Centre Ridge Elementary sixth-grader, said his mom played trombone and urged him to do the same: "She told me how fun and cool it would be, so I could play jazz."

Walker said some 60 percent of the camp students had parents who played in their school bands or orchestras. And in some of the school music program, he said, 30 percent of the students play the same instruments their parents did. "So encouragement from parents helps," he said. "They can lead their children through the wonderful achievements that not only affect their musicianship, but every piece of their life."

Besides, said Walker, band and orchestra students can do things that other students can't, so "it gives them a sense of pride, a sense of ownership ... Their directors have high standards that the students take back to their schools. They know they have to work hard, but they know there's a goal."