When Franklin Middle School band director Lawrence Walker began a summertime band and orchestra camp in 1987, some 90 students participated. Now, the camp has just finished its 17th year, setting a new attendance record with 475 students.
Walker attributes the camp's phenomenal growth to the caliber of music students the various schools receive afterward. "When the students go back to school in September, they're ahead of the game in instruction and in musical development," he said.
Beginning students also take a music theory class, teaching them the fundamentals of note value, pitch and how to build a chord — in essence, the elements of music. Said Walker: "It's vital because they can't do what they do unless they understand theory."
Students meet in rooms throughout Franklin Middle to play their instruments. For example, Oak Hill Elementary band director Robert Isle conducts the cadet band in one room while, elsewhere in the school, Prince William Youth Symphony director Anne Rupert teaches violin.
Meanwhile, musician Doug Raines from the Broadway show "Blast" instructs percussion students in drumming techniques while, down the hall, former Centreville High jazz band director Dave Detwiler picks up his trumpet and wails along with the students in his trumpet-sectional class.
THIS YEAR'S CAMP ran from June 30-July 23, weekdays, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. But the format is generally the same, each session.
In the band classes, students play in one of four bands — beginning, for first-year students; cadet, second-year; concert, third-year; and symphonic, third- and fourth-year. They attend two band classes where they all play together in their particular band.
Students in each section of instruments also go to one master class — equivalent to a private lesson — and learn technique, scales, fundamental method and music theory. And they attend sectionals for their individual instruments — such as woodwind, brass and percussion classes — where they learn musicality.
"They fine-tune exactly what the composer has written, with regard to pitch, tempo, crescendo, etc., and help develop their ears for playing in tune," explained Walker. "The sectional reinforces what the director does in a larger class and teaches kids the importance of their part, such as melody, counter-melody and chords."
Orchestra classes are conducted in basically the same way, with students playing in two full orchestras, sectionals and master instrument classes. And the knowledge and experience the children gain is invaluable.
"For the elementary-school kids — who only have band and orchestra once a week — this is the equivalent of two years in class," said Walker. "The kids work with four teachers every day, and this is a top-notch staff. The teachers that work here have outstanding music programs in their schools, throughout the county."
Others are professional musicians in their own right. Take Detwiler, one of the finest trumpet players in the country. He was the principle jazz trumpet player for the noted Army Blues; played lead trumpet for the show "Chicago" at the National Theatre; has accompanied celebrities including Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole and Johnny Mathis; and currently subs with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Kyle Johnson, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Rocky Run Middle School, has played trumpet since fifth grade and attended camp for the fourth year. He was in Detwiler's trumpet sectional and enjoyed both it and the whole experience.
"I LIKE THE TEACHERS and the way the classes are divided into classes for bands and sectionals," he said. "And I learned different articulations of the notes and how to play better." Kyle's in Rocky Run's symphonic band and plans to continue playing through high school and college.
He said he'd recommend the camp to others because "the kids like the music they play here and the teachers take things at your pace. They don't rush it and they help you individually, if they can."
Kathleen Gardner, 14, a rising freshman at Westfield High, has played trombone for four years and was in her first year at camp. "It's a lot of fun," she said. "I really like band and I'll be in the symphonic band at Westfield. At camp, we worked on rhythms and I learned how to play with people I've never met before — and that's especially good if you're going to a new school."
A sixth-grader at Lees Corner Elementary, John Lisko, 11, just started playing trombone this year. He was at camp for the first time because "my friend's brother went to band camp last year and said it was really neat." Josh said it helped him with his counting of the rhythm and he learned to move his instrument's slide faster.
He said the camp helps music students improve their skills. "If they've played before, it'll help them get better," he said. "And if they're just learning a new instrument, it'll teach them how to play and get them into good habits so they won't hold their instrument wrong or tune it [incorrectly]."
Kelley Smith, 14, a Westfield freshman, has played clarinet five years and was in her fourth year of camp. "I really enjoy the camp, and it gives me a chance to play over the summer so I'll be prepared when school starts again," she said. "I've learned more about counting and I've gotten better at sight reading."
A STONE MIDDLE eighth-grader, Lee Seidner, 13, attended camp for the first time. He's played clarinet four years and, he said, "My private teacher said it was a good camp, and I knew Kelley went there. It's really fun going to the full-band classes and to the little classes. I learned how to subdivide musical notes when you play them and played with new people and a new band director."
Britni Evans, 13, has played the flute four years and is a Rocky Run eighth-grader. She, too, liked the camp. "All the teachers are nice and you always have friends here," she said. "And it helped me get the higher and lower notes out — I could only play in the middle range."
She says simply experiencing the camp is beneficial: "You always learn something, even when you don't realize it. And each time, you come out better." Maggie Barnes, 11, a Stone seventh-grader, agrees. She's played cello since third grade and attended her fourth year of camp.
"I learn a lot more here than I do in a year-long program at school," she said. "I learn to shift [my fingers better] from position to position. In elementary school, we had strings once a week for 45 minutes — and we're here for three hours more [each day]."
Similarly, cello teachers Erin Gilstrap and Melanie Ferraro, enjoy instructing the students. "I love it — it's an incredible experience," said Gilstrap, a GMU music major. "The first time I ever played cello was here, the summer before fourth grade. And teaching here gives me insight on what I want to do because I want to be a music teacher."
FERRARO, HEADED FOR UVA, says it's good for students to be in an orchestra setting and to also receive individual instruction. "I like working with the kids, sharing my knowledge and helping them grow with their instruments," she said. "And kids who don't go to the same schools can all come here and play together."
Ann Cheetham of Virginia Run brought her sons Sean, 12, and Brian, 10, to the camp. Sean, who plays viola, attended for the third time; Brian, a violinist, was in his first year.
"You can't beat it — it's a great value," she said. "It's $110 for three weeks; private lessons cost from $20-$30 and up for a half hour. The instructors are top quality, and the students get a lot of intense learning. We're really happy with it."
And Walker's pleased because the teachers' philosophies mesh with his. "If you take kids as far as you can, musically, their personal attitude about music education will develop their skill at home and at school," he said. "And if you conquer the attitude, you also conquer the aptitude."
Besides, he added, "There's a very high standard for music excellence in this county — plus great parental support — so the teachers understand that this camp is preparing these students for some of the finest high schools in the country."