Danny Kim graduated from Rocky Run Middle School in June and will be a freshman at Thomas Jefferson in the fall. And in between, he spent four weeks at the 19th annual Franklin Middle School Band and Orchestra Camp.
He's played trombone for three years and returned to the camp for his third time. He likes "the energy" there and a lot of his friends also attend, so he enjoys the "social vibe." But he mainly comes back for the music. He likes to play his instrument and, every year, he learns something new.
"THE TROMBONE specialist knows a lot and teaches me how to breathe well and make a clear tone," explained Kim. "They even teach us what to look for when buying instruments." He also highly recommends the camp to others.
"If you enjoy playing, it's a great place to make new friends over the summer and meet old friends," he said. "Most kids don't play their instruments over the summer but, by coming here, they do — and they improve their skills."
This year's camp ran from June 26-July 20 and was even more of a massive undertaking than usual because there were 100 more students than last year. "We had 539 students — the largest number we've ever had," said Lawrence Walker, who's directed the camp from its inception. He's also in his 22nd year at Franklin, where he's been band director since the school opened.
The increased number of students required 13 more teachers than last year for 35 total. And every one of them is terrific, said Walker.
"We continue to get in qualified musicians, teachers and band and orchestra directors from Fairfax and Loudoun counties," he said. "We also have musicians from the service bands — the Navy Commodores, the U.S. Air Force Band and the U.S. Army Band, and they all do a great job."
The students are given intense instruction relating to their instruments, become more comfortable playing in large groups and also learn music theory. But the camp teaches some intangibles, as well — responsibility and respect for others.
"When you have good kids, you don't have discipline problems," said Walker. "At least 70 percent of the kids are returns, and that says a lot about the camp. Right now, we're the largest [instrumental-music] camp in the state — and the only one with both band and orchestra under the same roof."
Students received private lessons in the morning, played with a full band and attended master classes for their particular instruments. Then after lunch, they again played with a full band and had woodwind, brass or percussion sectionals.
And to see the heights they can reach someday if they persevere, they were treated to free concerts by professionals. One day, Bridging the Gap — a violinist and a bass player from the U.S. Marine Band — entertained. Another day, Dave Detwiler — who teaches at the camp, is retired from the U.S. Army Blues and substitutes with the National Symphony — performed with his group, Prelude Brass.
CAMP INSTRUCTORS know what elementary, middle- and high-school band and orchestra directors are looking for in their students in September. And school music teachers recommend this camp because "it gives the kids a chance to rebound in September; they're ready for their own, school bands and orchestras. It also helps students who study music privately."
Often, though, parents can't afford private lessons. "But at this camp, students have the opportunity to work with teachers at all levels," said Walker. "They play in large groups, plus in smaller sectionals and instrument classes — which are master classes, almost like private lessons."
Brian Steffens, band director at River Bend Middle School in Sterling, led the beginning-band students at Franklin's camp and has now taught here for eight years. "It's an incredible experience," he said. "There's an awesome staff, hardworking students and enlightened direction."
Karen Snow, strings teacher at Waples Mill and Navy elementary schools, taught at this year's camp for the first time. She plays in the Fairfax Symphony with camp Assistant Director Cindy Crumb, who invited Snow to share her talents with the summer-camp students.
"It's wonderful — so much fun — and the kids are great," said Snow. She said the camp provides an important service because it enables children to continue their music education, play with an ensemble and "learn new — and possibly more challenging — music than they play during the school year. They also meet new students and learn from new teachers."
Symphonic band teacher Eric Raecke, of Rocky Run Middle School, was in his third year instructing at the camp. "I get to help out — not only my own kids at Rocky Run — but other kids in the community," he explained. "They're doing a lot of playing in four weeks, so it really accelerates their progress. It absolutely makes a big difference."
Students attend five days a week, four hours a day, so one day of camp is equivalent to a week of school. Furthermore, said Walker, "Elementary schools only have music classes once a week, so this equals two years of elementary music classes."
Camp students also spend time with four different teachers each day. And at the culminating concert, said Walker, "We showcase the experience and parents can see what their children have learned from all of their teachers."
DURING THE four-week camp, the sounds of music and happy children emanated throughout the school. Classes were taught in hallways, classrooms and even in the gym. Teachers demonstrated their expertise and passed it on, and students eagerly soaked it up.
Brianna Fridy, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Poplar Tree Elementary, plays trumpet and attended camp for her second time. She came there in the first place because her older brother "started [camp] before me and said it was fun."
Besides that, she said, "I like my teachers and the music pieces I get to play — especially 'Dragonfire' because the percussion uses a lot of different instruments. I'd recommend the camp to others because it gets you interested in music and helps you learn."
Another trumpet player, Erin Seabrook, 10, will be in fifth grade at Colin Powell Elementary. She thinks the trumpet's "more interesting than other instruments because it only has three keys, but you can make a lot of different sounds out of them. And my daddy inspired me because he played it in high school and college."
She, too, enjoyed the camp because of the variety of things it offers and because she learned more about "using your stomach muscles" when playing trumpet. And she called the teachers "very nice and helpful."
Erin's brother Matthew, a Liberty Middle seventh-grader, plays baritone and came to Franklin's camp for the first time. "I went to one at Liberty last year and it was fun," he said. "I came to this one because I wanted a camp a little more challenging. I like it a lot, and I've learned tricks and tips to help me play [both] high notes and low notes and do it faster."
Matthew also learned different scales and played "challenging music that's fun." He also recommends this camp "because it's a good experience and helps people play their instruments better."
ASSISTANT TEACHER Jay Kim, who just graduated from Westfield High, led a violin sectional. "Teaching the kids is a lot of hard work, but it's always great to see them improve at the end," he said. "Most play in their school orchestras and, to be well-prepared and get ahead, they should take this course. It also helps their skills as musicians."
Kathryn Young, 9, a Greenbriar West Elementary fourth-grader, just started playing violin and said her teacher at camp taught her "what notes are on which strings." She liked camp because she made friends and had a good time. She's also pleased that "you get to play nice songs and be in the concert [the last week]. And you can play advanced songs when you're at the highest level."
Thelma Jefferson, 10, a Lee's Corner Elementary sixth-grader, plays the drums because "I want to be a music teacher someday and there are lots of different percussion instruments I can play." She enjoyed camp, too, because of the variety of music and instruments she was exposed to in her percussion class. And she'd recommend it because "you get to meet new teachers, make new friends and eat pizza at lunchtime."
A ROCKY RUN eighth-grader, Michael Monte, has played trumpet five years and attended Franklin's camp for the third time. "I know a lot of people who come back," he said. "And I learned all my scales and get to play over the summer so I don't get bad."
Rocky Run classmate Joe Donegan is a four-year trumpet player and returned to camp for his fourth time. "It keeps you playing and, the next year, you're more advanced than the other people [at school]," he explained. "I started here as a beginner, learning the basic skills and techniques. And they have good teachers here — professionals and stuff."
A Lees Corner sixth-grader, Natalie Spitzel, 11, has played flute for a year and learned new scales and new music pieces at Franklin. Her mom Sheila, of Franklin Glen, loved the camp because the students "get a lot of instruction they wouldn't normally get in such a concentrated time period."
"I'd recommend it because the instruction is so high quality," she continued. "And students are with their peers and learn to perform in a group alongside others and coordinate their play with other instruments."
The soaring reviews are music to camp director Walker's ears. But he tips his hat to the community, as well. "Some school systems will not continue music because of financial strains," he said. "But in Fairfax County, the parents support it and keep it alive."
Overall, said Walker, "I have immensely enjoyed this community. I live in it, and it's valued what we all do here. And I enjoy seeing the children's musical development. I also salute the parents; there's a fundamental value system in many of these homes, and I know that many of these children will be future leaders. The camp has a great reputation and it's a pleasure to be here."