McLean: Summer on a High Note

McLean: Summer on a High Note

Spring Hill Elementary School Orchestra Director’s Strings Camp remains McLean’s summer tradition.

Every summer, Spring Hill Elementary School orchestra director Ruth Donahue runs an orchestra summer camp for children to improve their music skills.

“I used to teach in Oklahoma. I think the first camp I taught was in 1983,” Donahue said. “I moved here in 1988 and the kids were, I shouldn’t say it, but they’re even better than the Oklahoma kids with how quickly they learn. So I said we’ve got to do a summer camp here.”

And so was the beginning of the Summer Strings Camp at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean.

Donahue has run the summer camp every year since then. The students of the summer camp are usually in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade Donahue said, and her only requirement is that the students be able to read music. The camp does dress-up days for the kids with Messy Monday, Wacky Wednesday, and Freaky Friday. The children also get the chance to play kick-ball to get to know each other, Donahue said.

When asked about their camp experience, the students had nothing but positive things to say.

Amin Kaleem, a cello player, said his favorite part of Summer Strings Camp is how he and the orchestra get to play a concert in front of people.

Sarah Kim said her favorite part of camp was how it lets her improve her violin skills.

Bass player Joseph Mihaon said his favorite part of camp was that “it’s really fun and easy and we get to do a lot of trips.”

Donahue went on to say that she has the students sight-read the music pieces every time, a process of playing a music piece all the way through without preparation.

“Every Summer Strings [camp] we sight-read… I would say about 40 pieces, so they’ve already sight-read maybe 25 or 30 because this is just our third day,” Donahue said.

The camp lasts for seven days each year with a concert to wrap up the week. This year, the Summer Strings Camp concert was held on Wednesday, July 8.

The camp was created, Donahue said, to help the students become better musicians and to help them learn how to become better sight-readers. “When you see children every day of the week instead of once a week, which is normally when orchestra directors see them [during the school year],” Donahue said, “they learn so much faster.”