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Cultivating young musicians: Jam Band ignites creativity and fosters musicianship

More than 170 kids, ages 11 to 19, have gathered for lunch in the Harlin Student Center at BGA. It’s not a school day, but they are putting in a full day and have been for at least a week and in some cases two. In fact, it’s smack dab in the middle of summer and these kids are there of their own accord. In this nearly packed cafeteria-style room with a stage, kids who march to a different drummer (or strum to a different guitarist) are the cool kids here. They have their lunch – and their guitars and sometimes, drums – in tow.

This is Jam Band.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase kids who are not in the athlete or cheerleading box,” said Laura Hill, camp founder.

It’s a camp for kids who are on their way to making their mark in the music industry. “It’s a camp for kids who live and breathe music,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity to get better at their passion in a creative place.”

In fact, a couple of this year’s Jam Band participants were auditioning for American Idol while they were in town and past campers are beginning to become household names – Jordan Shellhart, Pearl Clarkin and Bethany Hawkes to name a few.

“Jam Band is a networking camp where we put kids in bands to learn particular genres and to meet other players,” said Hill. “We place the campers other with age-appropriate campers when possible, but also sometimes with older kids. It drives them to be better players and inspires all of the kids who are participating.”

The camp has been held for the past seven years. During that time, Hill has seen a lot of talent and has watched her campers’ improve. “I’ve seen insane progress in these musicians,” she said in an interview during the second week of camp.

Camp runs for two one-week sessions each July and begins with an audition, unless you are a previously participating camper. Each participant must have at least two years of playing experience.

During the week, campers go to “work” on their craft. “They work hard,” Hill said, of the campers who participate in band sessions for two hours in the morning, break for an hour’s lunch, followed by three additional hours with a completely different band.

They have an opportunity to practice in styles including Latin ensemble, Jazz vocal ensemble, Jazz fusion, Rock-abilly, San Francisco Sound and Hip Hop. Hill said Hip Hop is among the most popular this year.

Student interns, Dylan Jones, Jake Finch, Savannah Hill, Bennett Burnside, Kyle Scholten, assist campers with charting CDs and pinch hitting as members of the bands for performances.

“The songwriting class is the most popular in our morning session,” Hill said. “We have some incredible writers instructing our kids, including Jonell Mosser, Etta Britt, Tom Britt, Sheila Lawrence and Walter Egan.”

Brian Cummings has also lent his talents to empower the smattering of horn players that attend the camp.

“It’s a win-win,” said Hill. “These kids are fast-moving and play with intensity.” First-timers and younger campers are “troopers,” for having the stamina to keep up with veteran campers for the six-hour camp.

“At Jam Band, campers are nurtured, but they also work really hard with college-level instructors,” Hill said, naming Mel Deal and Dave Toledo among the many others. “Our instructors collectively have so much music knowledge, that they can tell just by listening to our kids, what areas need improvement or will open them up to be better musicians.”

On Thursday night, after an all-day camp, bands conduct sound checks and run through a practice performance in preparation for their Friday night performance on stage in front of friends and family. This is not a typical recital – for all of these bands it is the real deal. They spend time with Beth Yates, Ken Stanley and Laurie Turk, among others for the perfect hair and makeup look.

The camp also serves as a picking ground for people like Val Clementi and John Pablowski, who have allowed several of our students at session at the Bunganut Pig and Kimbro’s respectively, said Hill, who also has showcased many talented young musicians at The Red House, an entertainment venue she owns with her husband Ed.




Posted on: 7/29/2010


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