Chautauqua Music Camps give young musicians place to hone instrumental skills

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer
Members of the Chautauqua Music Camp String Orchestra plays classical dance songs on Bestor Plaza Friday afternoon. The camp performs at 12 p.m. Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

As Terry Bacon sat outside the School of Music’s studios studios Tuesday morning, a young musician approached him and shared his experience at the Chautauqua Music Camps. The student said that it was, for him, the first place he had ever felt welcome. It was the only place, other than his own band room, where he felt no one would make fun of him. It was where he belonged.

“That’s why we do it,” said Bacon, band conductor of the Chautauqua Music Camps.

This week, 110 young musicians from Chautauqua County and beyond gathered at Chautauqua Institution for the weeklong Chautauqua Music Camps. The program consists of a band camp, jazz camp and orchestra camp. After a week of lessons and practice sessions, the orchestra will perform a concert at 12 p.m. Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

Leading up to Saturday’s concert, musicians attended a variety of classes corresponding to the camp in which they were enrolled. Bacon and the camp’s director, Peter Lindblom, who is a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, planned a mix of sectionals, rehearsals and musicianship experience throughout the week. The orchestra camp also took part in chamber music sessions.

Bacon explained that the camp staff has taken an approach of developmental learning with the students to try to maximize their full musical potential. Studies have shown that if children are exposed to a rich music environment before age 10, they can fulfill the musical potential with which they were born, he said. If they are not exposed to that kind of environment, they may lose their musical potential.

The faculty has taught students music in the same way that language is taught.

“We’ve been singing to them, [which is] building their listening vocabulary, having them sing back to us, [which is improving] their speaking vocabulary,” Bacon said. “Then [they are] speaking on the instruments, taking what they’ve listened to … and putting it on their instruments and talking through [it] to start getting the improvisation.”

The camps began as an accumulation of students from local school districts, but they have since grown to include children of CSO musicians, students from the surrounding area and even international students. This year, the camps also include a group of students from Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra.

As the program grows older, more of its students grow to become teachers. Bacon explained that the camps have established junior mentor positions so younger students can learn not only from faculty, but also from fellow students.

“We’re musicians all working together,” Bacon said, “so at the concerts, the coaches are all playing with students, side by side. The coaches are mentoring everybody, but then you’ve got the older students mentoring the younger ones, mentoring the younger ones on down.”

This is Mitchell McVeigh’s third time participating in the music camps. He will enter ninth grade in the fall. Throughout the past three summers, he has enjoyed playing his flute with his fellow musicians, as well as Bacon’s humor in teaching the group and motivating them to work. The program is an opportunity for him to learn and to improve in a short amount of time.

“It teaches us not only how to be a good musician, but it shows us how when we work together and really hard for a week that we can accomplish a lot,” the McVeigh said, “some stuff that we can’t even do at school in months.”

Lucas Lassinger’s first experience with Chautauqua Music Camps was watching his older brother go to camp in the morning and then come home at night. The future ninth-grader finally experienced camp for himself three years ago, and he has since learned why his brother chose to spend his time this way.

Lassinger returns each year for the demanding yet rewarding nature of the camp, as well as for the camaraderie of the people he has the privilege of making music with each summer.

“I didn’t realize the difficulty of learning all the music, but how much fun you can have working as hard as you possibly can,” Lassinger said. “I enjoyed being around other people who played instruments and being able to hang out with people … I wouldn’t normally see at school or marching band.”

But Lassinger’s experience with the camps goes beyond meeting other musicians. This year, he feels that by practicing so much with his trumpet, he has bonded with it more than ever.

“I learned a lot about playing the music and playing my instrument,” Lassinger said. “I feel like I bonded with my instrument in a way — grown closer to it.”