Hit the High Notes at Summer Music Camps

Former Editor, Porter Sargent Handbooks

Today's summer opportunities for young musicians go way beyond singing Kumbaya around the campfire with that one counselor who's always playing acoustic guitar. Whether you're thinking of applying to competitive music conservatories, or just want to improve your vocal or instrumental skills while having fun this summer, there's a music summer camp or program out there for you.

Expand your range

The prestigious Juilliard School in New York City admitted just 5.5% of applicants to its undergraduate class in 2011—an even smaller percentage than Harvard. Applicants to the conservatory's music programs must first submit a recorded audition, and a lucky few are invited to audition in person. Besides natural talent and hours of practice, what sets a successful applicant apart?

Juilliard Associate Dean of Admissions Lee Cioppa said it's important for high school musicians to expose themselves to training beyond their school chorus, orchestra and band programs.

"Your high school is too small of a pond," Cioppa said. "The artistic world is the ocean. You need to at least get into a large lake."

Summer music programs allow singers and instrumentalists to train with experts in their fields, instead of school bandleaders who may not specialize on your instrument. (There's even a whole camp just for bassoonists.) Individual lessons or small-group master classes with program faculty or visiting artists help you recognize your weaknesses and reach your true potential.

Music camps for middle and high school students often fall under larger festivals that include instruction for college students and concerts for the public, bringing in renowned visiting performers to participate in shows and give seminars. Litchfield Jazz Camp organizes group combos of students according to proficiency levels, and visiting faculty include performers from the Jazz Festival held at the end of the camp session.

Practice performing and auditioning

If you're planning to attend a conservatory or a competitive music program within a larger liberal arts college or university, your admission will depend largely on a live or recorded audition. A few summer music programs require an audition for admittance, but at any camp you'll gain experience and confidence from performing in front of expert instructors and music aficionados (instead of, you know, your aunts and uncles who came to your school band recital).

Faculty and staff at Idyllwild Arts Academy, a college preparatory and pre-professional arts boarding school in California's San Jacinto Mountains, are used to preparing graduates for entry to prestigious music programs. Idyllwild's summer program offers intensive workshops—six hours a day, six days a week—in everything from piano and harp performance to jazz and vocal ensembles.

French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts music offerings include a concert band, jazz program, rock and roll camp, and youth symphony—which performs a full concert just two weeks after forming. In 2011, alumni Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael from Maroon 5 even stopped by to join participants on stage. How could you be nervous in your college audition after an experience like that?

We be jammin'

Maroon 5 isn't the only famous band that started as a summer camp jam session—others include OK Go and Mumford & Sons. Beyond opportunities to improve your skills with expert faculty, attending a music camp means living and playing with other young musicians who share your influences.

The seven members of funk rock collective Lettuce met while attending the Berklee College of Music Summer Performance Program for pre-college students. (They named their band after their habit of showing up to local jazz clubs and asking staff to "let us" play.) Guitarist Erick Krasno and bassist/keyboardist Neal Evens also play in the soul-jazz trio Soulive, and bassist Eric Coomes has recorded and toured with Britney Spears and The Game.

Many summer music camps have rolling application deadlines, allowing students to enroll as long as space is available. Scholarships and financial aid may be available, although applicants may have to meet earlier deadlines to apply for aid. Start your search today by selecting "Music" under "Music and Arts" on the Summer Program Search home page.

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