Not Your Ordinary Band Camp

If you can’t get enough of band during the year or need that extra push to reach your potential as a student leader, then maybe a summer band camp is the answer. Across the country, marching band students are taking the initiative and going to special clinics for drum majors, color guard, percussion, student leadership or just general marching band.

Robin Reil, former drum major of the Cal Poly San Louis Obispo Mustang Marching Band, wasn’t sure what to expect at the Smith Walbridge Drum Major Clinic when she first attended two years ago.

“I just got a plane ticket and went to Illinois, and it ended up being one of the best experiences of the entire experience of being drum major,” Reil says. “It prepared me so well to deal with everything that I had never dealt with before, one of the most valuable experiences of my life, really.”

At the clinic, Reil participated in workshops for conducting, showmanship, baton, drill, teaching techniques, and leadership and motivational techniques, to name a few. “Our emphasis is on the development of the individual,” says Gary Smith, president of Smith Walbridge Incorporated. “We focus on individual achievement.”

Smith Walbridge, based in Savoy, Ill., offers four types of five-day clinics—drum major, flag and rifle, marching band and marching percussion—along with two shorter workshops in leadership and mace/signal baton. All of the clinics are held at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

“The instructors are kind of leading you around, but the thing that they’re trying to emphasize is that they’re teaching you how to teach, not just how to march really well,” Reil says. “It’s more about watching people teach me, so I could understand how I would approach the situation in my own marching band.”

A Growing Activity

Smith’s father, Merl, started the clinics in 1949 with his colleague Dr. Charles Henzie, and they became the first of their kind in the United States, Smith says. Since then, summer leadership camps, clinics and workshops have sprung up all over the country. Some, like Smith Walbridge, are independent companies; others, such as Fred J. Miller and Yamaha Sounds of Summer percussion clinics, are put on by marching-related manufacturers.

Not-for-profit organizations, such as the Music for All Summer Symposium and Drum Corps International’s OnQ Performance Education division, also have summer band camps. Some colleges and universities also host high school marching camps, like Florida State University’s Marching Band Leadership Camp in Tallahassee.

All of the clinics offer training in marching, playing, and leadership—with subtle differences.

“They always leave with stronger technical skills, a strong understanding of performing to music and personal commitment to the team and group,” says Lauren Tucker, clinic coordinator at Fred J. Miller, a Miamisburg, Ohio, company that is also known for its uniforms and accessories. “They leave with a higher level of confidence within themselves and the activity.”

This summer, Fred J. Miller offered 20 clinics across the country, with instruction for drum majors, color guard, dance line, drum line, twirlers and section leaders. “We like them to leave with skills to be a solid member of their community, whether as a team, family or any group,” Tucker says “These aren’t just skills for band and color guard but skills to carry with you for your whole life experience.”

The Music for All Summer Symposium, held at Illinois State University in Normal, is one of the largest camps with more than 1,300 students and nearly 200 directors. The symposium’s tracks include concert band, jazz band, marching band, orchestra, percussion, color guard and drum majors for students and four different director tracks.

“The sheer amount of kids that we have brings so much energy, and they all just feed off of each other,” says Lynsy Meyer, marketing administrative assistant at Music for All. “It’s an incredible experience for them.”

What set apart the Summer Symposium are the nightly concerts featuring top artists. This year the participants saw performances from the Yamaha Young Performing Artists, U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus, Barrage (a string ensemble), Jeff Coffin Mu’tet with special guest Futureman, and DCI’s Central Illinois show.

“All of our feedback we get is positive; kids just really enjoy coming there,” Meyer says. “The artists always say it’s just an interesting crowd to perform in front of because they are 1,500 kids that are all just so excited about music.”

Camps provide leisure activities as well. Movie night, game night, swimming, basketball, tennis and video games are common free time activities at several of the camps. Smith Walbridge even takes the students to a water park on one night, has a skit/talent show night and a mixer with a DJ.

Corps Curriculum

DCI’s OnQ education division is in its first year and hosted three successful National Drumming Camps in collaboration with Carolina Crown, Bluecoats and The Blue Devils as well as two drum major camps with Phantom Regiment.

“At other camps, you’re standing in line with other kids at your level; you’re not standing in line with people who are more expert at their technique,” says Sue Kuehnhold, acting liason of OnQ. “There’s nothing cooler than a kid getting to go through the instruction phase to getting to stand in line with their heroes.”

At the drum camps, participants live, practice and play within the corps’ drum line. And at the drum major camp, students had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct the Phantom Regiment horn line. “They got to live with the drum line and experience their traditions and rituals they live through,” says Jim Coates, operations director of Carolina Crown. “The [corps] members gave freely to the campers that experience.”

In addition, OnQ and DCI will continue to put on Live Learning Events, in which band groups meet with a drum corps before a show for a few hours. The OnQ education division is currently going through a restructuring to prepare for next year and the future.

“We don’t have the manpower yet to get it up to where we want to be, but within the next year and then within years to come, we hope to expand and develop it,” Kuehnhold says. “We’re hoping that this will bring a portal for music educators to come to.”

Colleges and universities all over the country host smaller summer clinics for high school students in their area. The Florida State University College of Music puts on a Marching Band Leadership Camp every year along with numerous other clinics for concert and jazz musicians.

“It’s really a varied camp: leadership skills, communication skills, drill writing and drill execution skills,” says Dr. Steven Kelly, director of camps. “They’re here as not only drum majors but section leaders, and any leader will benefit.”

During the camp the students are divided into groups to write their own drill and practice a show that they perform on the last day.

“Every individual has to contribute in some aspect; it’s very unique,” Kelly says. “At this camp you’re going to stand up and do it. We want them to leave with some experience in what we’re talking about.”

Learning to Lead

Most camps accept students as individuals or in groups with other leaders from their school. Either way, most of the camps encourage students to mingle. “We really encourage kids to interact; we push them to meet other people,” Meyer says of Summer Symposium. “We have students who come and don’t know anybody, and then they’ll come back and room with someone they met the year before from a totally different school.”

Students agree that making new friends was one of their favorite parts of camp. “I met a lot of people that had a similar desire to make marching band the best that it can be,” Reil says. “Camp was one of the places where I got to be with a lot of people who were there because they all want to be, and everyone has a really great attitude.”

Courtney Schroeder, former drum major at Quincy (Ill.) High School, roomed with other people from her school but still made new friends. “We chose to split ourselves up when it came to the clinic part,” she says. “We thought that being separated, we could get a different feel for a lot of different people rather than being together all the time. I love all the people that I met, some of whom I still keep in touch with.” All of the camps agree that what students take home and implement in their own bands is critical.

“They gain leadership skills, and they can go back and can follow leaders and help others become better leaders,” Meyer says.

Reil executed her new skills when she returned to Cal Poly. “There are always kids who are just [in band] because their parents told them to, or they need credits,” Reil says. “I had one or two instances of that happening in my band, and I was able to use techniques that [Smith Walbridge] had described to me in order to defuse the situation and not let it get out of hand.”

Schroeder achieved personal growth, which helped her to lead the band. “The biggest thing that I learned was that I came out of it not being afraid to make a mistake,” Schroeder says. “I came out of it more confident in my skills and my leadership.”

Chris Beason, Schroeder’s director at Quincy High School, has been sending his leadership students to Smith Walbridge since he started teaching eight years ago. “I think the kids really come away from it jazzed up and ready to help their own bands be as good as possible,” Beason says. “The drum majors especially—they learn those leadership skills, and I can rely on them to be like assistant directors.”

No matter what camp you attend, it could change your life—or at the very least, your marching life. “People always come in thinking that it’s not going to,” Meyer says. “But they always leave saying that it did, that their life completely changes.”

Reil, who attended Smith Walbridge for two years, would repeat her experience. “If I could somehow get the funding to go, I would go again … just because you get so much out of it,” she says. “You learn how to be a leader in any situation in your life, not just necessarily for marching band.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She will be a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-toback Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.

Photo courtesy of Smith Walbridge Incorporated. All rights reserved.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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