For the final two weeks in June, UW-Madison was host to a horde of teenage music enthusiasts at the annual Summer Music Clinic who honed their music chops during lessons, rehearsals and concerts while forming friendships and cultivating new ideas. Camp counselor Jacob Wolbert, an incoming senior in percussion who was one of last spring’s Concerto Competition winners, offered to chronicle events and, while doing so, found himself considering just how much the camp means to him personally. Jacob’s now in Rio de Janeiro, studying Brazilian culture and music in preparation for writing a thesis on samba music. Fanfare wishes to thank Jacob for all his thoughtful commentary.
“Today, I had the privilege of hearing Peter Deneen, a band teacher from Traverse City, inspire his Michigan Band students before their final concert at Summer Music Clinic. Deneen drew from two relentless pursuers of excellence: Vince Lombardi and Ludwig van Beethoven. At one point, Lombardi told his Green Bay Packers, the best football team of the era, “…we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.” Meanwhile, Beethoven once said that “Power is the moral principle of those who excel…” As Deneen shared these two quotes, I watched as the middle schoolers sat with their eyes wide open, their mouths closed, completely enraptured, in the cavernous rehearsal room. Subsequently, the campers, after playing together as a band for only ten hours of their lives, proceeded to Mills Hall to astonish the audience. Their parents, family, and friends gave a vigorous standing ovation, bringing Deneen back on stage twice.
“Pete Deneen represents just one of the many world-class music educators making up the faculty of the UW Summer Music Clinic, but his credo transcends to the entire program. SMC excels symbiotically, in the sense that every contingent of the camp helps one another in striving for excellence. Some of this help is more evident, such as the instruction of campers by teachers, or the properties staff providing instruments, chairs, and music for every class. The campers, although in a lower position of authority, help everyone else just by enthusiastically making music, learning, and having fun. As an ensemble assistant, I have grown from the help of these campers, whether they know it or not. In helping eager, young percussionists, I see their mental gears turning as they adjust their posture in playing bass drum or their stick height for the snare drum. This, in turn, informs me on how others learn and how I can teach.
“What makes these kids special is that they honestly want to learn more during this week, a week that for many of them is one of the first of their summer. Many campers that I have talked to during meals or free time tell me how they can’t wait to play or sing in their ensembles, but also relate their excitement for non-performance classes, such as Jazz Legends, Music Theory, or Yoga for Musicians. The soon-to-be eighth graders I worked with approached music with a maturity beyond their years. Although they sometimes showed their young age during free time, one could barely tell when they executed such difficult repertoire as Eric Whitacre’s The Seal Lullaby or Frank Ticheli’s Abracadabra. Whether listening to Pete Deneen share his wisdom on how to perform well (“People come to see concerts, not to hear them”) or to counselors telling them the procedure for checking out (“Don’t forget to fold your comforters and put them at the foot of your bed”), the campers listened, and this was reflected in their excellence over the week.
“One of the yearly traditions of SMC, the student recital, offers the campers both the opportunity of dazzling their peers with their talents, as well as learning concert etiquette as a means of expressing respect and friendship. Jacob Rose, an eighth-grade trumpet player from Heritage Christian Academy in Maple Grove, Minnesota, spoke with me on the experience of playing in this recital. It took Jacob about four months to prepare G. F. Handel’s Aria con Variazione, and even after this time, he was very nervous to play in front of three hundred fellow middle school musicians. However, he highly valued the experience and used his years singing in a choir to combat the natural stage fright. (For the record, Jacob’s performance sent chills down my spine.) For this brilliant young musician with such high potential, the most irksome part of Jacob’s experience was having to wait in the vestibule as other students performed. He plans to continue playing trumpet all of his life and emphasized that he trusts his private teacher with helping to achieve his goals.
“Jacob Rose’s seemingly innocuous comment on trust sheds light on one of the main pillars in achieving the excellence that Pete Deneen was referring to when talking to the Michigan Band. For the collective whole of the UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic to excel, every contingent has to trust each other and work together. In doing so, the campers, counselors, staff, and faculty all reach a heightened sense of what is important in life, and express the power of music to the utmost extent.
“If the junior session of SMC achieves excellence, then the senior session raises the stakes. Although the age difference between the weeks can be as small as one year, the maturity witnessed of the high schoolers really leaves a lasting impression. This year, I encountered some returning campers for whom it was their first time attending the second week; I had been their counselor last year when they were about to enter high school. Apart from being taller and visibly older, the kids’ ability level ascended dramatically, making them able to tackle such gargantuan repertoire as Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony or Verdi’s Overture to La Forza del Destino. Assisting in the Georgia Orchestra with Michael Alexander, I greatly enjoyed watching the progression of the orchestra from stumbling through note accuracy and rhythms on the first day (although not nearly as sloppily as the first-week campers) to acing the tricky violin runs and brass bombardments on the day of the concert. By Friday, the group honestly sounded like a world-class youth orchestra that had played together for many months. Mr. Alexander encouraged this level of musicianship, stressing on the first day that note accuracy would come naturally, but the mature communication required of seasoned orchestras was a skill that had to be actively cultivated in order to excel. Again, one should detect the pattern of excellence among the exceptional conductors who attend this camp.
“During the high school week student recital, I had the chance to talk to Anne Aley. The director of SMC, Anne’s hard work (along with that of her co-director, Julie Welbourne) has provided tens of thousands of kids (myself included) with the most memorable week of their summers, year after year. Watching the masterful performances (some of these kids, although not old enough to drive or vote, would fit right in in collegiate music studios), Anne turned to me and remarked how amazing the change was between the first and second week, but not necessarily in terms of musicianship. Along with having more years at their instruments, the kids have also fomented a stage presence, a professional demeanor, and a captivating sense of communicating the importance in their music to the audience. This concert also sent chills down my spine, but for different reasons.
“This musical communication, while potentially the most visible change between the two weeks, is also what makes the counseling staff such a cohesive, caring unit. Ben and Allison Jaeger, the dorm supervisors and heads of the counseling staff, stress that we open ourselves up to each other, to the kids, and to the camp, sharing what makes us special and extraordinary human beings. While this level of communication may be easy for some of the virtuosic musician counselors to achieve in playing and performing, it can be very hard to bare your soul to those around you on an interpersonal level. Our supervisors trust us to reveal as much of ourselves as we see fit, and this results in counselors helping the kids and each other as we traverse the uncertainties of the world. For many counselors, college has just started, just ended or will be ending soon, and the transitional statuses can make it difficult to cement an identity. Luckily, our belief in each other, and especially in the campers, carries us through our own self-doubt and makes us strong, helping us put aside any negativity in our own lives to just be there for the campers. Over the past two weeks, our staff formed a strong bond, one that left a lasting impact on everyone involved. The kids could see this too, and many of those eligible filed prospective counselor forms for next summer.
“In a world of doubt, turmoil, and anxiety-inducing events occurring almost daily, the UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic represents a breath of fresh air. For the students who attend, this means that they can finally have an open musical dialogue with their kindred spirits, free of judgment or prejudice. For the staff, this means that for two weeks, they can build a family and learn valuable life lessons in selflessness. For everyone, excellence is the result of total communication and we are able to say the most powerful things in the world. I hope to continue communicating with you through music next year at the 2014 UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic.”