‘Magic of Music’ Touches Band Camp

July 31, 2018

LOWELL -- For seven days in July, 131 teenage musicians “touched the magic of music” in a total immersion experience at UMass Lowell. They spent 13 hours a day learning and exploring the possibilities of music in a program directed by Deb Huber of UML’s music department.

On the last day of the Mary Jo Leahey Symphonic Band Camp, the young musicians presented a polished and passionate finale concert of traditional and contemporary musical pieces.

A passion for music is essential for participants in this band camp, according to Huber. Although campers are at differing levels of accomplishment, they are likely to have shown a commitment to their instrument and to music for a number of years by playing with community ensembles and school bands.

Passion and exuberance shone through the performance and its aftermath.

During an awards ceremony after the concert, Huber commended the teens and emphasized the importance of passion to the students’ successes. She told the audience, “They earned every note they played.”

Huber shows her own passion for the camp experiences. She speaks of the week with a contagious enthusiasm. She loves to see the change in students over the course of a week as they make a discovery or see their skills improve.

“Their tone changes,” she said as each moment of clarity or insight occurs.

At the post-conference reception, a cluster of beaming campers, former campers and parents surrounded her. Those who are eligible plan to come back next year.

Mark Deveau of Dracut said he would “recommend camp to every single person” whom he knows.

“Everyone come!” he urged.

Deveau, who plays the clarinet, has attended camp every summer for six years. Now, he is off to UMass Boston, so his camp days are over.

Each day of camp is grueling, but these teens didn’t seem to mind. When they arrived on Sunday, July 15, they attended an orientation that included performing a pre-assigned piece of music that would enable the music faculty to divide them into sections based on their ability. The sections consist of groups of about 14 musicians who play different instruments.

On Monday morning, they were awakened at 7 a.m. sharp for breakfast and by 8:10 they were immersed in a study of concepts from music theory, followed by a class in musicianship.

After lunch, they chose from among electives to broaden their knowledge of possibilities in the world of music and then met in their sections.

After dinner, their work continued until 9.

Asked his favorite memory of the program Vinith Yedidi, a clarinetist from Natick attending camp for the first time, said without hesitation, “Mr. (Daniel) Lutz. He’d stand up in front of us and talk what seemed like nonsense, but then it would all come together.”

When asked whether he might want to phrase his statement in a more positive way, he said, “No, that about says it.”

Fellow campers Alisa Cruger-Cain, a trumpeter from Lowell, Ross Bello, a percussionist also of Lowell, and Deveau agreed that Yedidi captured the essence of Lutz’s class. They all emphasized that their comments were compliments.

Huber clarified that Lutz introduces complex concepts of music theory through analogies that lead to surprises and sudden revelations.

All the work over the week lead to a “knock dead” concert, said Alice Leahey, daughter of the late Mary Jo Leahey, the camp’s founder and benefactor. This was the 22nd concert and Huber has been the director and one of the conductors for each one.

The program featured musical selections, such as:

* The haunting Ashokan Farewell, an arrangement by Jay Ungar for the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War;

* The highly complex Aerial Fantasy commissioned by the United States Air Force to celebrate the thrill of flight and performed by the honors wind ensemble;

* Familiar music from the Shaker tradition;

* A piece called Mountain Thyme, commissioned in memory of a young boy and based on the Irish folk song “The Braes of Balquhidder.”

The application period for the 2019 camp is now open. Students are taken on a first-come, first-served basis, Huber said. There are no auditions, but applicants know that this program has a reputation for high quality.

Huber does place instrument caps on each year’s camp to ensure balance in the sound produced at the comment.

Asked what their plans for the summer after camp, Yehidi said he’s going to take a long nap, and Deveau will go back to his job. Cruger-Cain, however, is going to another music camp this week.

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