Summer of Sound
Photo: Melissa Mark
Imagine shuffling onto the sprawling stage--one you’ve stared at from the soft seats in the audience--with an instrument in hand or the lyrics to a song in mind as the bright lights shine down. This is a moment filled with equal parts nerves and excitement.
It is that very feeling that rushes through the hearts and minds of students each year at the Yukon Summer Music Camp. After one week of working with instructors to enhance their skills, either vocally, instrumentally, or both, it all comes down to the finale on the Yukon Arts Centre stage, in Whitehorse.
This summer, the camp is celebrating a milestone-- 25 years of bringing children and adults together for the love of music. While the details of when it all began are a bit cloudy, the legacy it has created is crystal clear to those who’ve been and are still involved.
Colin Campbell was one of the first faculty members with the camp. He was once a high-school band director in Whitehorse, during the early 80s. After he moved to Victoria, B.C., he kept in touch with then Yukon-based friend and fellow music educator Glen Irvine. Then the pair, along with band director Gerry King from the Lower Mainland, had a plan.
“We kicked around the idea of starting a summer music camp based on models we had been involved in or knew about from around the country,” Campbell writes from Victoria. “One of our primary goals was to give interested, keen students an enriched and intense musical experience during the summer and to help build the local band programs in Whitehorse.”
Here is where the chronological muddiness comes in. Campbell says he can’t remember specifically if it was 1986 or 1987 when he returned to Whitehorse to teach at his first camp. After all, back then the trio was simply looking for another chance to encourage students to hone their talent. The future impact the camp could have perhaps wasn’t yet in sight.
Whitehorse resident Roslyn Wilson remembers enrolling her son for saxophone at the first camp, while she participated in choir. Years later, Wilson was teaching music at Golden Horn Elementary School in Whitehorse and a fellow staff member, Esther Austring, encouraged her to come out for a music- camp board meeting.
“She invited me to a board meeting, and at the meeting I became president,” Wilson says with a laugh. “It was an easy thing, and we worked well together, so I just stuck with it. And then it came to the point where we really needed a coordinator--it just got bigger and bigger.”
The camp began with a roster of mainly band and choir course options, but through the years came new instrumental choices, styles, and genres--plus, structural changes, as the Yukon Summer Music Camp became a society.
As the need for a coordinator grew, in came Debbie Peters, a local flute teacher who had worked with the camp before.
“The people who were involved in it truly believed in music education in a really big way,” Peters explains. “We felt it was really significant to bring in instructors from outside the territory who the kids and the community hadn’t seen on a regular basis because that gave a different element to the teaching.”
For Peters, the camp literally hit close to home--her three sons were once students. “Music camp was huge for them. Everything was skill building, and music camp always had that element of intensely working toward a final performance,” she says.
Her son Graeme participated for seven years during his childhood. “It really helped my playing level get higher because I got to try new things and you learn how to play in an ensemble,” he says. “Music camp took the pressure off music as being something I had to do. It made it fun.”
Graeme went on to international success with the now-defunct Peters Drury Trio. This summer, he’ll tour with his pop-rock band, Speed Control. He admits his return to the camp a few years ago as an instructor
further influenced his musical path.
“I would say I really learned to teach at music camp,” Graeme explains. “I first taught the Rock Band class at music camp, and now [Speed Control] does it as part of our tour. Sometimes I think without music camp I wouldn’t have a music career. I’d be one of those nine-to-five guys.”
Many who have been involved with the Yukon Summer Music Camp demonstrate a sincere sense of loyalty, having participated in a variety of ways for a number of years. Andrea McColeman is no exception. She spent a few summers as a piano accompanist, then became a class instructor, and now sits on the board of directors. “I was always keen on it because band camp and stuff like that were my favourite thing ever when I was a kid.”
McColeman says with the addition of classes focused on electronic music production, ukulele, and harmonica courses, the camp is constantly morphing into whatever the community needs and wants.
“If you can’t find something you like, then I don’t know,” she says with a laugh. “I think [the camp] has the same sentiment, but it definitely has changed. The students do work, but they work in the framework of fun.”
That framework has been consistent for the camp. As Campbell reflects on the beginning, he says it was about “. . . having [students] be immersed in a fun, challenging, and ultimately rewarding musical environment.”
And while he strayed from the territory, he’s never strayed far from that concept. The Yukon model inspired him to develop a summer music camp in Victoria that ran for 20 years.
This summer will not only mark the 25thanniversary edition of the Yukon Summer Music Camp, but it will also be nostalgic for Campbell, as he eagerly anticipates his return to Whitehorse to teach at the little camp that could.
The Yukon Summer Music Camp runs from July 30 to Aug. 4 at Yukon College and the Yukon Arts Centre. For details, go to yukonmusiccamp.ca