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Jazzing up summer: Music camp strikes a chord with Federal Way teens

Local students rehearse during the fifth Symphony Summer Music Camp from July 13-17 at Federal Way High School. To learn more about the Federal Way Symphony Summer Camp and upcoming concerts, visit www.federalwaysymphony.org or call (253) 529-9857. - Courtesy of Maureen Hathaway
Local students rehearse during the fifth Symphony Summer Music Camp from July 13-17 at Federal Way High School. To learn more about the Federal Way Symphony Summer Camp and upcoming concerts, visit www.federalwaysymphony.org or call (253) 529-9857.
— image credit: Courtesy of Maureen Hathaway

Beware “band geeks!” Don’t put your trumpet and violin away at the beginning of summer vacation. The Federal Way Symphony has a student music camp that just might be right up your “jazz alley.”

I just attended the fifth Symphony Summer Music Camp from July 13-17 at Federal Way High School. This camp offers a fun week of jazz training for music students entering grades 5 through 12, and an opportunity to learn with professional musicians from the Federal Way Symphony.

Instructors Todd Zimberg, Lonnie Mardis and Symphony Maestro A. Brian Davenport provided first-class, refreshing and innovative techniques that focused on jazz improvisation. If you parents have ever experienced any type of summer camp as a child, you know the profound positive effects that still matter to you as an adult — and you also know that you want the same thing for your own kids. This is the “hip” and instrumental camp to attend. The Symphony Summer Music Camp instructors taught self-confidence and self-esteem hand-in-hand with jazz improvisation, music theory and history.

This is a must for inspiring young musicians who wish to complement their music skills with those offerings which schools provide. I only wish it were a two-week camp since I observed lifelong improvisational skills beginning to hone within the first hour of camp.

Twenty one students, from one who was just entering fifth grade to a mature 17 year old, were present. They can’t learn many long-term techniques in a one-week period, but they can receive a taste of serious conservatory training.

I asked Colin B., a soon-to-be Thomas Jefferson High School flutist, what he anticipated as he began this new adventure. He, as well as many other students, was somewhat skeptical and timid, and didn’t know what to really expect. But with a background of teaching and jazz experience, both Todd Zimberg and Lonnie Mardis soon made them feel very welcome and at ease.

As a former jazz camp attendee, Federal Way Public Academy student Sally S. explained that the kids come from an array of different backgrounds, play at assorted levels, learn jazz, and make lasting friendships. Sally came back a second year because she felt that she hadn’t learned enough. Saxophonist Emilee B., a 12th-grader from Thomas Jefferson High School, agrees. She is one of the 14 students who received camp scholarships that were available from the City of Federal Way, the Kiwanis Club, the Soroptimists, Linda and Jack Butcher, and patrons of the Symphony's annual auction.

The main focus of the camp was to learn improvised jazz, where musicians spontaneously create a very intricate form of theme and variation. Jazz has its own language, its own grammar and its own vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong; some choices are just better than others. In emphasizing this and other elements, Brian Davenport introduced Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt, who have all been celebrated for their ability to improvise.

The enthusiastic instruction from both Todd and Lonnie sparkled like diamonds. When struggling to get all of the rhythms together, they urged students to clap the notes in order to learn the beat of a song. Kids were encouraged to go home and listen to someone who plays jazz on the same instrument as they do. They were exposed to sight reading and passionate performers such as Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra.

The weeklong studies culminated in a standing room only Saturday morning concert July 17 for family and friends. There were moments of finger painting with sound. To encompass a “cool cat dude” genre, drummer Alex wore a fedora hat, and saxophone player Liam sported a smoking jacket. The audience tapped their feet to a running bass beat and clapped loudly to improvised solos.

The Symphony Summer Music Camp was a hit. A progress in musical motion. This was like “Taking the A Train,” folks! Within a week’s time, these kids were as comfortable with impovisation as a smile and a handshake.

Learn more

For more information on the Federal Way Symphony Summer Camp and upcoming concerts, visit www.federalwaysymphony.org or call (253) 529-9857.

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