Observations from My Week as a “Camper”

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Last week, Music For Everyone hosted a music camp for 100 kids, including the very large kid in the picture above. I participated in the camp as a student/camper (part of the "Drum Warriors"). It was a blast! I learned a lot. Here are a few observations from walking a mile in the moccasins of a camper/student in music camp.

It’s humbling (but in a very good way) being thrust into a situation where you have to rely on children to help you succeed. My three Drum Warrior bandmates’ ages ran from 9-11. They all knew how to read music while I have always struggled mightily in that department. They were very patient with me. As adults, we too often dismiss what children know and have to say. If we listen they can teach us a lot. And they clearly relish being in a position where they are teaching an adult as opposed to always being the student.

I was also struck with just how amazing, competent and patient all of the instructors were (most of them full-time music teachers in schools). Whatever it is we pay our teachers, it is clearly NOT enough. Their ability to corral, organize, inspire, encourage young students (and a much older one) was truly impressive.

I gained an even more powerful sense of, and appreciation for, their ability to lead and inspire a large group of kids when I was asked to step out of my role as a camper to act as a teacher for a few minutes one morning. During the camp, various ensembles of approximately 25 – 30 children were created to learn, rehearse and on the final day of camp, perform a few pieces of music. One of the teachers/directors of one of the ensembles was called out of the room to consult with another teacher about a piece of music. I was asked, as the only available adult, to cover for that teacher for a few minutes – just to have an adult in the room. But as I stepped into the room to face an ensemble of 25 kids ages 9 – 14, I realized that they all knew more than me about the music in front of them.

As I entered the room, they were just finishing a run through of one of their music pieces. Having no idea what to do to keep chaos from breaking out, I stepped to the podium, tried to project an air of authority and competence, and gave them the old standby, “Okay, that was great. Let’s take it again from the top. And a one, a two, a three and a four.”

Away they went, with me swinging my arms in time, mimicking what I observed the real teachers doing when they conducted the group.

But it didn’t take long for them to figure out that they were being led by a novice. And like a shark smelling the scent of blood in the water, they began to move in for the kill. Immediately after the piece concluded, one kid asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

“Of course,” I responded.

Sensing a “soft” target, two other kids, both clearly friends of the first, approached, “I have to go to the bathroom. Me too.”

“Of course.” And just like that, a “posse” had been unleashed into the halls. One is no big deal. Two is manageable. But three is a small posse.

Meanwhile, inside my classroom, things were rapidly deteriorating. Trying to think and improvise as a musician might, I asked them each to play their personal favorite note. They all complied, but by the end of this little exercise it was clear that the inmates had taken over the asylum.

Chaos ensued.

Fortunately, the real teacher re-entered the room to restore order.

So, from the point of this camper, whatever it is we pay teachers, it is NOT enough.

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