Band campers make noteworthy steps at Cockeysville Middle

Oregon Ridge is the summer home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but on Wednesday, June 27, the park will play host to another popular summer fixture.

The final concert for the Baltimore County Summer Music Camp, which begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, will offer 320 county music students the opportunity to play where the pros do.

"It's really great," said Frances Jedrzejewski, 19, of Riderwood. Jedrzejewski, a rising sophomore at Towson University, returned to the camp as an intern this year, but has attended each year since she began middle school.

"Everyone is so supportive, you've got families there," she said. "The whole concert area is wonderful."

But before the big concert at Oregon Ridge on Wednesday, the high school band was scheduled to perform a 12-song set at the Avenue in White Marsh at noon Monday, June 25.

This year, Jedrzejewski is helping out with the high school percussionists. On Friday, it was mostly fine-tuning.

"We've got our pieces picked out," she said. "We're just rehearsing them, running tricky spots and preparing.

Chris Gnagey, director of the high school group and a teacher at Catonsville High, said the group began the week with 25 songs, and after Monday's concert, will pick four new pieces to perform with the rest of the campers at Oregon Ridge.

"It's nice that it pushes the older kids," he said.

But this year, according to director Stephen Miles, supervisor of the county Office of Music and camp director, the strength is in the younger students.

"We have over 100 rising sixth-graders, so it's a younger camp than it has been," Miles said. "We had 45 last year."

Miles credits the high enrollment to a handful of elementary school instrumental music teachers who are "really gung-ho and have been very successful about getting the kids doing this."

On Friday afternoon — halfway through the camp for those younger students — the bands split up into sections to rehearse parts on their own. The hallways at Cockeysville Middle were flooded with sound, and inside one room in particular, the influence of those elementary school teachers was evident.

Corwin Neat, an 11-year-old trombone player from Nottingham, said he signed up at the urging of Melissa Goetschius, his instrumental music teacher at Joppa View Elementary.

"I wanted to come since I wouldn't see her anymore (next year)," he said.

Corwin said the camp has been fun, but a lot harder than he was used to, though that will prepare him well for the next steps at Perry Hall Middle School.

Likewise, Vincent Igusa, a 10-year-old bassoon player from Stoneleigh, said his music teacher "really encouraged" him to attend the camp.

Vincent said he takes private lessons as well, so the pieces aren't as hard for him as others, but he enjoys the challenge of playing the new pieces with new people.

Walker Campbell, 10, of Cockeysville, signed up just because he likes to play his trombone.

It's that passion that impresses Chris Bennett, one of two directors of the middle school band, and who is the band teacher at Hereford Middle School.

"These are first-year musicians, and they've done everything we've asked them to," Bennett said. "We have seven days of rehearsal to do a concert — you don't have any time to mess around."

Bennett said at his level, there are two types of students at the camp: those who told their parents they wanted to go to summer music camp, and those whose parents told them they had to.

"We have very few of those, but you win those over fast," he said.

Part of the equation for keeping the students engaged is using songs they're familiar with — "good cheese," as Bennett referred to it. In his middle school band, the students are playing the ubiquitous "Limbo Rock."

The high-school orchestra fine-tuned its Lady Gaga mix on Friday, and the high-school band perfected a pair of crowd-pleasing Beatles tunes.

Each of the three bands and two orchestras were working hard toward the Oregon Ridge concert. Miles said they understand the importance of the event and the venue.

"It's not like they're playing at the Meyerhoff, which is something our high school kids can do, but it's a big deal," Miles said. "It's a unique place, and it's fun."

Students in the BCPS Summer Instrumental Music Camp will perform in concert in the outdoor amphitheater at Oregon Ridge Park, 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, on Wednesday, June 27, 7 p.m.

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