For the past two decades, the Encore Community Music Association’s Summer Music Camp has been a place for student musicians to embrace familiarity and test out the unknown.

Open to student musicians of all grades with at least two years of music instruction under their belt, campers describe the camp as a place to connect with others who share their passion for music.

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Many campers come back each year, like Evan Appleby, in his fifth year at the camp in the summer before his 10th-grade year. He hopes to become a student assistant with the camp next year in order to “inspire the young generation.”

Every year, camp is “a good time for everyone to come and love music,” Appleby said.

Part of what sets the camp apart from other summer music programs, Director Mindy Niles said, is the elective choices. These small group sessions let the campers try out different instruments, or new skills like composing, conducting in 45-minute sessions per day.

For example, rising seventh-grader Megan Grastorf, who plays the viola in school, switched to team woodwind to try out the saxophone. “Playing the notes right” on the new instrument was surprisingly tough, she said, but she enjoyed the change to learn more about the wider world of music.

Recording technology is a brand new elective this year, and Thursday morning, a group of students were grouped around an iPad running GarageBand as they layered different instrument and vocal tracks. Their plan is to record an introduction for the final presentation at the end of the week.

Hailey Rieger, a rising 10th-grader, said she took the elective because she sees music continuing to interact even more with technology in the future.

The instructors and peers are her favorite part of camp. “You grow a lot in the short week that [you’re] here,” she said.

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Though it has new classes, the camp continues many things over from when it started in 1997 as a way to keep the young people in the string orchestra of the year-round Encore Community Music Association enriched over the summer. Now the week-long day camp includes band, orchestra, and chorus concentrates.

Niles has been there for all 22 years and Band Director Andrew Spang has been there for 21.

Orchestra Director Matthew Boggs is a former camper who became an instructor. He said that playing a new instrument can also help young musicians be more patient with their peers during rehearsals.

“When they try the other instrument, they step into the other person's shoes, and they understand the challenges,” Boggs said.

For younger students and newer musicians, the mix of ages means they will probably get to sit next to someone in rehearsal that’s playing the same instrument at a higher level.

Spang said, “They’re hearing model sounds on an instrument right next to them. A [student assistant] whose an All-State payer, an All-County player playing on the cello right next to a kid who's only ever heard another fourth-grade or fifth-grade cellist. Suddenly, it's like, ‘Wow, that's what my instrument can do.’”

Staff member Brian Thompson, who directs instrumental music at Westminster Elementary, said staff value the chance to keep in touch with former students through the years. Watching them progress in their artistry is rewarding as an educator.

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A point of pride for the camp is the campers who stay long enough to become student assistants or even an instructor at the camp like Boggs and Rachel Morgan.

“As a kid, being around people that have a passion for it is what helps light that passion inside you. … They kind of forge your experiences and how you see things,” Boggs said.

“It definitely helped put my butt in this seat with this shirt,” he added, pointing to the bright teal Encore camp shirt he was wearing.

Spang said that his mission as an educator is, “I want everyone to have music in their life. Not as a career necessarily. But as just part of who they are. We get so into like concrete test scores, numbers and defining everything that we forget the things that are hard to put in numbers like love or empathy or sympathy are still real things.”

The final presentations from the electives are set for Friday, June 28 is at 1 p.m., and the Final Concert is at 7 p.m. The venue was moved from Manchester Valley High School and will take place at North Carroll Middle School. They are open to the public.

The day camp will run in Howard County in the week of July 8-12. Spots are still open. More information on the camp as well as the other programs through Encore Community Music Association are available at www.encoremusic.us, by emailing info@encoremusic.us, or calling 410-374-2182.

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