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Eight days of summer surrounded by music


The sweet sounds of string instruments emanated from the cafeteria at New Town High School yesterday, while the stronger tones of brass drifted from the auditorium and two other nearby rooms.

School is out for the summer, but at 9 a.m. the halls rang with the music of 200 students attending band camp, including the 65 who make up the orchestra.

The orchestra members tuned their instruments as director Carrie Sexton led them with a one-letter command, "G." The bows rose and campers played scales at Sexton's instruction.

Rehearsing for a concert, the young musicians were preparing to play a piece titled "Fumble Fingers," and Sexton urged them to play the way they will for the audience.

"I want to hear dynamics," Sexton said. "This is your first piece. This will be their first impression of you."

The orchestra members sat in rows arcing around the director, with folded-up cafeteria tables nearly surrounding the students to create a barrier between them and the area where they eat lunch.

Sexton and fellow director Sari O'Bryan wanted to give the students their own space to practice for tomorrow evening, when the orchestra and the camp's three bands will perform at the Summer Music Festival at Oregon Ridge Park, the culmination of the eight-day camp.

Campers range in age from those who will be seventh-graders in the fall to those who will be seniors in high school, and come from middle and high schools across Baltimore County. The $200 tuition pays for the 15-member staff of instructors and for buses that transport the students from their schools to New Town.

Since the camp began June 19, the students have been practicing each weekday in four hourlong rehearsals.

After an hour of group rehearsal, the students split into smaller groups by instrument for an hour.

The campers will take what they have learned and play a concert for themselves tomorrow afternoon, since they won't be able to hear each other at the evening concert.

"We think that's a real important part of the whole process - to hear each other," said Stephen Miles, instrumental music specialist for the county school system.

The camp has been in existence for almost two decades, Miles said. In recent years it was held at Cockeysville Middle School, but renovations there led the camp to relocate to New Town.

"And the rooms are excellent for this, chorus room, band room, auditorium all right here," Miles said.

Between the one-hour rehearsals in the morning and afternoon, students eat lunch and have free time, during which they can play sports or read.

Trumpeter Willis Spencer said he likes to play football during the break. But yesterday, he and the other members of the camp's high school band traveled in the rain to the Avenue at White Marsh to perform for shoppers.

Despite having recently graduated from Patapsco High, Spencer returned to the camp to keep his skills sharp. In the fall, he will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a full scholarship in music education. He wants to be a band director.

"It's a good experience to work with everybody," said the 17-year-old Rosedale resident. "I have fun playing music, plus it keeps my chops up over the summer."

In the cafeteria, the orchestra directors pushed to get the young musicians back into the groove after a weekend off. But their biggest challenge was managing the group's wide range of ages.

"We've run into a problem where we don't want the younger ones having a problem with it being too hard, but too easy for the older ones," Sexton said.

After a week, the campers have improved significantly, O'Bryan said, though a few kinks need to be worked out.

"They're going to be fine," she said. "Wednesday night is going to be great."

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