Music camp promotes learning and growth
The struggle is real, and it is good.
This was the theme for the Heights Summer Music Camp held June 10–15 at Cleveland Heights High School. This was the 15th camp season and, like the other 14, it was a great week of exploration, growth, engagement and success.
Reaching Heights, our local community support organization for the Heights schools, sponsors the camp that provides fifth- through eighth-graders who are residents of the Heights school district with the chance to engage in an intense week of playing their instruments in chamber groups and an orchestra. They also explore music in choirs, jazz groups or ukulele ensembles, and they learn about musicianship.
This is all provided by a staff of 16 professional musicians and music educators and 22 high school mentors. Many staff are alumni of the Heights music program. I founded the camp with Tamar Gray and Betsy Neylon, and I direct it.
Learning, like much of life, is about finding ways to engage with difficult and daunting challenges. At music camp we ask young musicians, many of whom have played their instruments for less than two years, to play advanced music.
Campers need to be comfortable with their instruments, knowledgeable about how to use their fingers to create each note, able to imagine how the music should sound, keep the tempo and rhythm, count, play in exact unison with more than 100 other musicians, follow the conductor and understand the language used to give instructions. They must be comfortable with not knowing the music, making many mistakes, trying over and over, and listening to adults who they don’t know very well. It goes way beyond simple multitasking!
Campers engage in these activities twice a day in an orchestra, and they apply these skills in small chamber groups where they cannot hide what they don’t know. No matter how capable our musicians are, the struggle is real. They are facing challenges, and when they do, and when they make progress, it is good!
Our goal is not to humiliate our campers and expose what they don’t know. It is to provide them enough support, encouragement and direction to help them engage in a demanding experience and find success. Every step forward is rewarding. It is a wonderful experience of self-discovery. Facing adversity—in this case, adversity that is not life-threatening in any way—is a source of growth, confidence and, we hope, motivation to engage and grow.
It is also a great lesson in how to face adversity—something no one can escape.
Learning music is a wonderful lesson about how learning works and its fantastic rewards. This is not about judgment, jumping through hoops of compliance or proving to the legislature that they have invested taxpayer dollars wisely and should continue doing so.
Rather, it is authentic learning. We are fortunate to have the financial support of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and several generous individual donors, and the time to offer a challenging, engaging and rewarding learning experience to young people. This should not be a luxury of summer. It should be a year-round driver of public education.
Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active in the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.