MISSOULA – McCann Purcell had never seen 10 bassoons in one room until he attended a University of Montana band camp this summer.

“I mean, we don’t even have one bassoon in my band at home,” said Purcell, who is from Fairfield.

Purcell will be a junior in high school next year in a class of about 30 students. He loves music and plays trombone and piano, but given the size of his town – some 700 people – access to diverse music instruction is limited.

That’s why he was excited to be in Missoula, at UM and with a group of about 85 other music campers that he called “his people.”

The University’s School of Music has offered its popular music camps for 73 years, with the first one being held in 1949. The camps draw students from all over Montana and across the country for instruction from UM music faculty and interaction with other middle and high school musicians.

For many students like Purcell, the camps serve as music melting pot for expertise, community and instruction for young music talent.

“I’ve met so many people,” Purcell said. “Missoula is like no other town I’ve been to in Montana. It’s like New York City!”

This year’s music camps will bring 150 to 200 students to UM. Many chose to live in dorms during the camps, trying out University dining and getting a feel for what it might be like to be a UM student.

Jim Smart, UM’s director of bands, said the camps are a beloved tradition at UM that allow talented students to improve their skills while exploring whether they want to continue their musical journeys at UM. Many UM students pair a music minor or major with another major outside the School of the Music.

Each spring, Smart and his colleagues Margaret Baldridge (String Camp), Rob Tapper (Jazz Camp) and Chris Hahn (Piano Camp) send letters, emails and advertise on social media throughout the Northwest to promote the music camps. Locally, they attend concerts and visit classrooms to encourage students in seventh through 12th grades to attend because they know the power of those experiences. Such exposure, particularly for students in rural communities, is critical in Montana, which Smart said suffers from a shortage of music teachers.

“In a small band program, if you really turn one kid on to music, it can be infectious,” Smart said. “I can remember when I was a kid, it wasn’t the daily band class that got me thinking of going into music. It was the summer experiences – the honor ensembles – that made me want to pursue music.”

The experience of playing with new musicians creates a camaraderie necessary to excel not just in music, but in life, Smart added.

“At camp they get an immediate peer group, and it’s an opportunity to get together with kids from other schools that hopefully will energize them to seek higher levels on their instruments and new experiences,” Smart said. “Music attracts kids from lots of different backgrounds and is a collaborative activity. As humans we are social beings, and I think putting kids into an environment where they don’t know everybody helps them grow.”

They also get individualized instruction from UM School of Music faculty who maintain high standards of performance excellence.

“It’s a camp experience, so we want to keep it fun, but we push the kids, and there is a performance expectation,” Smart said “They work hard and they focus, but there’s the social stuff, too, like attending Out to Lunch downtown and a barbecue at Bonner Park. We want them to take this experience and excite them about music.”

It’s not uncommon, Smart added, for someone to attend camp six years in a row from middle to high school.

Stella Gardner, who plays oboe; Eleni Spaliatsos, who plays clarinet; Sarah Ratz, who plays bassoon; and Julien Alviar, who plays alto saxophone; try to come every year. They all live in Missoula and attend Hellgate High School.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s relaxed,” Ratz said. “I always learn a lot about my instrument.”

She and fellow campers will take what they learn back to the many bands they participate in, including marching band, pep band, concert band and symphonic band.

For Purcell, the social element of camp meant he tried Boba Tea for the first time and walked to get pizza with a few hometown kids. Meeting new friends, elevated expectations and watching someone play the instruments he loves will keep him coming back to music camp at UM.

“I always really loved music,” Purcell said. “I listened to musicals when I was little and want to pursue music professionally. Listening to my trombone instructor play – he’s so good – he moves the slide so fast and seeing him improv and hearing him on the piano and the trombone is inspiring. I’ll be back next year for sure.”

- by Jennifer Savage, UM News Service -

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