Published: June 10, 2015 By


Students at the 2014 High School Music Academy are conducted by Director of Bands Don McKinney.

Put yourself in the shoes of a high school or middle school student. At that age, college seems like a distant adventure. You can only imagine sleeping in a dorm room. And the independence of living on your own is almost inconceivable.

So the chance to essentially be a college student for a few days—now, not in a few years—would be hard to pass up, right?

Of course, says Dr. Sarah Stoneback, co-director of the CU-Boulder Summer Music Academy. That’s what has made the band and orchestra camp program so successful for the past ten years.

“It fills a need for these students. They get to spend time on a college campus, really getting to know the university and the College of Music,” says Stoneback.

For the next two weeks, more than 200 high school and middle school students will take over Imig Music Building around the clock. Master classes and chamber ensemble rehearsals in the morning; listening labs and orchestra practice in the afternoon; dances, talent shows and bowling in the evening. It's the fourth year for the high school program, and the tenth for the middle school program.

The camp is meant to give passionate young musicians a glimpse into what it’s like to be a music student at the state’s flagship university. “It’s an incredibly creative, inspiring, motivating experience for them,” says Stoneback. “It keeps these exceptional students involved and working in the summer."

“It’s unique for aspiring musicians,” adds Lexi Carlson, who returns this year for her fourth stint as a counselor for the high school camp. “It does a really great job of combining musical rigor with fun.”

Helping to motivate students during the high school camp are several College of Music faculty, including Gary Lewis, Christina Jennings, Mike Thornton, Peter Cooper, Mike Dunn, William Stanley, Terry Sawchuk and Don McKinney.

“Our faculty are really good at opening up their time for these campers,” says Stoneback.

Ciara Glasheen is this year’s head counselor for the high school camp. She says seeing students work with faculty is one of the highlights of the program. “Most have never had this chance until now. They get to work with some of the best professionals in their field.”

For the middle school camp, faculty will step aside and let music education students—mostly undergraduates—take the reins. “It’s an excellent opportunity for our students to get real classroom experience and put what they’ve been learning into practice,” says Stoneback. “And it’s really amazing what they can provide. They have a great ability to communicate on a different level.”

“It’s fun to see them coming up with new ideas and injecting new life into the program,” says Dr. Matt Dockendorf, Assistant Director of Bands and Co-Director of the academy. “They’re involved in planning and sectionals and master classes. They’re thinking about the whole process, and that’s something we’re always teaching our music ed students.”

The intensive days are followed by laid-back evenings, which Carlson says makes the week a great relationship-building experience for the students, as well. “They spend plenty of time making music in a chamber ensemble setting, but then they get to spend the evenings doing scavenger hunts and bowling and all that,” she says.

In addition to the benefit for students, the academy benefits the College of Music. For the first time this year, local and national donors—such as Rocky Mountain Music Repair and Conn-Selmer—are sponsoring elements of the program.

That creates a community connection that Stoneback says is invaluable. “It allows for more collaboration with Boulder, the rest of Colorado and even other states. And it encourages local band and orchestra directors to reach out to us in the future.”

Additionally, the academy grows the national reputation of the College of Music; students from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida will be in attendance, along with one student from overseas.

“It’s great to see that the word is getting out, which will help us expand in the future,” says Dockendorf. “There are many camps across the country, but if we can provide a good experience, the students can go back and say they had a great time at CU.”

The mutually beneficial relationship, in the end, comes back to the music. “We get to share our passion with these young musicians, and they get to meet other like-minded kids who are looking for more out of their musical careers,” says Stoneback. “And at the end of the week, everyone is a better musician because of it.”

“It’s really exciting to see them come in at the beginning of the week relatively inexperienced, and then before they leave you get to hear the result of all their hard work at the concert,” says Glasheen.

The High School Music Academy is June 14-19 and the Middle School Music Academy is June 21-26. The Jazz Academy starts July 5. For more information on the events, visit the bands page.