Nurturing the Teenage Musician
by Susan Willats
For music students, who often spend a lot of time practicing and playing alone (especially those who don’t have a school music program available), playing with other musicians can be a true game-changer.
We all know it’s not easy being a teenager. (It’s also not easy parenting a teenager, but that’s a topic for a different article.) Teenagers who play musical instruments face additional challenges: finding time (or motivation) to practice on a regular basis, worries about disappointing their instructors, and possible stigma or labeling from other kids at school. Research continues to show great advantages to those who play music, but it can seem a long and lonely slog at times to younger players.
Community Music School of Santa Cruz has been hosting a resident music camp specifically for teenagers since 1999. At camp, students play in both instrument-specific groups as well as in an all-camp ensemble. One of the benefits of attending a full-immersion program like Teen Camp is having the space to focus on music for an extended period of time. Phones are off, there are no televisions, and campers’ sole purpose is to have fun while playing music with like-minded people.
The primary music of Teen Camp is Celtic, a genre with a rich tradition of playing in multi-generational groups. Campers learn the etiquette of playing in seisúns (informal jam sessions) – the glue that binds the traditional music community together. One of the less-obvious benefits of attending Teen Camp is learning that such a welcoming community exists, and how to become a part of it.
For music students, who often spend a lot of time practicing and playing alone (especially those who don’t have a school music program available), playing with other musicians can be a true game-changer. Parents of campers often report their teenagers show a renewed interest in music – and practicing – after returning from camp. Students often start thinking of themselves as musicians, which can be extremely empowering during the confusing and pressure-filled teenage years.
A parent of a new camper sent this just after the final concert in 2019: “This week was amazing for him. The concert was almost tear-inducing, to be honest. I was so happy to see my kiddo SO HAPPY playing gorgeous music with other kids, and he talked about camp for over an hour back at home. He loved it, and I’m so grateful. Thank you for creating this.”
This year Teen Camp will take place from Monday, June 14 to Saturday, June 19 at the Monte Toyon Conference Center in Aptos. Camp is open to players of fiddle, cello, flute, recorder, pennywhistle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, harp, dulcimer, accordion, keyboards, and more. Participants must be proficient on their instrument (i.e., have played for at least two years). Faculty include world-class musicians from the Monterey Bay area and beyond – some of whom are Teen Camp graduates who have gone on to careers in music.
Additional information (including scholarships, COVID considerations, and the new “bring a friend” discount) is available online at CommunityMusicSchool.org.