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At This Camp, Playtime Never Ends

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

LOWELL- The sounds of 101 teenagers tuning their French horns, bass clarinets and oboes may, under typical circumstances, make you want to clap your hands over your ears.

But here, at UMass Lowell's annual summer band camp, the sound swells, coming together like strings falling into a knot.

Off the stage, students joke, laugh and hang out. On the stage, the hum of instruments vying for the same note is the only noise swimming through the hall.

Even as the weeklong UMass Lowell Mary Jo Leahey Summer Music Camp winds down, students are picking up the instruments for nearly 10 hours a day, improving their skills and learning about possible careers in music.

The progress the teenagers make in one week can be stunning, said Deb Huber, UMass Lowell music professor and director of the camp.

"Monday is horrifying. You're asking, 'Why did we choose what we're playing?" Huber said. "And then, Thursday becomes Right. OK. That's why."

UMass Lowell hosts a plethora of camps throughout the summer, everything from Designcamp, which aims to teach students about engineering in a fun way, to the National Youth Sports Program, a sports initiative in which students do everything from play soccer to row crew.

The 7-year-old band camp is a one-week summer session that has been drawing in students from around the region, jumping from a population of 83 last year to 101 this year.

The cost is $425 per student, much less than the actual $1,200 cost of running the program. The difference is offset mainly through the support of sponsors and donations from alumni. Several full and partial scholarships are also offered.

And students say the experience is worth the price.

In addition to regular practice on their instrument of choice, they are also able to select from a wide variety of courses, everything from sound recording technology to score analysis, from the history of rock 'n' roll to conducting.

Each class also gives students an idea of future career opportunities in the musical arena.

That desire to show students that there are careers in different arenas of music, that they can pursue a job and earn a living in the field, was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the camp.

"My goal is that when they leave here, they'll be excited about music," Huber said.

Opportunities for life-changing experiences abound as well. One student had the chance to play, on stage, with a trumpeter from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who came to the camp to give a guest artist presentation. When he sat back down, he was shaking with excitement, Huber said.

At the residential camp, students are able to indulge in their love for music, 24/7.

"It's a lot of work, but it's fun work, because you wouldn't come if you didn't want to do it," said Laura Bonaccorisi, 18, of Merrimack, N.H.

"This has something for everybody," said 18-year-old Stephen Lee of Lowell. "For me, it's been like a party every year."

But that party will soon be coming to a close. Students will give their end-of-the-week Durgin Hall concert on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Admission is free and open to the public, and a cook-out will follow the concert.

"By Saturday, they can't believe what they've achieved," Huber said. "It's a great experience for them and a great experience for us."

Donations to the UMass Lowell summer band camp program can be sent to the attention of Deb Huber at UMass Lowell Summer Band Camp, 35 Wilder St., Suite 3, Lowell, MA 01854.