The 40th Anniversary of Sarasota Orchestra’s Summer Music Camp

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by Ryan G. Van Cleave

Let me say it plainly — my 12-year-old-daughter, Valerie Van Cleave, LOVES the Sarasota Orchestra’s Summer Music Camp.

Here are her Top Five reasons why.

Reason #5: It’s okay to be a beginner.

Reason #4: You learn a lot in such a short period of time.

Reason #3: It’s fun!

Reason #2: Playing with a full band on a professional-level stage is amazing.

Reason #1: Music is awesome.

Surely part of the reason she got interested in music was because Dad and Mom played music all through their middle school, high school, and college careers (my wife played clarinet and I played trumpet). Heck, we even met in marching band at college!

So last summer, I dusted off my old Bach trumpet, gave her a Trumpet 101 crash course, and then let the 3-week Summer Music Camp take it from there. This school year? She’s been asked to switch to baritone since the Pine View 7th grade band needed more low brass players. So that’s the instrument she’ll be working on with the Summer Music Camp from June 24-July 14 of this year. (Actually, she’ll be playing euphonium, which is an instrument so similar to the baritone that many use the terms interchangeably.) Thankfully, the Summer Music Camp is as well-suited to pure beginners as it is with students who have tons of lessons under their belts.

As of this year, the Summer Music Camp has been working wonders with young people like my daughter for 40 years now. Sure, the students learn to play their own instruments through sectional sessions and full-group ensembles. They get exposure to great classical music. And they get to choose electives such as music theory, music history, drumming, dancing, or singing. We all also know how education in the arts generally translates into participating students having better grades and better knowledge/skills retention, and of course it looks great on a college application or resume.

But one of the best takeaways the Summer Music Camp provides, says Director of Education Alyson Rozier, is witnessing how hard work results in a good outcome. Understanding that time plus effort equals something good is a powerful thing to take with them to college and into the workplace. Plus knowing how to work together — to play cooperatively — is also an invaluable skill to develop and nurture. Rozier adds, “Being able to work in a group of 5 — much less a music ensemble of 100 — is a hard skill to learn.”

This past year, the Summer Music Camp had 170 participants in their morning string group, which includes violin, viola, cello, and bass. The afternoon band program has slightly fewer students, although the range of instruments is far greater, including flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, horn, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, and percussion. Do a little math and you see that the impact the program’s had on the lives of young people over 40 years is in the thousands!

Siobhan Rodriguez, Public Relations and Social Media Specialist, adds that they’ve got a firm commitment to the community to provide music education. “Our goal is to assist any family with children interested in learning music.” To that end, they have instruments to loan during the camp period, and if those run out, they have arrangements with local schools and music stores to get low-cost rentals, if needed. If the cost of the program is too much, scholarship money is available thanks to generous community members who believe music matters. Many of these donors are the same ones who donated old instruments or purchased them for student use, too. Rozier says, “We’re so fortunate that we have so many community members who believe in education and support the arts.”

Rozier also wants to dispel two common musical myths. First, music ISN’T for the social elite. It’s something all people can — and should — enjoy. The benefits and the joys are for everyone. Next, it’s not as difficult as many might imagine. Those who fear getting involved in something hard will be pleasantly surprised at the progress they can make with an instrument when being taught by a quality professional like those who work here. “We hire either certified music teachers from the school system — going as far as Tampa and Fort Myers, if we need too — or we use musicians from the Sarasota Orchestra.” Most of the Sarasota Orchestra members aren’t available over the summer, however, since they travel, participate in other summer festivals, and have numerous music and family obligations. Still, 7 of the 27 teachers they had last summer were orchestra members. The other 20? They’re talented local/regional band directors like Victor Mongillo, who runs my daughter’s band program at Pine View.

The retention rate for these young musicians is high, notes Rozier. Over the last few years, nearly 80% of those who participated in the Summer Music Camp went on to eventually join the 30-week academic year Sarasota Youth Orchestra, which is one the most heralded youth music programs in the Southeast. My daughter’s going to help keep that lofty number high — she’s already working on her audition pieces for the SYO this fall.

If you’re interested in being part of the Sarasota Orchestra’s Education programs in general or the Summer Music Camp in specific, there are ways to easily do so. They’re always open to accepting old instruments and music equipment, and no financial donations are refused, regardless of their size. There’s also an active volunteer association too that is open to help in a variety of ways. And perhaps the best way to be part of this is attend the concerts. “You’ll be blown away by quality,” Rozier says. And having heard plenty of them myself, I can confirm the truth of that.

“Quite a few of our members started with us as third graders,” Rozier says, “and now we’re seeing them in our top orchestra. They’re playing real symphonic literature just as the Sarasota Orchestra plays. We’ve seen them grow from true beginners to this. It’s amazing and rewarding to be part of it.”

What makes me proud? Having Valerie tell me again and again that she can’t wait for June because that’s her favorite camp of the summer. “Music camp is the best!” she says with a mile-wide smile.


on Sarasota Orchestra’s Education programs, please visit or call 941.952.3434

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