An Orchestra Fantasy Camp–What A Great Idea

Fantasy camps for adults have been popular for years—auto racing, cooking, all types of sports, you name it. For music there are camps for cabaret singers and jazz musicians, and now one for those who want to experience orchestral music-making. The article that follows below tells how the Baltimore Symphony and their Music Director, Marin Alsop will engage 120 amateur musicians for one week in June. And for $1650 for the week, it looks, to me, like this could be a money maker. But more than that, it has the potential of bonding 120 music lovers with their orchestra.

Marketers know that today’s public wants not only to attend an event, but to somehow participate. They want the “inside stuff,” that’s why they enjoy talking and interacting with the musicians. A fantasy camp.  What a great way to build an audience.

As good as the Baltimore project sounds it is an event, and events are like fireworks. They go off, there is much flash and excitement—but then it’s over. How can this enthusiasm be sustained or even grown? In 1991, Roy Ernst, an Eastman School of Music professor had an idea of senior adults playing music together. He knew that there are many, many people who study music as children and young adults, but for various reasons do not continue when college or career comes along. He reckoned that in retirement many of these amateur musicians would like to start again, or for that matter start from scratch. So, he created the Eastman New Horizons Band. From that start, now almost 20 years ago, it has blossomed to the New Horizons International Music Association and has over 150 bands world-wide.

From my own experience with New Horizon band members I know that they love to rehearse. They have all the equipment. They ask tons of questions. They are supportive of each other, and they come to concerts. Let’s keep an eye on Baltimore and also check out the New Horizons website. If there is a New Horizons program in your area, make friends with them. They are already a motivated audience for orchestras, and there is good partnering potential here.

Good luck Baltimore. Now here’s the Baltimore Sun article.

BSO Academy open to adult amateurs
A chance to study, play at Meyerhoff with symphony members

By Tim Smith |
Baltimore Sun reporter

January 28, 2010

These campers won’t have to endure any singsong routines with
marshmallows around a fire, but the 120 or so participants in the
first BSO Academy will still have a packed schedule of group
activities when they gather at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in June.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s latest project is aimed at amateur
adult musicians who would like to step not just onto the concert hall
stage, but into the thick of orchestral music-making itself.

For a week, beginning June 13, participants in the academy – tuition
starts at $1,650 – will work intensely with BSO players and music
director Marin Alsop.

“This is another way for us to try to reach out and connect with
people,” Alsop said Wednesday by phone from Japan.

“This will be a little like a fantasy camp for people. I really
believe we’re changing from a passive consumer society to a more
active, participatory one, and people are looking for a real visceral
participation,” she said.

The idea of launching a BSO Academy “seemed to play very well into
that situation,” said the orchestra’s president and CEO Paul Meecham.
“It’s really a further extension of how the orchestra can reach out
more to people who love music.”

People like Kristine Strecker, a self-described “advanced amateur”
French horn player who got a music degree in the 1980s but didn’t end
up in a music career.

“I realized it’s very difficult to make a living, even for a good
musician,” said Strecker, 45, a tax accountant in Owings Mills who
plays in a community orchestra at the University of Maryland,
Baltimore County.

The BSO Academy “seems like a really good opportunity,” Strecker said.
“I’m never going to reach New York Philharmonic level, but the more
you play with players better than yourself, the more you can improve.”

Even a brief musical encounter with orchestral professionals can
attract keen interest from amateurs.

When the BSO announced a few months ago a “Rusty Musicians” venture at
the orchestra’s second home, the Music Center at Strathmore in North
Bethesda, more than 600 amateur players signed up for a chance, at a
nominal fee, to work with Alsop and BSO members on two pieces of
music. The response to the project has energized BSO players about
prospects for the academy.

“What we discovered is that there is a wealth of dedicated amateur
musicians we were not aware of,” said Jane Marvine, the orchestra’s
English horn player. “Our ability to connect with them onstage, making
music together, is quite powerful.”

The idea for an academy originated years ago among BSO musicians, but
the players initially envisioned a summer camp for students and young
professionals. Alsop introduced the adult-education angle. “It’s
really lucky for us to have someone like Marin who is looking for the
next possible way to put ourselves out there and be a great resource
to this community,” said BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl.

At the Meyerhoff in June, the “campers” will spend a week in coaching
sessions and master classes with BSO players and also rehearse for a
side-by-side public concert with the pros, conducted by Alsop.

The first three years of the academy will be made possible by funding
from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Steve Harsch, 63, a retired businessman in Catonsville and regular BSO
concertgoer, is thinking of applying. He has played the tuba since
school days in his native Texas and now plays in several community
bands in the Baltimore/Washington area.

“The BSO is one of the top orchestras in the world,” Harsch said. “I’m
pretty much self-taught, so to have an experience with these
professionals could really help me to be a better player.”

The tuition for the academy did give Harsch pause.

“But I have enough money on hand to splurge on something like this,”
he said. “And if I didn’t do it, I would look back and think, ‘Darn, I
should have paid the money.’ So I just can’t pass this up.”

There’s a nonrefundable $35 application fee. Applications are
available at For more information, call 410-783-8051.

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

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Ramon Ricker

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