Top: Andre Weinberger, ESM ‘23, who attended Summer Jazz Studies in 2018. Photo credit: Joy Yagid.
Bottom: Robert Varon, ESM ‘23, a Summer Jazz Studies alumnus from 2017. Photo credit: Arian David Photography.
By Eli Campbell, Media & Events Coordinator, Eastman Community Music School
Eastman Experience: Summer Jazz Studies: “This rigorous two-week program provides an intensive, performance-based experience for highly motivated students currently in grades 9–12 and is ideally suited for those considering jazz studies at the collegiate level. Students work directly with the renowned Eastman School of Music jazz faculty in a program designed to enhance improvisational and ensemble skills.”
This is what we tell students about the Eastman Community Music School’s renowned jazz program for high school musicians, but what would current Eastman students who have been through the program tell you? ECMS Media & Events Coordinator Eli Campbell interviewed two recent participants in the program, Robert Varon (jazz guitar) and Andre Weinberger (saxophone), for their thoughts on their Summer Jazz Studies, and how the program affected their decision to attend the Eastman School of Music.
Robert Varon and Andre Weinberger are current first-year students at the Eastman School of Music. Robert attended Summer Jazz Studies in the summer of 2017, and Andre in 2018.
Eli: Did you plan to go to Eastman before Summer Jazz Studies? Or, did the camp help make up your mind? How?
Andre: Although I’d heard of it, Eastman wasn’t really on my radar. But people at other summer programs told me that the Eastman program was the closest it would feel to actually being a conservatory student. I applied for the summer after my junior year of high school, thinking it would help me decide whether to pursue music full-time rather than being a music major at a liberal arts school.
The program was a big leap for me in terms of intensity. The slogan “Eat, Sleep, Music” really holds true here. It felt like every minute of the day was taken up by classes, rehearsals, and performances, whether by me or by others. It required adjustment, but once I started to get it down, the quality of the program blew me away.
Robert: I did actually plan to apply to Eastman before the camp, as my dad is a professor there and I always spent a ton of time at the school and loved the vibe. I was constantly surrounded by my father’s amazing colleagues growing up, who taught me a ton about music and life. This ultimately made me want to attend the school when the time came. However, once I went to the camp it made me fall in love with the place even more. I quickly met some incredible people my age and realized that there were others out there just like me who are just as crazy about music as I am. I’m so lucky and overjoyed to say that some of these friends I made are in fact in the class of 2023 with me. It was great coming in on the first day of orientation to have already made connections with those people, I didn’t feel so alone entering an entirely new world. I can without a doubt say that the jazz majors in the class of 2023 are all family to me. Absolutely every single one.
Eli: Do you have a favorite memory from the camp, or a favorite course, or faculty member?
Andre: I was lucky enough to meet several faculty members I work with now — Rich Thompson, Charles Pillow, Jeff Campbell, and Bob Sneider. They were so engaged and enthusiastic, it was really inspiring. It’s also a small program as compared to some of the other summer workshops — 50 or so people as opposed to 1,000! — so I got to know people really well. I made more progress in a couple of weeks than I ever thought possible. And I discovered that music school definitely was the right place for me.
Robert: My favorite moment from my time at the camp was without a doubt the jam sessions me and my friends had that were not part of the scheduled activities. This was where I started to really connect with my friends on the deepest level, through playing music together without anybody around but ourselves. No professors, and no audience. This is honestly where I began to discover my individual voice as a musician, playing without any supervision and just for the fun of it. And the thing is, this type of thing would not happen anywhere else but this camp. The people who go to this camp are really special, and like I said they will become like family to you. Relationships like this last a lifetime and that’s what makes this camp worthwhile.
Eli: What would you recommend to help high school students get the most out of their summer at Eastman?
Andre: Don’t be afraid to seek out faculty members and ask questions. Everyone really wants to get to know you. And be ready to play all the time — it’s like a total immersion language program, but for music.
Robert: My advice to get the most out of your summer at Eastman is to connect with people. Follow each other on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is — just do it. Because the connections you make at this camp will never leave you. It is inevitable that you will cross paths with these people in the near future, and even later in life. It has already happened to me and it has brought me so much opportunity and true happiness. So, be friendly and never judge anyone by how they play. They may have a different niche in life and may be able to help you in ways you don’t even know yet, so just be kind to everyone and cherish all the relationships you develop. The people that go to this camp are special, so treat them that way and you will get back what you give out.
Eastman Experience: Summer Jazz Studies runs from June 28-July 10, 2020. Admission is by audition only; see website for details. Reduced application fee through February 15; final application deadline April 15.