Band Camp teaches students to play and play together

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Six young musicians, a dozen songs and a couple audiences are the recipe for a band camp at Smith Music this week. But the week-long project is more than merely learning a few songs and putting on a show; it is about working together as a band.

“The band camp is focused on getting students to play with students,” said Paul Smith, owner of the music school. “In lessons they play with the teacher who is a pro musician and tends to prop them up a little bit. When you are playing along with a student at your level, you have to cover for them and they have to cover for you. It’s a totally different learning environment and it actually makes you own your instrument.”

The week-long camp, the second the school has held this summer, has the students selecting two or more songs each, tunes that appealed to their tastes and instrument.

“Everybody gets representation of the songs they love and they all play each other’s songs,” Smith explained. “So they also then get the experience of playing songs they maybe never would have played before.”

The experience is much like what a professional musician would experience playing club dates on the road. In fact, it is that concept of putting a band together and being in charge that is at the heart of the band camp sessions.

One of the things the school has focused on over the past two weeks is teaching stage etiquette, the professionalism of stage presence, and selecting an emcee for the shows, someone who could speak for the band to their audiences.

“We’ve really focused on the stage etiquette, what to do when you are not playing but the band is playing,” Smith explained. “Most kids have to learn how we look on the outside isn’t necessarily how we feel. Sometimes we look totally uninterested but we are having a great time.”

Two students who have been having a great time this summer are Cole Bieganek-Milligan-Peterson and Riley Quinn. The two musicians have been part of both camps held this month.

For Bieganek-Milligan-Peterson, participation in the two camps has been about learning new instruments and new songs as well as increasing his overall proficiency at playing. The musician added bass guitar to his repertoire during the first week and is adding vocals to the mix this week.

Between the two venues, Bieganek-Milligan-Peterson said he found the Farmers’ Market performance last Friday to be the tougher of the two. “I like stages, audiences and what not,” he explained. “That one was pretty easy. But the Farmers’ Market, because I hadn’t done it before, was kind of harder.”

The experience has given the musician some deeper insights into stage presence. “You do learn a lot about performing on stage,” he said. “With the band you just have to try and keep it all together. With practice it’s not actually as hard as at first.”

For Riley Quinn, who plays a wide variety of musical instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and even ukulele, band camp was an opportunity to participate in something he really enjoys. “I really love music,” he said. “For me it’s not really learning new instruments; it’s really just taking the ones I have and being able to play them with other musicians rather than just in my room. It’s like being able to pull together actual songs. I just enjoy the experience. I love performing and the show at the end is very rewarding.”

Another rewarding aspect of the experience for Quinn has been honing some techniques to keep everyone playing in sync. “If you see that another band mate is starting to fall behind or is not sure where they are at in a song, you learn tricks like turning your instrument so they can see where you are or being able to count into a certain point in the song. I think it is really good in that sense because it teaches to work together as a group.”

The band will play this Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Morinville Farmers’ Market, Street Performers’ Festival, located in the Parish Hall parking lot. After a brief break, the band will take to the stage at Smith Music for a 6:30 p.m. performance. Both shows are open to the public. Donations to the Morinville Food Bank Society are welcomed at the evening show.

The school will hold one more band camp this summer from Aug. 20 to 24.

Above: Riley Quinn practices drums during band camp rehearsals last week. The six-member band put on two performances Friday, a culmination of a week of learning to play and learning to play together. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

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