What Is an Orchestra Camp?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

An orchestra camp is a camp at which musicians gather to learn skills on orchestra instruments and perform as an ensemble. They are very similar to band camps. Typically, those who attend the camps are elementary, middle or secondary school students.

Musicians gather to learn skills on orchestra instruments at an orchestra camp.
Musicians gather to learn skills on orchestra instruments at an orchestra camp.

Most often, orchestra camps are held in the summer at pleasant rural locations. Staying in cabins and participating in activities such as hiking and swimming while not practicing music is a major part of the experience of attending some orchestra camps. This does not apply to all orchestra camps, however. In some instances, the camps are in more urban areas, in which case the attendees stay in dormitories and participate in other entertainment. It is the fact that participants must stay in a location other than their homes, not the location itself, that earns these types of events the name "camp."

Musicians can fine tune their performance skills at orchestra camp.
Musicians can fine tune their performance skills at orchestra camp.

Even though those who attend an orchestra camp are permitted to engage in non-music activities, orchestra camps are highly structured. Students may have individual lessons on their instrument, along with sectionals with those who play the same instrument. The players come together regularly to perform as a full orchestra. For some students, additional lessons are provided, such as reedmaking techniques for oboes and bassoon players. Students who attend these camps thus regularly play or have applied music study for several hours a day, which is much more than the students usually have during regular school.

Professors of music usually oversee both the administration and individual classes at orchestra camps, although public school teachers with experience also serve in the same capacities. In some instances, candidates for bachelor or master's degrees in music also may provide instruction and administration skills. Typically, those with professorships or public teaching positions oversee those working on bachelor or master's degrees so that attendees of the camp receive quality information and stay safe.

Often, orchestra camps charge for the privilege of attending. Many camps provide scholarships, however. This allows even students from lower-income families to go to the camps and learn. To get such a scholarship, students must demonstrate extraordinary ability on their orchestra instrument. The camps usually remain non-profit organizations, however, using the money from fees only to cover the cost of food, utilities and instructor and administrator services.

The purpose of an orchestra camp is to enhance the musical ability of attendees and provide an opportunity to develop ensemble skills. Parents, guardians and friends of attendees usually want to see what the attendees have learned during the camp. Thus, a highlight of most orchestra camps is a farewell concert at which the attendees perform together. In a large orchestra camp, there may be multiple orchestras organized by age that perform, and camp instructors and administrators may recognize outstanding attendees with individual awards at the concerts.

No standard duration for an orchestra camp exists. How long an orchestra camp lasts depends largely on the amount of funding available and the schedules of administrators and instructors. A very short orchestra camp may last just a week, whereas an extended camp may last a month or more.

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