Q: What is Jam Camp?

A: I’m glad you asked! Jam Camp is an idea I got while participating in a local Open Mic here in Saratoga Springs, NY. I was thrown in with a group of musicians with whom I was not familiar, and before we got our time on stage, we decided on a few songs that we knew in common and then just got up and played them. I asked myself, “why not get some of my students to participate in an open mic for a little on stage experience?” which I have done many times since and continue to do. Then it occurred to me that I could put students together as a performing unit, teach them a few songs and then arrange a public performance.

That idea then blossomed, no EXPLODED into “The Buggs,” a pre-teen Beatles Tribute Band that as far as I could gather was the youngest on record at the time. This group’s rehearsals started with us sitting in a circle around the arrangements that I had written for the two guitarists and the bassist (who had only been playing for a few weeks at the time!), and I tapped out a steady rhythm with my pencil. I later graduated to drums and then on their own they found a schoolmate who played drums. I taught them about vocal harmony and the dynamics of the Beatles’ music and they not only played several showcases and opened a few shows for my bands, but went ahead and booked some of their own concerts! These guys were 11 and 12 years-old at the time and they were booking their own gigs, playing Beatles music very convincingly to generally stunned audiences. It was a howl to watch them get crowded by fans of all ages upon a show’s conclusion to shake hands and sign autographs!

The next logcal step for my students was to expand the effort in Jam Camp which was not limited to the music of one band, but rather a greater variety of material and to focus more on what the students wanted. We did three sessions of three bands each, at the conclusion of each would be a concert. All of our shows were held at Bailey’s Cafe in Saratoga and each concert was packed wall to wall. Sometimes we had to import adult drummers, including myself. Other times we borrowed drum students from local drum instructors. The age mix of the participating students ranged from 9 years-old to mid-forties and everybody learned not only how to play a “set” of music, but how to communicate and cooperate with one another. The end result was astonishing. It was especially gratifying for me as each student rose to the challenge of reaching goals they had set for themselves, overcame stage fright and thoroughly enjoyed the rewards of their hard work. At this time, Saratoga Strings is looking toward the next session of rehearsals in the spring of 2014 to prepare for an early summer concert.

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