The Birch Creek campus pulsates with the beats of drums, the shakes of maracas, and the hammering of xylophones. The Percussion & Steel Band session students arrived for their two-week experience just two days prior and already sound like they’ve been performing together for months.
“We work ‘em from seven in the morning to ten at night,” says Percussion & Steel Band Program Director Ben Wahlund. “Our thought is, it’s a really special collection of people, of adults and kids, that we don’t really want to waste much time.”
The collection of people includes students – anywhere from age 13 to age 19 – from as far away as Trinidad, Hawaii, and Milwaukee, and a faculty that includes professional musicians and instructors from as far away as Puerto Rico, Japan, and Madison. They come together for a short, but very productive time on the former farmstead and immerse themselves in studying, performing, and celebrating music.
“When the kids come, this camp just comes alive,” says Cathy Knipfer, director of marketing. “First they’re all a little timid, everybody’s getting a feel for each other and the surroundings. After a day or two they are like a big family. Our tagline is ‘Magic in the Music,’ and it really is magical.”
“It’s definitely like no other camp I’ve been to,” says first-time student Kelci Page. “It’s a little intimidating at first because you’re not sure if you will measure up to how good everyone is, but it’s really fun because there is so much you can learn from everyone else.”
Dillon Mansour, a third-time student, knows all too well the intimidation you feel when first arriving. “I used to have specific stage fright issues the first summer I came here, but you play three shows in one week, three the next, and you don’t have time to worry. [Birch Creek] helped me get over that issue.”
Constant practice, exposure to a variety of instruments, and a warm, welcoming environment also help the students leave their fears and inhibitions behind. “First time I was here I was mind-boggled by the intensity of the camp – all the different stuff you get exposed to and the crazy, insane faculty and their abilities – it’s really overwhelming, but really great because you’re around people who care as much about music as you do,” says Mansour.
Just a few of the many percussion instruments the students are exposed to during their session include steel pan drums, snare drums, djembes, mallets, xylophones, and cymbals. They study percussion instruments and styles from Africa to the Caribbean to Europe.
“Something really unique about this camp is the steel pans, and to have people from Trinidad and Tobago who’ve made them, who teach them here is amazing,” says Wahlund. “The steel pan is one of those instruments that’s kind of caricatured – we all kind of think Jimmy Buffet – and here, they’ll be doing Mozart transcriptions.”
“The teachers are saying that music is a language, and you might have friends that your familiar with and can jam” says Mansour, “but when you’re at this camp with all the diverse people coming in and you can play with them – it shows much how much music goes through different cultures and countries.”
“Philosophically, we believe that it’s really important that there are all these cultures and different music styles,” says Wahlund.
The exposure to the various music styles as well as the diverse faculty that make a living teaching and performing that music also showcases the many professional options students have.
“Some people are trying to convince me that you need to do something where you’ll make a lot of money,” says Page. “But my mom’s telling me, ‘Do what makes you happy.’ Music is always going to be a part of my life.”
“I’d like to major in music in college,” adds Mansour, “and hopefully be a part of something like this, it’s awesome.”
After just days of rehearsing together, the sixteen faculty members of the Percussion & Steel Band session and their twenty-four pupils will showcase their talents to the public in a series of concerts – seven in all.
“Performance is a huge part of this camp and it’s what makes Birch Creek different than most camps,” says Wahlund. “Most camps will have one big performance at the end; here, we get done with that big performance and then we do six more.”
The performances also bolster the students’ passion for the music they are learning so much about. “People show up because they care, they want to support music,” says Monsour. “And seeing an audience that has that much attention they care and they’re supporting you – they’re an audience, of course, but they are just as much a part of the music as us.”
Birch Creek’s Percussion & Steel Band concerts will be performed July 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, & 20. All concerts begin at 8pm, with student prelude performances at 7:30 pm.
Birch Creek is located three miles of Egg Harbor on County Highway E. To learn more about Birch Creek or purchase tickets, call 920.868.3763 or visit birchcreek.org.