EL CENTER — The hum of strings vibrating from beginners playing their first notes on violins and violas, the deep drones of cellos and double basses vibrating with the greed of youth filled Southwest High School’s music rooms and its Jimmie Cannon Theater during the last week of July for the SHS Orchestra Camp.
Not only was the summer orchestra camp free for Imperial Valley students in grades 4 through 9 — thanks to funding from the ICOE’s nonprofit foundation for education — but it was the first time the school had held a camp that both experienced as well as totally inexperienced young musicians, said SHS Director of Orchestra and Chair of the Fine Arts Department, Dr. Matthew Buses.
“The reason for holding an orchestra camp was because I think we need to help build our orchestra programs in the Valley,” Busse said, “so I thought I could reach out to all the kids on IV, even if they don’t have any.” experience (with a musical instrument) to give them a taste of what it’s like to be in the orchestra.”
“We have shrinking programs[in the Valley]and as a high school principal, I see the bottom line of that,” Busse said. “As our middle school programs shrink, our high school shrinks even more, and I hate to see that because there’s something special about having an orchestral program in the Valley.”
The Orchestra Camp was held to raise awareness among parents that their children can participate in orchestra programs in most cities throughout the Imperial Valley, Busse said. He said the camp helps students meet students from across the valley and develop new musical skills, hoping to spark interest in pursuing their new instrument.
Busse said it gives new students “a taste of what it’s like to play in an ensemble” and promotes camaraderie for both new students and veteran students.
The 2022 Summer Orchestra Camp taught approximately 130 school-age students with the volunteer help of about a dozen students from the Busse High School Orchestra. The kids were divided into five large groups based on skill level, with three of the groups being complete beginners, said bass teacher and SHS incoming junior Akira Torres.
Due to a delay in obtaining the rented instruments, the camp’s students didn’t get their instruments until midweek, but the tutors were working on it as much as possible, said Busse and Torres.
Torres said on July 25 and 26, buses and the tutors taught the beginners rhythms in music. On July 27, the youngsters learned the names of the individual strings on their 4-string instruments. On July 28th they learned about the bows of their instruments, how to hold them and how to play notes on the strings with them.
The week of 4-hour workshops concluded with a performance for parents on Friday, July 29, said Dr. Buses.
“It’s difficult to get beginners to play something in a week, but we’re trying,” he said. “At least they get the experience … when they do a performance like this, it’s like, ‘Yay, they played something.'”
Busse said the hope that the orchestra camp will eventually spark students’ interest in continuing the orchestra, but also a desire in their parents to encourage them to pursue their music studies in local school orchestra programs.
“I hope[students]don’t walk away after a week and think, ‘I’ll never get that thing.’ That’s my biggest fear,” said Busse. “We all know that learning an instrument is very difficult and requires a lot of patience, perseverance and self-discipline.
“It takes forever[to learn an instrument]…you never stop learning, especially a stringed instrument,” he said. “The first year is a bit scratchy and you have to be tolerant, but eventually the skills come together. I want the parents to understand that it’s a long process.”
Busse said while Orchestra Camp likely won’t show immediate results for the Southwest Orchestra program, he hopes it will strengthen the elementary and junior high school programs that will later flow into Southwest.
“High school will eventually see whether it’s after my time or whatever,” he said, “but I’m just trying to do my utmost to make the program stronger and more solid.”
“While there are countless studies showing that students who participate in music programs grow intellectually and cognitively, often students are unaware of the opportunities in our schools,” according to icoe.org.
Torres, a member of the SHS Philharmonic on bass, agreed.
“I know I wanted to do it when I was little, and having these opportunities for these kids is really fun,” she said. “I didn’t know about it (when I was younger) and I’m pretty sure if I had, I would have.”
Torres said she thinks musical performances are important for students because “it helps with multitasking, it keeps the mind very busy, and of course, when you’re at it, you can travel.”
She also said that being part of an orchestral group – ie 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos and basses – becomes like a second family for the students.
Torres said she’s looking forward to the upcoming orchestral season at school to “make progress, learn more” and “hopefully I can play chamber music [the school’s advanced orchestra ensemble].”
“The camp is very stimulating for the students to get out of their homes and learn something new,” she said.
“Hopefully they stick with it,” said Busse. “It can be frustrating and they may want to quit, but as long as they have the persistence it will pay off in the long run.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” Torres said.
“That was our first year; next year we will try again and hopefully the camp will grow,” said Busse. “I see this as a kind of stepping stone to bigger and better things.”
“We need all the support we can get,” he said.