Summer can be a special time to focus on what your child enjoys the most — like playing music. And you want to keep them busy learning, growing, and meeting new friends. Fortunately, with the many music camps on offer in the Bay Area, there is most likely one to suit your child’s age, level of ability, seriousness, and your budget. As registration deadlines loom, here are details on some popular choices.
Starting at the beginning is one of the hallmarks of summer classes at Berkeley’s Crowden School. “Crowden is a good point of entry for young children to see what music is all about,” says Executive Director Doris Fukawa. Kids as young as 3 can start Suzuki violin lessons, while kids aged 5 can “Meet the Orchestra” or “Scrape, Squawk, and Bang” their way along the path of musical discovery. The Suzuki program is especially helpful to families who want to give it a try before committing to a school year of lessons; and Crowden throws in field trips and games to the mix. Other offerings include chamber music for older teens and adults, including a flute choir, and composition for ages 7 to adult.
Audition: Entrance interviews required; score submission for older composers
Cost: Varies, average of $330 per week
Dates: Various; day camp only, after care available
Registration deadlines: Dates vary
At the San Francisco Community Music Center summer camp, kids can choose between classical, rock, or Latin music ensembles. Bilingual camp codirectors Chus Alonso and Martha Rodriguez and other faculty have expertise in a variety of musical styles, which makes for a great experience for a diverse group of students. The day is spent in chamber groups, larger ensembles (grouped by instrument and ability level), and theory and musicianship classes. Additional fun activities develop general musicianship skills, such as playing percussion instruments, singing, and rhythmic movement. The week concludes with an informal performance.
Dates: June 20–24, day camp only
Registration deadline: June 1
Many camps cater to middle school and high school–age kids (grades 6–12) with at least one year of playing under their belts, and focus on large ensembles like band, orchestra, jazz band, and choir. Laney Summer Music is one such program. Says Jay Lehmann, camp director and the orchestra’s music director, “The camp provides a continuity for music study over the summer so that the kids start their fall with improved skills. The music-making is incredible!”
Funds from the Peralta Community College district keep fees incredibly low — just $125 for a two-week session. Accessibility for all is Laney Summer Music’s mission, and even at this low price, scholarships are available. Housed at Laney College in Oakland, students enjoy the benefit of the college’s music faculty, as well as other notable Bay Area educators such as Lehmann, conductor of the Berkeley Youth Orchestra. Kids get a range of electives that offer extras such as music theory or a chance to try improvisation or vocal music.
Ages: Grades 6–12
Audition: None; children audition at camp for ensemble placement
Cost: $125 for 2 weeks Day camp (9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.)
Dates: Four camps between June 20 and July 29
Registration deadline: First come, first served (program fills up quickly)
For some, it’s just not camp until the first marshmallow has been roasted. So if your middle- or high-schooler wants to enjoy their music camp away from you and in the forest, Cazadero Music Camp, known affectionately as “Caz,” is one of your options. Situated in the Russian River area west of Santa Rosa, the facilities are a huge draw for nature-loving campers. Kids sleep under the stars on wooden platforms or in large tents under the redwoods. The curriculum is built on a balance of “in-depth music education and carefree summer fun.” In addition to participating in large ensembles, students can study classical guitar or piano. Faculty is excellent, drawing from area colleges and secondary schools.
Ages: Grades 5–12
Audition: Written recommendation from school music teacher; children audition at camp for ensemble placement
Cost: $1,560 per two-week session, including room and board ($780 for one week)
Dates: Five two-week sessions, beginning June 20 Residence in tent cabins
Registration deadline: May 1
For a forest experience further south, Hayward–La Honda Music Camp is an eight-day camp at the YMCA Camp Jones Gulch. Camp administrator Marvin Bowerman’s father, Milt, started the camp in Yosemite National Park 49 years ago, when the instructors not only taught but cooked meals over the campfire as well. Now, their beautiful YMCA camp facilities come complete with a band shell and a swimming pool to boot. While Cazadero has different age groups coming at different weeks, at Hayward–La Honda all the activity is packed into eight days. And it’s a lot: four bands, full orchestra with winds, small chamber ensembles that perform during meals for each other, jazz band and jazz piano, all-camp choir, and electives like Celtic dance, art, sports, and horseback riding. Faculty members are professionals from Los Angeles, area educators, and graduate students.
Ages: Grades 6–12
Audition: None; audition at camp for placement in ensembles
Cost: $720 for 8 days, including room and board; scholarships available; discounts for siblings and honor band or orchestra members
Dates: July 23–30 Residence in cabins
Registration deadline: May 1 (discount for early online payment)
For the student who is more serious and experienced, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Summer Music West, under the direction of John McCarthy, offers “select programs for the young musician seeking a stimulating and supportive summer experience, based on the traditions of Conservatory training.” Topics are composition, chamber music, string and piano chamber music, and the popular musical theater “Gilbert & Sullivan Scenes,” in association with San Francisco’s Lamplighters Musical Theatre organization. For many instrumentalists familiar with the band and orchestra experience, this is a first introduction both to playing in small groups with no conductor and to the marvelous chamber music repertoire. The faculty is a mix of SFCM’s Preparatory Division faculty, other professional musicians, and Conservatory professors.
Audition: Audition required
Cost: $730 for 2 weeks (varies by program)
Dates: July 25–Aug. 5 (times vary by program)
Application deadline: April 15
If your child is truly gifted and serious about music, you can take advantage of several international summer institutes not far from home. Renowned cellist Irene Sharp founded California Summer Music in 1977; it’s now based on the Sonoma State University campus, in Rohnert Park (50 miles north of San Francisco). Of the 70 string players and pianists who are chosen to participate, about half hail from the Bay Area, 40 percent from other states, and 10 percent international. The teens to young adults come to study chamber music or composition with professional performing musicians with the highest of pedigrees. The selective program includes private lessons with piano accompaniment, chamber music coaching, solo and ensemble performances, master classes, and many faculty performances — an intense Conservatory experience, all in three weeks.
Ages: Teens–young adults
Audition: Audition DVD required
Cost: Tuition $1,950; room and board $1,950 (scholarships available, including for room and board)
Dates: July 2–25
Residence: Dorm suites on the Sonoma State campus
Registration ended January 24 (late applications are accepted till spaces are filled)
- A similarly intense experience can be found at Music at Menlo, also worth investigating if your child is bound for music school training or already attends.
The Summer String Thing is a two-week summer day camp dedicated to the advancement of young string players (violin, viola, cello, and string bass) of all levels and abilities. It’s a chance to meet other local string-playing friends, work on technique, and explore alternative genres like jazz and fiddling, in addition to playing classical chamber and orchestra music. Camp is held at Hacienda de las Flores in Moraga. This summer offers a real treat — the chance to study with guest Irene Sazer of the Real Vocal String Quartet, and a former member and founder of the Turtle Island String Quartet. Her “legit” chops include performing with the San Francisco Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, and the Cabrillo Festival, among others. A composer as well, she’s got a lot of expertise to share in this string-only jamboree!
Ages: Grades 4–10
Cost: $400 for 9 days
Dates: June 27–July 8 (9:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.)
Registration deadline: Camp “interest” forms are available online now; Moraga Parks and Recreation sign-up forms will be available in the spring. First come, first served.
The San Francisco Early Music Society’s Music Discovery Workshop has all the trappings of a mini-Renaissance Fair. Directed by Tish Berlin, the program includes instrumental instruction on Baroque instruments, chamber music, and a musicianship class, all presented in a fun historical context that re-creates the flavor of the day. This year’s theme is “Explorations of 15th-century Italy with Leonardo da Vinci, THE Renaissance Man.” Historical life, drama, Renaissance dance, and music make history come alive, with crafts, costume making, outdoor games, and more. This is a rare opportunity for younger children to study instruments like the viola da gamba, harpsichord, or recorder. The camp is held at the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley.
Cost: $430, materials included; early registrants (before May 2) receive $30 discount; limited number of scholarships available
Dates: July 31–Aug. 5, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., (Fridays) 9:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. After-care available by prior arrangement.
Registration deadline: First come, first served; $100 deposit required, which is nonrefundable after May 2
Even More Camps
- Pacific Boychoir Academy: Day camp for ages 5–9, Aug. 15–19, $390.
Check our Music Programs database of youth choirs; many offer summer camps to members.
- Bandworks: Five programs in eight different East Bay locations, ranging from introductory camps to CD recording and “Teen Rock Band Intensive” at their Walnut Creek location. Ages 8 and up. One-week camps, in 3-hour sessions (morning or afternoon).
- Blue Bear School of Music Summer Camp: One-week camps, mostly 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., for children grades 5–10. Locations in Fort Mason in San Francisco and Coleman Elementary School in San Rafael. Sliding-scale tuition ranging from a low of $40 up to $550.
- Berkeley Jazz School, Summer Youth Program: Two week-long sessions, June 20–July 1, grades 7–10, $400 per session (or $760 for both), auditions for placement. Programs also include High School Jazz Intensive and Jazzschool Girls' Jazz and Blues Camp.
- Stanford Jazz Workshop: One or two weeks (July 17–29), ages 12–17; no auditions. Programs also include Jazz Residency for Adults (July 31–Aug. 5) and several Summer Classes series.