Primary tabs

Bay Area Music Camps Offer Something to Everyone

The first in a series

June 22, 2009

School’s out, and kids are looking for fun. Some are hoping to build their musical skills, as well. Fortunately, families in the Bay Area have many wonderful summer music camps to choose from, with a wide range of activities. Finding the camp that is most suited to your child’s age and musical level, your expectations, and of course your budget is the key to having a successful camp experience. The Crowden School

Starting at the beginning is one of the hallmarks of summer classes at Berkeley’s The 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. Madeleine Dagonzo, 8 years old, was introduced to the violin last summer at Crowden Summer Strings. She enjoyed the instrument so much that she continued her private Suzuki lessons at Crowden with teacher KC Still through the school year. Says Madeleine, “We do fun activities and play some cool songs. I really like to play Minuet 1.” Her mom, Jennifer, used the program to let Madeleine give the violin a try before committing to regular lessons. She was happy with the balance of fun field trips, games, and learning that her daughter enjoyed. Crowden also offers Chamber Music for older teens and adults, and composition for ages 7 to adult.

Audition: Entrance interviews required; score submission for older composers.

Cost: Varies, average of $330 per week

Day camp only

Ages 3-adult

Laney Summer Music

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, 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.” Started as an outreach program for East Bay youth, the program receives funds from the Peralta Community College district to keep their fees incredibly low — just $125 for a two-week session. It draws a diverse population of students from all around the Bay Area who might not want to be away from home at a residency camp. 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. After 30 years of teaching, Lehmann still sounds enthusiastic when he describes the end result: “When everyone gets behind the common goal of the music-making, the product is incredible.”

Audition: None; audition at camp for ensemble placement.

Cost: $125 for 2 weeks

Day camp only

Ages: Grades 6-12

Another community-based school worth investigating is the Oakland Public Conservatory.

Cazadero Performing Arts

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 Performing Arts 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 Crowden School’s Doris Fukawa, a former faculty member and current board member at Cazadero, provides some insight. (She herself will be occupied with yet a third camp: overseeing chamber music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM) Summer Music West camp, description below.) “The program sets some goals for the kids because they are working toward a weekly performance. It’s a chance for students to discover if they would like to take their music to a deeper, more focused level. Caz offers a really nice balance between studying music seriously and having fun in the woods.” In addition to participating in large ensembles, students can study classical guitar or piano. Faculty is excellent, drawing from area colleges and secondary schools. Families might want to check out Cazadero’s Family Camp, with classes in art, drama, dance, environmental art, and crafts.

Audition: Written recommendation from school music teacher; audition at camp for ensemble placement.

Cost: $1,485 per 2-week session, including room and board

Residence in tent cabins

Ages: Grades 5-12

La Honda Music Camp

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 Bauerman speaks fondly of the days when his father, Milt, started the camp in Yosemite National Park 49 years ago: “When they first began, they were all camping in Yosemite, with the music teachers doing everything for the kids, from cooking to leading hikes to making campfires.” When the teachers became overburdened with this arrangement, they eventually moved to the beautiful YMCA camp, which comes complete with a band shell. 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, and electives like Celtic dance, art, sports, and horseback riding. Says Development Director Heather Thompson, “Our philosophy is to meet the kids at their ability level, and be positive and encouraging, fueling their passion. We don’t have an arbitrary standard we place before them.” Faculty members are professionals from Los Angeles, area educators, and graduate students.

Audition: None. Audition at camp for placement in ensembles.

Cost: $700 for 8 days, including room and board

Residence in cabins

Ages: Grades 6-12

San Francisco Conservatory of Music Summer Music West

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 participants familiar with the band and orchestra experience, this is their first introduction both to playing in small groups with no conductor and to the marvelous chamber music repertoire. Dario Garcia Dominguez, a 15-year-old violist, pianist, and composer, heard about the camp from his viola teacher last summer and is returning this summer. “It’s a great experience to work with other musicians at the same level,” Dario says. “Rehearsing together every day makes a big difference in our progress. We get to know each other better and know how each other plays.” Dario considers himself a fairly serious music student, involved in his high school music program and the Conservatory’s Prep Division during the year on both the viola and the piano. Speaking to Dario, you are aware of his internal motivation and his supportive parents, who themselves have never studied classical music. The faculty is a mix of SFCM’s Preparatory Division faculty, other professional musicians, and Conservatory professors.

Audition: Audition required.

Cost: $700-$835 for 2 weeks

Day camp only

Ages: 9-20

California Summer Music

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; for years it was based in Pebble Beach. This year they move to the Sonoma State campus. Of the 65 string players and pianists who are chosen to participate, 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. Sharp is a passionate educator, and sees her philosophy come to life each year at CSM, saying, “I think music adds another dimension to people’s lives. Chamber music is played all over the world. One can travel almost anywhere and find people to play with, even if you can’t speak the same language.”

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.

Audition: Audition DVD required.

Cost: Tuition $1,900; room and board $1,900

Residence: Dorm suites on the Sonoma State campus

Ages: Teens-young adults

Other specialty camps outside the scope of this article are Stanford Jazz Workshop, Musical Theatre Works, S.F. ArtsEd Summer, and more. There is still space available in some of the programs described. Visit the Web sites to learn more — have a happy musical summer!

Lisa Petrie is a writer and specialist in marketing and public relations for arts and education organizations. She earned a DMA in flute performance from SUNY, Stony Brook, and is the mother of two musical kids. Lisa was the Content Manager for the Kids and Families section of San Francisco Classical Voice during 2011.


Surrounded by nature, good music, friends... what better way to spend a summer?

Great overview of available programs.

LaHonda Music Camp takes students in Grades 6 through 12 (age 18). Many Bay Area schools are represented among the enrollees. The Bay Area educators mentioned in the article include several of the East Bay's most seasoned and respected music program leaders. The camp is a gem -- long on substance and fun and low on hype. A very friendly, caring environment has brought a loyal following over the years. Alumni stay in touch during rest of the through a Facebook or MySpace group. Our daughter will attend for her fifth season this summer and has been counting down the days for months.

Camp CMC is a week-long summer camp based at Community Music Center's Mission District Branch for kids between 9-14. The student teacher ratio is nearly 3 to 1 so kids get a high level of instruction and attention. It sounded to me that they all had a great time, too!

Activities include chamber group, ensemble, theory and musicianship classes. Campers also play percussion instruments, sing, and work on rhythmic movement. Dates for 2010 are June 21-25, from 9am-3pm. There are optional extended hours from 3-5pm as well.