AMS-Baltimore Camp Enjoys Second Amazing Year at TNCS!

At The New Century School, music education is extremely important:

Music instruction has always been an important component of TNCS’s dedication to educating the whole child. Music is a meaningful part of every TNCS student’s academic journey, and music happens throughout the day, including during cultural study. In addition, formal music classes are available both during and outside the school day to elementary and middle school students.

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“Making music should be a communal thing and it should be accessible to everyone.” –Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

As the school has grown, so has the music department and the opportunities it offers. Last summer, TNCS strings instructor Yoshiaki (“Yoshi”) Horiguchi brought the first-ever American Music System (AMS) Camp to Baltimore, and a whole new avenue for music exploration opened up at TNCS. This year, AMC-Baltimore’s second year in existence, kept the music alive and branched out in some great new ways.

What is American Music Camp-Baltimore?

It all started in Charleston, SC—in fact, that’s where TNCS Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors met Yoshi, then a camp instructor. According to the AMC website:

The purpose of American Music System . . .. is to create and support educational environments and activities that develop and nurture the musical and social skills needed for children to participate meaningfully in the rich culture of musical diversity in the Americas. Our top priority is quality education for all interested students through example, instruction, and mentoring. We strive to make these environments and activities affordable to families of all income levels.

amc-smallAmerican Music Camps have locations throughout the east coast, and AMC-Baltimore is the newest addition to the family (check out American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS! to learn more about its inaugural year last summer). While every American Music Camp has traditional American music at its core, each camp location has its own unique experience to offer. AMC-Baltimore, for example, is proud to include a bucket band and beat boxing in its curriculum, music-making specific to this region. Music that is common to all camp locations includes traditional music from the Appalachian Mountains to Bluegrass and Blues. Much of the music they learn has been passed down through many generations—some, like the Texas Waltzes you can view at the end, had never been transcribed until now but had lived on in the oral/aural tradition.

Students learn from world-class faculty who perform American Music in all parts of the country and get the opportunity to play in ensembles and learn how to improvise. This year’s camp instructor lineup included Emilie Catlett, Rob Flax, Yoshiaki Horiguchi (also Camp Director), and Melissa Tong. (Click their names to learn more about them or download their bios here.) Yoshi, Rob, and Melissa returned to AMC-Baltimore from last year’s camp, and Emilie joined afresh.

To qualify, students needed at least 6 months instruction on violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, or guitar. As many students study music through the Suzuki Method, AMC-Baltimore understands the importance of aligning with this method, offering the chance to hone skills and continue with daily practice while exploring music that is outside the Suzuki Method repertoire.

tncs-amc-baltimore-summer-campYoshi explained that each student received a lanyard at the start of camp that contained the student’s ID as well that student’s itinerary of classes.

 

Above all, students are encouraged to apply their hard work in an engaging and fun musical environment. AMC-Baltimore’s nickname—fiddle camp—says it all!

Making Music Magic

The thing about descriptions of AMC-Baltimore is that, although certainly a starting point, they can’t do this amazing camp justice. What happens during the week of strumming, drumming, picking, and singing is nothing short of magic. Students become receptive to and experience music in a way that formal instruction precludes. Parents report that their children start saying things like, “I didn’t know the notes, but if I closed my eyes, I could see the music.” Although trained from early ages to read music, they start picking up songs by ear. They are encouraged to jam, extrapolate, and improvise, and they are open to doing so because they see how much fun the instructors are having while modeling this approach to music-making. Oh! Music is fun!

So, if seeing (and hearing, in this case) is believing, here are some videos of in-class practice. Videos of the final performance students put on at the end of the week for families can be found below. (Also check out TNCS’s YouTube channel for even more!)

The above three videos show students separated by level (first is students with less experience; bottom two are advanced), but, “depending on the class,” says instructor Rob Flax, “some things are also all-group activities. There are really no rules, so whatever happens, happens. It’s a very carefree and exciting way to get creative.”

We’re Jammin’

A song called “Lobster Socks” grew out of one of these impromptu sessions (as well as Rob’s sartorial choices) but took on chords and a melody as more and more students caught the spirit. Said Rob: “We are looking to take music off the page and explore different stylistic ornamentation. Students learn how the different harmonies work and all the nuts and bolts that make up a song.”

(Rob’s verbal explanations were accompanied by musical demonstrations of what he was describing, which you can listen to here, to get the full experience.)

The way our jam sessions work is, we’re all sitting in a big circle, and anyone can start a song. As soon as I can figure out what the first note is, I can jump on in. Hopefully everybody jumps in. We tell the students, ‘if you’re not sure how this song goes, wait and listen. Maybe try and figure the notes out by ear as we go, or ask a teacher, or look at the chords on the board.’ Everybody find something to do—even if it’s slapping their cellos to a beat, like Yoshi does with his double bass. They can also do solos. A student just comes to the middle of the circle and improvises something that might be completely different from the melody of the song and just be as silly or creative as they want, then step back out and let the group take over again. The way we end a song is by sticking a foot in the air to signal that this is the last time!

There’s magic in that process. The jam sessions is where a great deal of discovery happens. I love to see, at the end of the day after all our other organized chaos, students finishing their day and still playing as they leave the room because they’re so excited. They’re still participating even after the show has ended, so to speak. That means we’re doing something right. That’s my favorite part.

Bucket Band

A perennial favorite among kids, bucket band rose to new levels, thanks to Rob’s instruction in Indian and Persian scales, among other types of music. Each student gets the chance to riff on a theme in “Rufus,” and the other videos show percussion instruction of increasing complexity. The drumstick “rabbit ears” you may see signify that the song is done.

Welcoming New Participants

This year, in addition to camp enrollees, AMC-Baltimore welcomed two students from OrchKids as well as a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School to join fiddle camp.

“OrchKids is a year-round, during and after school, music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods,” according to their website, and Ayanna Wiggins and Isiah Dixon agree with that description. Yoshi was an OrchKids teacher for 8 years and had the “pleasure and privilege” of teaching both Ayanna and Isiah during his tenure there. He reached out to some of the site coordinators for suggestions of students who might be available to attend camp, and out of about 1,000 OrchKids among eight sites, Ayanna and Isiah were chosen to participate.

jnf6iAyanna, entering 10th grade in the 2018–2019 school year, has been playing violin for 7 1/2 years. She got into playing violin at Lockerman Bundy Elementary—the school where OrchKids debuted its program. “I like the sound of the violin—I just fell in love with it,” she explained. “And it was something to keep me productive.” She plans to apply to Harvard and Yale law schools in the next 2 years, but, “If being a lawyer doesn’t work out, I want to go to Julliard,” she said.

QJYm6Isiah, entering 8th grade, has been playing cello for 9 years. “In my 1st-grade year at Lockerman Bundy, I tried the cello and didn’t like it. Then I tried the clarinet and didn’t like that, so I went back to cello. Now I like it,” he said. He plans to pursue a music degree in college, supplemented by basketball.

Both OrchKids students enjoyed AMC-Baltimore very much, calling it “fantastic.” “With younger kids,” said Ayanna, “I get to be a mentor they can look up to. I can show them how enjoyable playing music is and motivate them.”

Final Performance

From “Boil ’em Cabbage Down” to “Elk River Blues,” the tunes delighted the audience and musicians alike. (But, sorry, no “Lobster Socks.”)

Mark your calendars for next year, folks, because AMC-Baltimore’s third year will bring even more of the music-making magic!

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American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS!

This year, The New Century School had the very special honor of hosting Baltimore’s first-ever American Music System (AMS) camp from August 14th through 18th. Directed by TNCS’s acclaimed strings instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi, the camp was an unqualified success, and “Mr. Yoshi” and all plan to bring AMS camp to Baltimore (at TNCS) annually. If you missed out this time, mark you calendars for next, because a lot of magic happened over the course of that camp week.

According to their website, AMS-Baltimore gives kids in grades 1–8 “a chance to take part in the musical fabric of America.” What this means was described eloquently by the faculty who taught this year’s camp and follows, but in many ways, the video below captures the essence. One tenet of AMS is that context is relevant—where you make music influences the music, and the music you make in turn influences your surroundings. So, on a walk through Fell’s Point to let campers stretch their legs and grab a quick group photo, when the spirit struck, everyone joined together in a song by the water.

This lovely moment came right on the heels of the aforementioned group photo being photobombed by the local pirates, much to everyone’s delight—again, context is everything! Send out love . . . arrrr!

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The Who and the How

AMS-Baltimore camp would not have been the same without the amazing instructors who took a week out of their lives to come to Baltimore and share their talents and their sheer wonderfulness.

Pamela Wiley

It all started with Pamela Wiley, who teaches fiddle and violin. She helped Mark O’Connor develop the O’Connor Method (an approach to teaching strings), which eventually broadened to the American Music System Camp. She met Yoshi at a teacher training she was holding in Napa, CA in 2013 and was taken by his enthusiasm. For the next 3 years, he taught at her camp in Charleston, SC. He loved the concept so much that he expressed his dream of bringing the camp to Baltimore. As the head of AMS, Pam likes to be at all the camps around the country to make sure that the concept is being faithfully implemented.

One of the things that we really want to accomplish is that the kids actually learn something at the camp. They learn the different styles of American music, they learn to play a little bit in each style, and they learn to get comfortable making music together—not just their own skills but the concept of making music with their peers.

And that’s one of the primary principles, that at some point each day, kids play music together in “recitals.” These recitals are relatively unstructured and a way for the kids to experience the joy of playing music together but also to enhance their musicianship exponentially. Pam explains: “The kids get together with friends, and they put together little bands. Then they go up on stage and do a little arrangement of a song they’ve learned. It’s very nice, really truly educational. We teachers stay out of this part of the day.” Pam herself learned to fiddle in a similar way. Having played violin in a symphony orchestra for 28 years, she wanted to be able to jam with her guitar- and banjo-playing friends and so became a “back-porch fiddler” to join in the fun.

Another principle is what Pam calls the “3M principle,” an acronym for music more than melody. “The AMS is holistic music. With most instruments, you learn melodies, one note to the next. Whereas with us, from the beginning, we incorporate harmony and rhythm and awareness of the chord changes,” she explained.

American music itself is also an essential component. “We incorporate as many styles of American music, as possible, including classical. There are several different kinds of fiddling, bluegrass, old time, and Irish, and then there’s jazz, ragtime, pop, and folk music. We also encourage singing.” This music connects us to our history and culture.

We are playing songs that our ancestors played, all of our ancestors played 300 or 400 years ago, so we are actually living American history. We’re playing the same music, the same songs, on the same instrument. We’re doing the real thing, and we try to talk about songs from the Civil War, the Revolutionary War. We’re playing “Cumberland Gap” in the old-time class and talking about where Cumberland Gap is and what a really big part of American history it was.

In addition to Yoshi and Pam, the team of instructors included Pattie Kinlaw from Greenville, NC; Rob Flax from Boston, MA; and Melissa Tong from New York, NY. “I’ve put this faculty together from the teacher-training classes I did from around the country,” said Pam. “I did about 35 states and could just tell from the teacher-training classes just who was going to fit into to this, and those are the people you see at the camp. They all wouldn’t know each other but for me, and I’m so really proud of that.”

It’s clear why she would be proud. In Yoshi’s words:

The most inspiring thing to me about the faculty who are working here is that they just don’t teach at a world class level, but they’re also playing at a world class level. There are very few people you’ll find who can do both. So the thing about this faculty is that every one of them have been amazing players and are trained and study their teaching as hard as they do, so you can tell that they are really committed to the kids and making sure that the music spirit kind of lives through the kids. I’m really inspired by that and glad to be able to work with them again.

Yoshiaki Horiguchi

Yoshi has been profiled here before (see TNCS Launches Strings Program Under Yoshiaki Horiguchi), but he has a lot more to say about his new role as AMS-Baltimore director. He explains that not actively teaching gave him a whole new perspective: “I am able to observe and absorb the teaching styles of these phenomenal teachers. It’s kind of nice to complete that circle.” He also got to see camp from a new vantage point:

It provides a nice balance between the kind of classical training that this area has loads of and that kind of jamming, improvising mindset. It’s nice musically for the kids but also for finding a balance between perfectionism and improvising through life. Once you’re out of school there are a lot more decisions that you have to make on your own. So starting that mindset early through music education is really a great thing. I’m seeing the students learn how to improvise and take more ownership in the decisions that they make. Instead of being told what note they have to play through sheet music or their teachers telling them it has to be a certain way, it’s them asking the questions that can be tough to ask, like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘What if I don’t do it, what happens?’ and realizing that the worst thing that happens is you play a wrong note, you learn from it, and you just move on. Seeing that manifest itself more concretely in music is a really great thing. Hopefully, they can take that out into their lives.

Jamming, it turns out, becomes a very good metaphor for resilience, and that’s part of why this camp is so vitally important to the dedicated instructors who give so much of themselves to hold it year after year. Music is art, wonder, humanity, math . . . and a vehicle for developing good people. But how do you get kids ages 5 years to 11 years to jam, exactly?

At first it was a little tough to get the kids to start a jam session, which is why we have most of the kids taking a ‘how to jam’ class. Imagine a classically trained player who has never performed anything before it’s perfected now being asked to play something on the spot that he or she has never seen. Having that mindset of the classical player and entering a jam session where mistakes are encouraged and kind of expected is challenging. So those two contradicting ideas were present at the beginning and everyone was a little bit shy. But over the course of the week, they realized that’s kind of the process. You are in a jam session, and you quietly try to figure out the notes. It’s okay to play wrong notes, and eventually you’ll play more and more notes that you know fit in certain parts of the song until the song is over. And that’s your jam session—and it’s okay, you don’t have to play it perfectly.

Pattie Kinlaw

As a violinist and fiddle player, Pattie Kinlaw teaches classical as well as American roots music and specializes in bluegrass. Enthusiastic and energetic, she says she probably had as much fun as the kids did during camp.

This week has been great! The kids are learning all different tunes, ways to play, and ways to work together. They are a range of ages and also a range of abilities, but, as teachers, and especially because this is a non-method camp, we just want the kids to interact with one another, create music with one another, and make decisions about their own creativity—just really get out of the box. It seems to work really well on various levels.

Although this wasn’t her first visit to Baltimore, she appreciated the opportunity to get to know it a little better, “to hang out, get a feel for the city, get vibe of the people. It’s been a very wonderful experience.” Back in North Carolina where she both teaches and plays, her ensemble Hank, Pattie, and the Current just released their second album.

Rob Flax

“I play things with strings, I hit stuff, and I sing. I consider myself an artist, teacher, scholar, an instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, producer, and educator,” said Rob, whose sense of fun is immediately apparent.

I’m a multi-instrumentalist and I play a lot of different instruments. I’m a strong believer in multi-instrumentalism, and I think that it was something that was very valuable for me. So I am teaching, officially, violin technique, and co-conducting an orchestra here at camp, and I’m also teaching drumming on buckets, and shakers, and other hand percussion. I am here on faculty as a bassist and as a mandolin teacher as well. I’m not teaching much mandolin or bass, but I am playing those roles as needed. Everybody in all of my classes will sing as well, because I’m a strong believer in singing as part of that multi-instrumental strategy. There’s also a little bit of dancing here and there—that should be connected to music, I think, especially with the drumming classes.

He isn’t kidding, as you can see here:

He also enjoyed camp very much, saying it went “fantastically well.” “This is the first year of this camp, and everything is running very smoothly. The faculty is outstanding—I’m really honored to be working with these tremendous musicians and educators. The kids are all very enthusiastic, which helps, too.” During his downtime, Rob found bands to jam with all over Baltimore.

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“All the faculty are amazing to watch teach. The kids look like they’re having a good time, and they’re getting a nice balance between music time on their own instruments and music making on other instruments.”–Yoshi Horiguchi

Melissa Tong

As a freelance violinist, pianist, and singer, Melissa plays with orchestras as well as rock bands, pop artists, and singer/songwriters in addition to her own blues band. She also sits in on recording sessions and plays on Broadway.

How she has time to teach AMS camp is a mystery, yet it’s clear why she’s here:

It’s been really inspiring to watch the students blossom throughout the week. On day one, everyone is naturally hesitant and shy, and we’re throwing a lot of new ideas and experiences at them. Then, to watch them open up and embrace it; to jump at the opportunities and take control; to start arranging their own tunes, organizing bands, and performing at the recitals has been really beautiful. One student in particular, who is visiting from China for the summer and speaks basically no English, was at first not engaging in the group activities. But, as the week went on, we have found music, of course, to be the universal language and he has really come around. Also, the kids have started counting off in Chinese for him. When he had his first recital, I almost started crying when he hopped on stage.

Melissa has friends in Baltimore so was able to meet up with them during her spare time as well as get out to see some shows and experience the Baltimore restaurant scene. She also tapped into the Baltimore acro-yoga community and made some new friends while upside down.

As each of her colleagues did, she felt it important to mention how special their coming together is. “We’re all a family; it’s hugely important for us to just get together for camp. We feel like the dream team. We really wouldn’t want to be working with anyone else.” “I hope that we can keep growing it,” she added. “I congratulate Yoshi and the school and community for a great first year.”

Final Concert 

On the last day of camp, parents and families were invited to a performance of all the great American (and other) music their children so enjoyed learning throughout their glorious week. From instrumentation to vocalizing to “learning to jam” class, they were immersed in music and being musicians. Here are their songs in the order they were played.

South Appalachian Old Time Class

Blues Class

Piano Class

Guitar Class

Violin Class

Cello Class

How to Jam Class

Meyer Orchestra

Ungar Orchestra

AMS-Baltimore Choir

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And Thank You, Host Families!

Said Yoshi, “The community has been amazing also, between the hosts and the area around here. The hosts especially have been so incredible to house our faculty for the week and make them feel really welcome. I’ve gotten word from all of the faculty that they’re really enjoying where they’re staying.”