Illinois Wesleyan Associate Professor of Music Nina Gordon offers direction to students
at one of the summer music camps.
Summer Music Camps Introduce Students to Campus Life
June 19, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The idea of summer camp brings to mind images of paddling canoes
and roasting marshmallows, but at Illinois Wesleyan University, summer camp means
days filled with the sweet sound of strings, the rumble of pianos and the intense
training that music camps bring.
Each year Illinois Wesleyan holds summer music camps that draw junior high and high
school students from across the nation to the campus. During their two- or three-week
stay, campers do more than learn how to perfect their performance; they discover the
“For many students, this is their first exposure to college life,” said Illinois Wesleyan
Professor of Composition and Theory and Director of the School of Music Mario Pelusi.
“Students live in the residence halls, eat in the dining hall and work closely with
IWU professors and guest instructors. We have many students attending as college students
specifically because they attended one of our programs.” Pelusi estimates that approximately
60 percent of the participants who attend his Summer Music Composition Institute, one of the School of Music’s three summer music programs, apply to and eventually
attend Illinois Wesleyan.
“When the students come, they meet the wonderful faculty and see the beautiful campus,
and they want to return,” said Associate Professor of Music Nina Gordon, who founded
the Cello Camp nine years ago at Illinois Wesleyan, followed by the Illinois Chamber Music Festival and Camp three years later with adjunct faculty member Lisa Nelson. “There is a direct connection
with many of the campers who choose to become students.”
Illinois Wesleyan senior Matthew Huddle is one of those students. Originally coming
to the Cello Camp in eighth grade, Huddle was introduced to the University. “Coming
to camp gave me the impression that this was a nice, small school,” said Huddle, a
chemistry major who now performs with the Illinois Wesleyan Orchestra. “The quad was
beautiful with all the trees, and I liked the old, classic feel of Presser Hall where
Jon Daly, a sophomore music education major, said it was the camp counselors, comprised
entirely of Illinois Wesleyan students, who had an impact on him when he attended
the Cello Camp and the Illinois Chamber Music Festival and Camp. “I would ask the
counselors questions about college and about Illinois Wesleyan,” said Daly, who attended
the camps from his sixth-grade year until he was a senior in high school. “They were
always positive, and I could see where I wanted to be, and what I wanted to be, when
I talked with them.” At Illinois Wesleyan, Daly decided to become a counselor himself.
“Here, I’m learning to balance being a friend and a parent figure,” he said. “That’s
great training for when I will be a teacher.”
The camps, which take about a year to plan and organize, include daily coaching sessions
with faculty, rehearsals and master classes. “We want to expose campers to intense
musical training in a setting that is not intimidating,” said Nelson, who noted students
perform in open studio sessions and on stage. “A musician grows on stage,” added
Gordon. “It is a totally different feel than in a classroom, more exciting, more exhilarating.
Performance is when the classroom training comes alive.”
According to Pelusi, the main purpose of the summer camps is to offer students opportunities
unavailable in high school. By the end of the Composition Institute, for example,
students have created original computer-notated compositions and have had their compositions
performed and recorded by IWU faculty and students, with their works conducted by
Pelusi. Said Pelusi, “I, too, was once a high school student interested in learning
about music composition, and I created the Summer Music Composition Institute to be
the kind of program that I would have wanted to attend.” More information on the Institute
can be found on its Web page.
In the performance camps, students train intensely with one or more faculty members,
then change and work with other faculty members. “This allows students to receive
more input,” said Nelson.
“Working with the faculty gave me some real insight into Illinois Wesleyan,” said
Huddle. “I knew I could expect to make close relationships with my professors and
get a little more personal pampering than I would at my second choice school.”
Faculty train participants and perform in concerts during the camps.
Many members of the Illinois Wesleyan University music faculty are involved in the
summer music camps, in addition to invited instructors of master classes. “We try
to involve all the music faculty,” said Gordon. Throughout the camps, faculty members
perform free concerts. “The performances are an example for the students of how to perform, and – I admit
– we love performing,” said Nelson.
“All teachers love to perform,” agreed Gordon. “You can be a very good performer and
not a good teacher, but you cannot be a good teacher if you are not a good performer.”
Not all events at the camps are centered on performance and training. Gordon, Nelson
and Pelusi plan social events as well, from ice cream socials and swimming, to movies
and down time. Pelusi notes that, “There are also many recreational opportunities
for those in the Institute, which enable students to get to know one another very
well; there is something very special that occurs when high school students meet other
students who share their passion for music.”
“Seeing the friends I made is one the reasons I kept coming back,” said Daly, who
noted he also loved the unusual electives Gordon provided at camp. “We learned to
speak Swahili and Hindi, and one of the faculty members taught us African tribal dance.
It’s not what you might expect from a music camp.”
Pelusi and Gordon said students come from all over the country to attend the summer
music camps, including two international students who will attend the Illinois Chamber
Music Festival and Camp this year.
Daly said the camps were not his only consideration for attending Illinois Wesleyan,
but it gave him the confidence in his decision. “The camps made it an easy transition
for me from camper to college student,” he said.
According to Pelusi, the camps offer more than a chance to learn about to campus life.
“I wouldn’t say recruitment is the principal reason we hold summer camps, but they
have been very effective in this way, too. We do this primarily for the love of music
and for sharing that love with young people who have this similar interest. Our summer
programs benefit many constituencies: the students who attend, the School of Music,
departments across the University, and of course, they are wonderfully effective ways
in which to promote the University in general.”
Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960