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 University.

“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 we performed.”

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