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String camp teaches young musicians in small groups

The Hastings String Academy 2010 held its finale concert Friday evening. The concert was a collection of songs performed by string quartets and one string quintet.

The musicians, all between grades six and nine, only had one week of "string camp," as they call it, to rehearse their songs together. But the biggest challenge they faced was having to carry their parts alone.

"You're the only one with your part," the camp's co-founder, Mary Ellen Fox, said.

On the other hand, the small size of the groups allows the kids to hear all the other parts.

"It's harder to hear the individual parts (in an orchestra)," ninth-grade violinist Angie Thomas said.

Another ninth-grade violinist, Marissa Kolmer, said that there are a lot of little pieces within the music that many people never realize are there because the overall sound of an orchestra is so large.

While the students said they enjoy playing in small groups, it does pose an extra challenge.

"Small groups are harder," seventh-grader Jacob Bacon said.

In the week prior to the concert, the instructors focused on two things.

"The most important thing is to stay together," Fox said.

Right after that, she tells her students to try to play the right notes. The kids also learn about presenting themselves in string performance. They learn how to bow together and also how to start and stop together without the direction of a conductor.

The groups are divided according to ability, which ranges from beginner to intermediate string players, Fox said. Before the camp, the kids auditioned, not to determine if they could participate, but "so we know how they play," Fox explained.

First-year student Steven Henderson appreciated the division. One of his favorite things about the camp, he said, is "that I get to be with a group of boys (my own age)."

On two days of the camp, students got to participate in Master Classes, one day with composer and cellist Randall Davidson, and another with Mary Horozanieckie, an instructor at Carlton, Macalester and Augsberg colleges.

This is the string camp's fourth year. Fox and instructor Sarah Lockwood piloted the program with four students after Fox's daughter suggested Hastings needed a string camp. They partnered with Hastings Community Education to offer the camp. This year's camp had seventeen students.

The camp supports the string program in the schools and helps the kids become better musicians, Fox said, but beyond that, it's just downright fun.

Part of the reason it's fun is because the kids who attend the camp are serious about their music.

"We're here to play," ninth-grader Corinna Fox said.

"The people who are here really want to be here," Kolmer said.

Fox said she hopes to be able to hold the camp again next year. Traditionally it's held the first week after school gets out, she said.