Admission costs for kids attending the 25th annual Cordova 4H Music Camp July 15-19 are set at $150, a $100 reduction from the normal fee.
“That’s been our goal from the very beginning: that all of the kids who are really into music would be able to come,” says camp organizer Belle Mickelson. “We have scholarships for that. But, this year, we’ve basically offered every Cordova kid a $100 scholarship.”
The camp, to be held at St. Joseph’s Church and Mt. Eccles Elementary School, will include a jazz improvisation class taught by international artists.
While the children’s programs are priced as low as is practical, 4H Music Camp’s more expensive adult classes help raise funds for scholarships. A typical 4H Music Camp costs around $30,000 in food, plane tickets and small stipends for the instructors, leaving organizers with a thin margin.
“We try to break even,” says Mickelson. “In a good year, we only lose $1,000.”
The 4H Music Camp for 2019 will include mainstay programs like Hawaiian Camp, for ages 6-8 and Bluegrass Camp, for ages 9-18. Instruments like the guitar, fiddle, ukulele and bass are perennial favorites among Bluegrass Camp students, though instruction on the banjo, mandolin and mountain dulcimer is also available.
As well as classes and jam sessions, attending children are encouraged to sign up for “blackboard concerts,” writing their names on a blackboard to perform onstage later that evening. Blackboard concerts give children a taste of performing in public in a friendly environment and a chance to collaborate onstage with their peers
Malani Towle attended 4H Music Camp as a child, later becoming a teacher and a camp counselor. Now, as a lead organizer, she has a firsthand perspective on how the camp runs at all levels. As a child, Towle’s favorite part of camp was the informal jam sessions with other children.
“The neat thing about bluegrass music and old-time folk music is that it has this social component that you don’t get in classical music or high school band,” says Towle. “That’s one of the neatest things about camp: that all these kids get to jam with each other and play music together. It opens up this whole world. It’s another thing to do with your friends, or a way to make friends.”
This year’s Bluegrass Camp will include a class on jazz improvisation with instruction from the North Atlantic Jazz Alliance, a German-American group whose members have collaborated with Ray Charles, Miles Davis and other iconic figures of jazz.
Bluegrass Camp and Hawaiian camp have more in common than it may seem. Both genres of music use similar chord systems, and skills gained on the ukulele can easily be transferred to the six-string guitar.
Along with instruction in traditional music, children attending Hawaiian Camp will eat Hawaiian cuisine, work on arts and crafts and learn how to hula. Hula and square-dancing help budding musicians gain a greater sense of rhythm, Mickelson said.
“I think most Alaskans have a love affair with Hawaii,” she said. “The word ‘aloha’ means ‘love.’ Finding aloha spirit means loving not only the music, but each other and our families and friends. I think Hawaiian culture is so powerful, and that being a global citizen means appreciating other cultures.”
Mickelson believes that, with music instruction, children will be prepared to enjoy more stable and sociable lives.
“I always tell people, if you want to keep your kids out of trouble in high school, get them into music,” says Mickelson.