Peoria Area Civic Chorale Director Dr. Joe Henry turns his attention to kids during the summer, most notable through the Chorale’s Summer Choral Camp, which takes place this year from June 19 to 25 on the campus of Eureka College.

Henry, who’s also professor of music at Eureka College, is director and senior conductor of the camp, now entering its sixth summer. "This is a camp for high school age singers, including graduated eighth graders through graduated seniors," he said.

He explained the Civic Chorale developed the camp as an extension of its belief system. "The Peoria Area Civic Chorale has considered music education for young singers to be an integral part of the mission statement. Since 1986, the Peoria Area Civic Chorale Youth Chorus has been the cornerstone of our dedication to providing musical opportunities for young singers. And since 1994, the growth of the Peoria Area Civic Chorale’s focus on music education has expanded significantly with the creation of additional youth programs including the annual Junior High and High School Festival Choruses, the bi-annual Invitational Choral program, the annual Young Artist Competition, and the annual Summer Choral Camp. In spring 2006, we plan to debut a festival chorus experience for fifth and sixth grade singers. The Summer Choral Camp is just one of the multi-faceted initiatives we’ve designed to provide area youth with experiences in vocal music education."

Though other camps for young singers existed, Henry said the Civic Chorale felt they could fill a specific niche. "There are a number of larger summer music camp offerings in Illinois; however, we thought we had the perfect setting for a smaller camp that could provide 50 to 60 students with a quality curriculum that would personalize learning and offer a valuable growing experience. We wanted to offer interested students yet another opportunity to build relationships with adults who are serious and passionate about making music-adults who could serve as positive role models for aspiring young adults."

Eureka College was a natural locale for such a camp, Henry said. "Beyond the fact that Eureka College is an uncommonly friendly, beautiful, and safe campus, it also has excellent facilities to support the summer camp curriculum. My association with the college made the choice very logical since I know the facilities and have a close working relationship with the college staff responsible for coordinating all summer camps held on campus."

Those instructors include Beth Rock, Jennifer Reece, John Clark, Jan Wanack, and Shirley Salazar-all of whom have outstanding credentials, Henry said. "It’s important to me that each staff member be both an accomplished performer and educator. Equally as important to me is that every staff member will also serve as an excellent role model for the campers. Every staff member selected is passionate about music and music education, and each member is selected for his or her potential to contribute to a very positive and fun learning environment."
In addition to instructors, camp staff includes counselors Chip and Marice Handrich, J.D. McQueen, and Kim Henry.

Camp attendees have a fairly rigorous schedule that’s designed to help them grow as musicians. "The camp curriculum keeps all campers extremely busy as they become immersed in daily individual instruction, small ensemble rehearsals, and large ensemble rehearsals. We try to introduce the singers to a variety of literature in various styles, and since many of our campers also will be auditioning for the annual IMEA All-State music festival during the school year, I try to program the choral music they must learn for their IMEA All-State Chorus audition. This is a big help to both the students and their teachers," Henry said.

Recital performances and discussions, presented by professional vocalists, are held every afternoon directly after lunch, he said. "These performance and subsequent discussion experiences are extremely valuable for the campers because they not only have the opportunity to hear talented singers, but also the opportunity to dialogue with the guest artists. Resulting discussions typically revolve around practice habits, sources of inspiration, and very practical advice for those who wish to pursue music as a career. Many of the campers also sign up for additional vocal instruction with accomplished performers and vocal studio teachers. This summer our guest instructor/performers are once again Shirley Salazar and Jan Wanack."

Though the week is packed with valuable instruction and hard work, Henry said there’s plenty of time for fun and games. "I suppose you could say that we not only work hard, but we play hard as well. These are the times when we all get to see each other from a slightly different perspective. The evening events are not only a fun way to relax, but also provide campers-and counselors-with opportunities to learn more about each other, thus forming closer relationships. This is very important for the young musicians; often, the experience of making beautiful music in an ensemble is dependent upon breaking down of the barriers of inhibition."

Some of the evening activities include: a balloon bump and ice cream social, pillow hockey, banana duel, movie night, video recorder scavenger hunt, karaoke/American Idol night, camper variety show, and music trivia scholastic bowl.

Henry said kids attend the camp for a variety of reasons. "They attend because they love music; they love to make music with others who are also passionate about singing; and they come to develop vocal skills, performance skills, and learn anything else that will help them become better musical artists. They also come for the camp camaraderie as they renew old and begin new friendships."

Judging by the numbers, the Civic Chorale camp must be doing something right. "Of the 133 campers served over the past five years, 30 have attended for three summers and 14 campers have been enrolled for four consecutive summers. We even had one young lady-who graduated from high school just last year-attend five summers in a row," Henry said.

Though he spends the school year instructing adults in PACC and college kids at Eureka, Henry said he thoroughly enjoys his time with the younger singers during the summer. "I love their passion, energy, and enthusiasm for singing and the creative process. It’s also a great age to begin encouraging and developing a ’learning-to-be-creative disposition.’ Young singers are pretty receptive to getting the music off the printed page and into their souls. I also have very fond memories of attending both music and athletic camps when I was a high school student in Maine. The instruction I received in public schools and at the summer camps, along with parental guidance and encouragement, were the primary reasons I decided to become a music educator. The Summer Music Camp is another way for me to give back something of what I received as a young musician."

The best part about his involvement in the summer camp, Henry said, is the rehearsal process. "It’s an opportunity to engage these young singers in situations where they can develop a sense of musical artistry; situations where they’ll not only be challenged intellectually, but also will be filled with the ecstasy of music making as they work to unpack the complexities of the music itself and music learning in general. I also enjoy establishing relationships with the campers and the more relaxed learning atmosphere the camp environment brings."

The most challenging aspect is the year-long prep work the camp requires. "I also notice I’m pretty well exhausted by the end of camp because of the expenditure of energy during the week of camp. We work and play hard, but that’s what makes the Summer Choral Camp such an enjoyable experience," he said.

The Grand Finale Concert, in which the public is invited to revel in the results of the kids’ hard work during the week, takes place at 2 p.m., June 25, in Eureka College’s Donald B. Cerf Center. For more information about the camp or the concert, e-mail [email protected] AA!