Most kids heading off to summer camp look forward to activities such as swimming, roasting marshmallows, and hiking. But if you’re one of the campers at the Peoria Area Civic Chorale Summer Choral Camp, the emphasis is on singing—not swimming.

Now in its fourth year, the camp takes place from June 15 to 21 at Eureka College. The location was a natural choice for Summer Camp Director Dr. Joe Henry, who, in addition to his duties as artistic director of the Peoria Area Civic Chorale, is also professor of music at Eureka College. “Beyond the fact that Eureka College has a beautiful campus, EC also has excellent facilities for this camp and is a very safe environment for campers. 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,” Henry said. 

The Summer Choral Camp was created in 2000 by Beth Rock, assistant director of the Peoria Area Civic Chorale, and Henry to meet an important need. “We wanted to create a summer activity program that would provide young singers with additional vocal/choral training and opportunities to meet and socialize with other students who possessed similar musical interests,” Henry said.

The camp, geared toward high school-aged students, has two options for students and parents: it accommodates overnight campers or commuter campers. But whichever alternative they choose, campers receive the same blend of training and fun. “Music camp week at Eureka College is an extremely busy week as campers are immersed in individual, small ensemble, and large group instruction. Recital performances and discussions, led by professional vocalists, are held every afternoon. 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 to dialogue with the guest artists. Discussions typically revolve around practice habits, sources of inspiration, and very practical advice for those who wish to pursue music as a career,” Henry said.

Throughout the week, he said campers rehearse repertoire in preparation for the Grand Finale Concert, which takes place the last day of camp—this year at 2 p.m., June 21, in Becker Auditorium. “It’s absolutely amazing what can happen in just one week of rehearsing. On the first night, just after introductions, we generally have a read-through of the large ensemble repertoire that will be studied during the week of camp and then featured at the Finale Concert. The read-through is always an interesting experience, though perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing one. It does give both campers and staff an idea of the work that lies ahead.”

Henry said the week is packed with hard work and valuable instruction, but there’s also plenty of time for fun and games. “We work and play hard. 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 the barriers of inhibition.”

Some of the fun events scheduled for campers include karaoke, a music trivia competition (students versus counselors), a talent show, an ice cream social, and a unique scavenger hunt.

The Summer Choral Camp was undertaken by the Peoria Area Civic Chorale because the organization considers music education for young singers to be an integral part of its mission statement, Henry said. “Since 1986, the Peoria Area Civic Chorale Youth Chorus has been the cornerstone of our dedication to providing musical opportunities for young singers. 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 Artists Competition, and the annual Summer Choral Camp.”

He said a significant number of students who sing in the PACC Youth Chorus—or who have sung in the ensemble at one time—come to the Summer Choral Camp, though there’s also a healthy mix of non-PACC-affiliated participants. “The first year we had 21 campers; this year we hope to have 35 to 49. As the success of the PACC Summer Choral Camp continues to spread throughout central Illinois, enrollment continues to increase. Four or five campers have been every year since our debut in 2000. But it’s our desire to keep the Summer Choral Camp an intimate camp where opportunities for individual and small group instruction are the norm rather than the exception. To maintain this instructional uniqueness, I suspect we’ll eventually cap enrollment at 50 campers.”

The most challenging aspect of camp is preparing for it, Henry said. “As a music teacher and conductor, I always teach my students the three most important concepts necessary to ensure success are preparation, preparation, preparation. It’s typically during the time of preparation that most activities either succeed or fail. So throughout the year, the camp staff works out all of the details related to such aspects as room and board, rehearsal facilities, booking professional artists for the daily recitals, selecting repertoire for ensemble performance, determining the depth and range of the music curriculum, and coordinating all social activities held each evening. If the planning and preparation has been appropriate, the camp experience always unfolds smoothly.”

Naturally, the most rewarding aspect of camp is working with the campers throughout the week, Henry said. “On behalf of the staff, I can confidently say we really enjoy establishing relationships with all of the campers. We all share a similar interest—learning more about music, vocal technique, and vocal music performance.” AA!