Songs of Solitude Turned Joyful: TYO Summer Camp Reflections

Written by
Cammie Lee '22, TAP Summer Correspondent
Oct. 1, 2020

In the midst of an unprecedented summer, TAP hosted their very first summer camp for members of the Trenton Youth Orchestra (TYO), held entirely over Zoom. The camp spanned from July 11 to August 22, culminating in a summer camp celebration which featured solo and duet performances by several students, a collaborative digital performance of “Another Day of Sun” by the TYO coaches, and a musical Jeopardy! game that tested the students’ knowledge of everything they had learned over the summer. (Winners received boxes of cupcakes from the Gingered Peach, a local bakery which prior to the pandemic donated baked goods for Saturday Morning Arts rehearsals.)

TYO summer camp served as a mini pilot program for the online Saturday Morning Arts programs that resumed on September 12. As with all other educational institutions and programs across the country, TAP had little time to adjust to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and briefly halted its Saturday Morning Arts programs for the remainder of the spring semester. However, during this transitional period, many TYO students not only continued to receive lessons from their private teachers and but also engaged with a variety of guest artists, including the multi-instrumentalist Aaron Stokes--all over Zoom.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the summer camp, TAP summer interns Abby Nishiwaki ‘23 and Katie Cappola ‘23 worked closely with TYO Faculty Fellow Anna Lim to design the camp curriculum. Each weekly session lasted for an hour, and was divided into three segments: an icebreaker game followed by two music education modules, which included conducting, ear training, movement, and composition workshops. The music education sessions were followed by private lessons.

This fall, TAP relaunched its Saturday Morning Arts programs over Zoom, with TYO adopting a similar structure as the summer camp sessions. Rehearsals now also include sectionals, creating a more intimate environment for students to connect with one another and their coaches.

For both coaches and students, TYO summer camp provided respite from a summer spent in quarantine. Many of the students who consistently came to summer camp every week demonstrated their commitment and desire to learn by keeping their cameras turned on and participating in the activities. Zoom also enabled several of the quieter students to engage more readily with the material through the chat and reaction functions.

In reflecting on her experience at summer camp, Perla Diaz, a violinist who joined TYO in the fall of 2020, remarked: “What I enjoyed most was the conversations we had and the games we’d play every morning. My favorite memory was of course, when Lou had the potato filter on him. It was so funny! I also really enjoyed learning new pieces with my private teacher.” 

Abby Nishiwaki, who developed the summer camp curriculum, indicated that she found the summer camp to be “a special experience and a [summer] highlight.” She noted her amazement at the students’ growth over the summer, both musically and personally, in spite of the challenges of distance learning: “It was especially inspiring to see the students’ drive through their active participation and willingness to step out of their comfort zones from week to week--something that can be especially difficult through a computer screen. A moment that was particularly special was the final recital. It amazed me just how much the students were able to come out of their shells and showcase the progress that just six weeks yielded.” 

Both Perla and Abby’s positive reflections reveal the importance of continuing to support students through the arts, even remotely. Although remote learning poses unique challenges for the performing arts, which require bodily communication and thrive on the minute, spontaneous interactions proffered by holding (physical) space with others, digital platforms still have the potential to provide the intimacy and human connection that many of us yearn for during this time. Despite the turn towards digital engagement, the arts still serve as a nexus through which creativity, passion, and community intersect and interact.