Marshall Middle School strings camp aims to refine student skills

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Nick Crow
Friday, August 1, 2014

JANESVILLE—Milton Middle School eighth-grader Anna Quade has played the violin for seven years.

She signed up for the week-long Summer Strings Camp at Marshall Middle School because she wanted an advantage—something to set her apart from other musicians.

"We've been learning lots of different musical sounds and how to compose music ourselves," she said of the camp. "I've had a lot of fun. All of the teachers play and have taught me lots of different techniques."

Anna was one of 40 students to participate in the free classes open to those in grades 5-12. The strings camp is for orchestra students, meaning students who play string instruments, as opposed to band students who can play any type of instrument.

"The purpose of this week-long class is to further instruct students on tone and technique, refine their playing skills, learn advanced music theory concepts, be exposed to different genres of music, have new experiences and to have fun playing music as a team in large and small groups," said Seth Matuszak, orchestra instructor. "The week will cap off with a concert to showcase what they've worked on all week."

Matuszak said the camp has been going on for many years, but a decision was made this year to split students up into smaller groups so they could get more one-on-one attention.

“This forces the students to use more of their imagination in order to properly convey the style of each piece," Matuszak said. "This week is for the kids who want something extra and more opportunities to perfect their skills."

Orchestra director Ruth Banwell has been involved in the string camp for 26 years. She said bringing the use of smart boards into the mix has helped students conduct their own music because they can put rhythms together and then perform what they've created.

Banwell said the camp has evolved quite a bit since when she started.

"It reinforces things we play in our pieces," she said. "I think the goal is to be able to concentrate more on the specific details of music that we can't do during the school year. It has sort of evolved into many different directions over the years."

This year had more of a contemporary feel with students learning movie pieces such as "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen" and "Believe" from "The Polar Express." They also learned selections from the band Green Day.

"They are learning a lot of skills," Matuszak said. "It's not just music. They've learned vocabulary, trusting others as part of an ensemble, teamwork and other life skills."

Gabby Petruzzello, a seventh-grader at Marshall, said that since she has only been playing the viola for two years, she was excited to be able to get extra help working on her skills.

"We've been learning how to play our instruments better," she said. "It's been great because it teaches you things you might not know otherwise."

The week ended Friday with a concert in which each group performed a song for their parents and family, followed by a song performed by all students and a performance by the teachers.

"I'm really glad the new format of splitting them into groups worked so well," Banwell said. "I thought it worked out really well."

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