A group of six children sat around a room at 100 Nellums Ave. on Tuesday, taking a break from playing “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes so they could listen to music instructor Matt DeVore give them directions.
“Next time I’m going to do less conducting,” DeVore told the youngsters after an initial run through of Jack White’s signature hit. “I wanna see you guys help each other out and be the best band you can be.”
The campers were participating in the second day of the inaugural Bowling Green Rock Band Summer Camp. The event was the result of a collaborative effort between DeVore, Jordan Weiss and Kristy Helit – three area instructors collectively focused on teaching kids to learn, enjoy and play music.
The camp will teach 21 musicians, aged 8-18, how to play music with others in a traditional “rock band” setting from Monday through Friday. Bands will work on their craft all week, mounting progress toward a culminating concert performance at 6-4-3 Sports Bar + Grill from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday.
“Most of the kids have just taken private lessons,” DeVore said. “They’ve only had a chance to play music with their instructor or with their own time, now they get to spend that time playing music with others of the same age or the same area of music learning and they realize all this practice they’ve been putting into their individual instrument or their own time can actually be used in a bigger way. You can play music with other people now, you can create something not just on your own, but within a group of others.”
Experience on an instrument was not mandatory to participate, but campers were divided into three bands roughly comprised of a percussionist, bassist, two guitarists, a keyboard player and a vocalist.
Three songs were selected for each group to study, rehearse and prepare during the week. All styles of rock ‘n’ roll were represented, including classic rock, ’80s, ’90s and mainstream hits. Campers practice from 8 a.m. to noon each day, rotating through three separate stations that teach them what it takes to be part of a band – practice, rehearsal and creativity.
Participants will also learn what it takes to market their band by coming up with their own name, logo, flyers and poster designs during the camp.
“We really put a lot of work into choosing the correct songs to teach, who should be in which band and we hope we’ve put together a good recipe of people to put a band together – to make a band happen,” Devore said.
Helit is working with a band tentatively titled No South Detroit, named after a joke Weiss made about Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” referencing the nonexistent geographical location in its lyrics. Helit said there is a balance between correcting kids and letting them “feel their way through” songs.
“In the beginning you’re nervous,” Helit said. “We’re all sitting around like, ‘Ugh, I don’t know what to say,’ but by the end of it we’re friends. We’re close, we trust each other, we can rely on each other – if we need help with something we can ask, so it definitely becomes a camaraderie.”
Chas Brassell, 15, has been playing guitar for about five years. He said he didn’t know any of his No South Detroit bandmates prior to the camp, but it’s been “exciting” to come together and make connections with fellow musicians.
“Really just stage time in the right setting for what I’m going for,” Chas said about what the camp will bring him. “Being able to play out with a band and play with other people because that’s what I want to do.”
Emma Davidson, 14, plays keyboard for her band, The Hamster Hammocks. She’s been playing about seven years, and although she’d heard the three songs her band was tabbed to perform, she had to learn how to play them.
“It was a little hard at first because I’m not used to reading chord charts and stuff, but once you start picking it up it’s pretty easy,” Emma said.
Campers pay $125 to partake in a full week of fun activities – so much fun that Braden Cutright-Head, a 17-year-old percussionist, expressed regret about outgrowing the camp’s age range in the future.
“I’ve always played in a concert, wind band setting as a percussionist, which is a completely different experience, especially in a band of 60 or 70 people,” Braden said. “This, it’s a lot more relaxed, but it’s also more likely to hack someone off if you do something wrong. ... I have a visual impairment, so I first thought it would be kind of like, ‘Eh,’ but they’ve actually been really welcoming and it’s been really fun. I wish they’d keep doing it.”
Students not only learn their own part, but also learn to hold their own while performing with their band. That unique duality is particularly important to 13-year-old Sabine McDavitt-Parekh and 12-year-old Kai Strickland, who are providing lead vocals for their respective bands.
Sabine said he plays electric guitar, but picked up bass guitar this week to help his band out. “Probably the hardest part for me is playing the bass and singing at the same time – that can get really hard,” he said.
Kai sings and plays guitar, taking lessons with Weiss. “Wonderwall” by Oasis was the first song she learned on guitar, which also gave her comfort while performing it with her band. “We already have that one down,” she said.
Sabine and Kai both expressed apprehension about having all eyes on them, but the pair said they would be ready to go by Friday evening.
“It is scary, but worth it ... just seeing how people enjoy my singing even though I hate it,” Kai said with a grin on her face.
Devore said he has previously orchestrated several youth band camps in the region, but noted Bowling Green was a great location because a rock camp had never been offered before – six applicants had never worked with any of the camp’s instructors, which DeVore took as evidence of reach and appeal.
“In that facility of learning (a song), playing it and hearing it for the first time, it fills me up with a whole lot of pride in what we’re doing,” DeVore said. “I can’t wait to keep it going and I hope it becomes an annual thing to keep spreading that every year for the kids to enjoy.”