Campers learn about music — then 'rock out'

Friday, July 18, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2014
Compass Music Camp, a program that occurs over six days, teaches young musicians how to play instruments and perform in a band. Participants also learn about music theory.

*UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional information about the camp's final concert.

COLUMBIA — Nick Orazio, a student at Compass Music Camp, sat surrounded by his bandmates and sketched an alien jaywalking for the cover of his band's album.

"It's called 'Illegal Alien,'" he said.

Orazio, along with 24 other campers, was working on an album cover, logo and invented biography for his new band, Contraband, during art class Thursday at Compass.

Compass is a six-day camp that places musicians ages 8 to 18 into bands. Those bands spend the week taking classes and lessons in preparation for a concert to be held Saturday afternoon.

Local musician Phylshawn Johnson is the camp director.

Johnson was inspired to create a camp when she worked summers at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 2006 to 2008. Johnson originally intended to start her own camp for girls but changed her mind after a conversation with a young student whom she was giving private music lessons.

"He was really excited about this movie he had watched about a girls rock camp in Portland, Oregon," Johnson said. "In that moment, I realized I should do a co-ed camp."

When Johnson was recruited by Compass founder Vicki Leighty to organize a summer camp for aspiring young musicians, she jumped at the opportunity.

Johnson contacted many of her local musician friends to be instructors at Compass.

"They're just fun," camper Sydney Hemwall, 16, said. "I don't really see them as counselors. They're just like other campers."

Compass is a nonprofit organization, which means the counselors aren't in it for the money.

"We can't really pay our staff a whole lot," vocal instructor Violet Vonder Haar said. "We do it because we love music and we want the future of music to know what's going on and what to do."

This year, each band is practicing at a separate location in Columbia, including The Bridge, Artlandish Gallery, Mojo's, the Talking Horse Theatre, Access Percussion and Roxys. All businesses are donating the spaces free of charge. Some instruments have also been donated by local businesses.

The campers take instrument lessons and singing lessons and learn music theory during the week of camp.

"It's allowed me to learn more about music and have a better understanding of how I can become a more interesting musician," camper Hemwall said.

Johnson and the counselors not only tell the campers how to become musicians; they show them.

At lunch Thursday, she and two of her co-counselors' band, Phylshawn Johnson and the Soul Magnet, played a concert for the campers.

"It's good for them to see performance in practice," Johnson said.

Thirteen campers are veterans, having attended Compass before, and their familiarity and cohesion is evident.

"Those 13, they know each other, and this might be one of the few times of the year when they can get together and see their musical friends," Johnson said.

"We relate on what music we like and what we want to do throughout the week to get ready for the concert," said Hemwall, one of the veterans. This is Hemwall's third year attending Compass.

The Saturday concert, which will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Bridge*, is a chance for the campers to show off what they have learned from the week. All of the campers sing one song together, and then each individual band performs an original song.

Morgan Naeger, 9, is looking forward to her parents seeing her play the acoustic guitar for the first time with her band, the Alamos.

"I'm excited but nervous," she said. "I don't know if we'll be that good."

Regardless of how they perform, the campers will get to display how they've grown as musicians in just a week.

"The music comes from the kids," Johnson said. "They get the experience of performing as a band for the first time and letting their inner musician come forth.

"They're gonna rock out."

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.

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