By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – A dedication to jazz music didn's stop during summer break for 49 students entering grades six through 10. They attended the city's first Jazz Camp, conducted three hours daily from Aug. 5 to 9 at Marlborough High School (MHS). The camp was organized locally by Simon Harding, an instrumental music teacher at Whitcomb Middle School, who has been involved with a similar program in Mendon.
“It's very difficult to take time off from playing music, and then start doing it again at exactly where you left off,” he said. “We look at the Jazz Camp as a good way to keep them playing music for the summer and to also jumpstart the school year.”
The idea for the Jazz Camp developed when Harding met Michael Morel, the director of instrumental music at the Miscoe Hill Middle School in the Mendon-Upton Regional School District. They volunteer together with the Central District – Massachusetts Music Educators” Association. During the past two summers, they instructed a camp in Mendon, in which some students from Marlborough attended.
“I would set up a carpool list and parents drove the Marlborough kids to Mendon, and all of the students played together,” Harding explained.
After getting approval from the Marlborough School Committee this past spring, a local Jazz Camp was announced in addition to the existing one in Mendon. The two teachers partnered to continue instructing both camps.
“Being our first year in Marlborough, we wanted to start it small,” Harding said. “It turned out a little bigger than we thought it was going to be, which is great. It was a shock to see how many kids showed interest right away.”
He's less surprised that students of this age are curious to learn more about the musical style.
“I think kids tend to latch on to jazz because of the rhythm section aspect,” he said. “For them, playing jazz is like playing in a rock band in some sense. A lot of them listen to rock and pop music on the radio, and they connect with the jazz version of it.”
The teachers” goal is to create an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes in the learning process.
“Society frowns upon failure and middle school students in particular get caught up in that,” Harding said. “They'se learning music in a very short period of time and we let them know that it's okay to make mistakes. Believe it or not, you learn best by making mistakes; you fix it, you remember it, and you go forward.”
Music sheets were distributed Monday, when the students concentrated on sight-reading songs that were new to them. They collectively played an entire song Tuesday. Giving the students a chance to solo, Wednesday was all about improvisation, also known as improv. Harding noted that learning improv teaches valuable lessons beyond music.
“It's great for me to see these kids shoot their hands up and say, “I want to make music spontaneously; I want to improv,”” he said. “Improv allows a spontaneous creation that they can apply in a lot of other areas academically.”
The students rehearsed Thursday to prepare for a concert that was held Friday for family and friends in the MHS Little Theater.
“These kids put themselves out there in the public for a performance on Friday, doing music they only learned within four days before,” Harding said. “It's phenomenal that they love music enough to take time out of their summer and come back to school. This has been very successful for us. We's love to do the Jazz Camp again next summer.”