URI music alumni direct camp’s future musicians

The students become the teachers: URI music alumni now direct camp’s future musicians

Posted on
Music Camp
Standing at right, Emily Chen, a South Kingstown resident and artistic director of the University of Rhode Island's Summer Music Academy, conducts a musical piece with students during last year's String Camp.

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 11, 2016 — When they were just teenagers, Emily Chen and Allison Lacasse spent a week of their summers learning and playing music with other students at music camps such as the one held each year at The University of Rhode Island. Now adults who both graduated from URI in 2007, Chen and Lacasse lead a program at the University similar to the ones that once taught them so much.

Chen, who hails from South Kingstown and attended URI’s summer music program shortly before she entered high school in 1999, joined the camp as an assistant director in 2006 and took over as director in 2009. During her eight years with the program, she has seen – and overseen – several major changes, including the move in 2014 to its current incarnation as the URI Summer Music Academy.

The academy holds two week-long sessions in July and August. String Camp will run July 11 through July 16, while Chamber Music Intensive Camp will run from July 31 through Aug. 6.

The String Camp will feature on-stage ensemble performances by the students for their families and friends Thursday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road in Kingston, and conclude with a full orchestral concert Saturday, July 16 at 2 p.m.

The Chamber Music Intensive Camp will feature a chamber music concert Friday, Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center, followed by solo performances with piano accompaniment at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6.

Chen, who teaches private lessons and owns and operates La Bella Musica – a classical string quartet hired for events such as weddings – pushed for a residential option to allow campers to stay on campus overnight when she became the String Camp’s artistic director following a major overhaul in 2014. Allowing campers to stay for the week – this year they will be housed in Hutchinson Hall – is critical to the success of the camp, Lacasse said, because it gives students a true summer camp experience.

“It’s great for the culture of the camp because the students get to bond together as campers,” said Lacasse, a New Bedford, Mass., native who serves as the artistic director for the Chamber Music Intensive Camp. “For me as the artistic director, it’s important to provide the students with time off from their instruments so they can get the experience of learning about one another and becoming a musical family. It’s all about the relationships between the musicians. If they have that bond and support system in place, the music-making is much easier.”

Lacasse, a middle school music teacher in Chelmsford, Mass., said the camp provides team and relationship building exercises and events, such as a day trip to a local beach, that helps encourage camaraderie and are just plain fun.

In addition to the relationships students are able to build, the residential program offers logistical advantages as well, Chen said. The camp draws musicians from all over the state and points north. Before the camp added the residential option in 2015, many students faced a challenging commute, limiting participation.

In its first year offering the residential option in 2015, the String Camp drew 34 students, 12 of whom stayed on campus. This year, 20 of 46 campers are scheduled to stay overnight, Chen said. Lacasse said approximately 95 percent of the Chamber Music Intensive campers selected the residential option.

“The camp times were the first thing I pushed to change when I was named director,” Chen said. “The camp used to run from 8 a.m. to noon, which was really difficult for people who wanted to attend if they didn’t live nearby. In 2014, we made it 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, we have a fair number of students commuting from up north – including one girl from North Dartmouth, Mass. – and it was still very difficult for them. The overnight option really allows us to pull more students from up north and out of state.”

Chen hopes the overnight option will help re-establish the camp’s reputation as an outstanding program, which was the case when she participated in 1999. At that time, the camp offered a residential option for chorus, band and orchestra programs.

“It was a great experience and a huge camp, and that’s what we want to bring back,” she said.

Lacasse, who also serves as co-leader of the music department’s alumni association, said the Summer Music Academy is not only a chance for the students to put their best musical foot forward, it also gives the University a chance to put its best foot forward by creating a memorable experience for students who will soon begin looking at colleges and universities.

“The Summer Music Academy is first and foremost focused on providing an enriching experience for the students and helping them progress in their music education,” she said. “But it’s also a great way to recruit for the University. As an alumna, I wanted to create a program that is fun and exciting, and show these students what a family the music department really is. It’s a great chance for them to get to know the faculty and see what living here is really like.”

For more information, visit the University of Rhode Island Summer Music Academy.