Middle-school students from across the four-state area have gathered at Northwest Missouri State University this week in order to further their musical skills.
Northwest has hosted its six-day band camp since the early 1970's, and the annual event has become a summertime tradition for aspiring musicians who don't want to wait until school starts to get their horns out of the case.
This year, 83 youngsters in sixth to ninth grade are participating in the camp, which, aside from all the music, provides an opportunity for the students to sample college life while staying in a residence hall.
Not only do students receive instruction on their instruments, band campers attend classes on music theory, composing and even public relations — how to market their music to an audience.
"Some of the kids come just for the opportunity to get more playing experience," Northwest director of bands Doug Overmier said. "And some come to have the other experiences, the interactions."
Social activities during the week include games, picnics and a talent show.
On the more academic side, Northwest alumnus Gavin Lendt is presiding over sessions on composing in which students write and play their own music.
"If you think about it, it takes the university band eight or nine weeks to prepare for a concert," Overmier said. "These kids do it in just one week."
The staff is made up of volunteers, and Overmier said he is honored by their dedication. Some return year after year.
One of the veterans is Kevin Griffin, who started out as a camper.
"I came to this camp back in the '70's when I was in school," Griffin said. "It's a great experience."
Trombonist David Valentine, a seventh-grader from Liberty, Mo., is in his second year at band camp and plans to come back next year.
"I have a great time here," Valentine said. "Plus it's awesome to actually get away from home for awhile."
Hannah Sunderman, an eighth-grade percussionist from Clarinda, Iowa, takes special pleasure in rehearsals.
"I like it [the camp] because I get to play with a band," Sunderman said. "It's better than practicing by myself. And it's nice to get to do a lot more than I'm used to."
The success and popularity of the camp is a good indicator that it will be around for many years to come.
"We've got a lot of kids that keep coming back," Overmier said. "They become friends. It's kind of a kid networking thing. They have fun."