The Benefits of Adult Music Camps

July 25, 2011 at 04:32 PM ·

 I often see discussions about adults who have returned to playing after many years of not playing and I think about my own return to playing.  I was surprised how quickly I lost my skill after college and when I returned to lessons in my late 40's I found that re-learning as an adult was very different from learning as a child.  After playing for several years I was asked four years ago to go to music camp with some friends.  I was nervous about my playing but said sure and off we went to Southern Oregon Chamber Music Workshop in Ashland.  I met about sixty other adults of varying skill levels with a common interest in playing chamber music.  The program at Ashland is structured to put students into groups, trios, quartets, etc. roughly based upon like skills with an assignment each day to select and perform a movement by the end of the day for all of the rest of the players.  Professional level coaching is provided during the day.

As I stated above, I was terrified at performing but found that since everyone was in the same boat it would be fine.  And it was.  At the end of the week I realized that I had had a wonderful time, had met some great people and had received coaching comments that helped me zero in of weak playing areas.  When I returned home I reflected on those comments and worked to strengthen those areas over the next twelve months.  Each year that I have returned I found it easier to play the assignments, felt more self confident when performing, renewed friendships and found new areas of my playing to work on.

The point of this discussion is to encourage other adult players to find a similar workshop and to go.  I guarantee that you will become a much better player and greatly expand the joy of making music.


Replies (18)

July 25, 2011 at 07:20 PM ·

FWIW, I love chamber music and I love chamber music workshops. When I get back from one I'm counting the days (months!?) 'til the next one and investigating (or just dreaming about) other opportunities. When I'm at one I'm asking everyone about the other workshops they attend.... I've become a cm workshop junkie. I've tried a few & am still shopping around to see what others are like but I've had fun, met wonderful people & learned a lot at all of them.

July 25, 2011 at 08:33 PM ·

Richard: 8 months after picking up the violin following a 40+ yr hiatus (minus a brief revisit to help my son learn) I went to our local classical music summer camp - then CAMMAC ontario (and now Lakefield Music).  I was already back in love with my violin and went for immersion therapy.  This was one of the smartest things I ever did - and the other was to not sign up for too much so that I could indulge in many hours just playing in my room!

Now 3yrs later I have attended Lakefield once more but this year decided to go to Interlochen in August.  Its more chamber focused and I think (and yes fear a bit too) there are higher expectations (certainly judging by the repertoire they have posted to date).  Another member commented that she returned home a transformed player - I hope the same will befall me.  :)

July 26, 2011 at 03:36 PM ·

I considered going to a chamber music camp this summer but decided against it for both work and personal reasons.  One thing I was concerned about as an adult (40+) player was the intensity level, and whether I would be up to playing for five or six hours a day.  For those who have gone, and who like me are lucky to get 45 minutes of practice a day at home, how was it to play so much more?  Did you feel a need to take more breaks than you really had time for?

Thanks for any input.  I may still go to the camp I was considering next summer, but of course, I won't be any younger!


July 26, 2011 at 11:46 PM ·

Ann, I went to one a couple of years ago.  I was amazed at how young I suddenly was- one woman there in her mid-30's, three or four late-40's early 50's, everyone else seemed to be 65+, including one dear man who was a couple of months short of 90. 

It was tiring, but doable and everyone held up well.  That camp had scheduled rehearsals morning and afternoon, with breaks, and then other activities in the evenings plus time to get together informally and play if you wished.

The one piece of advice I would give would be to look at going with a pre-formed group.  I didn't do this.  Both my afternoon groups were fabulous, but the morning one, which was the one that met all week and performed, was another story.  Two of the others in that quartet were absolutely lovely people, but the fourth was just plain awful.  Mean, dismissive, argumentative, passive-aggressive, you name it.  (As I was the new camper, the youngest, whatever, I was her favorite target.)  I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to handle that sort anyway, and in this situation it was pretty strange and horrible.  The week's schedule had little reminders printed in it about remembering to be nice, and that chamber music isn't a battle to the death, etc., so I don't think my experience was totally out of the ordinary.

July 27, 2011 at 01:50 AM ·

I'm a 4th year Interlochen junkie (the "other" v.commer), and yes, I come back year after year a transformed player on many different levels.

At 40, I'm one of the younger folks, though there is a push to get more folks my age or younger involved.  I think the oldest person is in his mid-eighties and has been going for as long as the camp has been around.  The schedule is such that all the "heavy playing" is in the morning with workshops of various sorts in the afternoon, and plenty of time for informal sessions.  

A week of "full immersion" music making is a marvelous thing.  You raise your own standards up a notch or two, are exposed to a wider variety of music than you would do on your own normally, and discover that making mistakes is totally OK.  Not many other places will one find such a diverse group of people bound by a common love.

July 27, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

I accompany my son every year to his violin institute and i learn a lot about being a better practice partner and I'd love finding a violin camp that accepts parents players as well.


July 28, 2011 at 02:08 AM ·


I'm sorry to hear that you had to deal with a difficult individual.  I know they do exist but I have found them to be rare and not the norm.  When I have encountered them I have taken a passive aggressive stance, agreeing with their comments and then playing the music at the performance based upon comments from the coach and other players.  It works quite well and avoids wasting valuable practice time.  I have also rarely seen those big-headed players to be nearly as good at playing as they think of themselves.  Hopes this helps and that you will continue to explore adult music camps for all of the other benefits. 

July 28, 2011 at 04:51 AM ·

I am positively green with envy of those that can attend a camp!!!

July 28, 2011 at 09:24 AM ·

Hi 'other V.comer' Mendy!  Hoped you would chip in :)  Judging by your age span for the camp it sounds like I am going to be middle-aged again :D  And great that mistakes are not deadly - that sounds a lot less threatening than my mental image (which was getting out of hand based on the posted rep).

Rebecca - care to share why you can't make it to a camp?  We'd love to have you...

July 28, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

 For those of you who are timid about adult music camp, here are some ideas that other adult students have shared with me.

Enjoy yourself.  Don't worry about what other think.

Mistakes happen to everyone.  Remember that you can use those mistakes to focus on your work during the next year of practice.

Enjoy yourself.  You are making music with others who you would never get to meet if you weren't at camp.

You are paying for this for your own enjoyment.

There are absolutely no scouts from Julliard listening when you are playing.  You are guaranteed never to get a scholarship offer while at adult music camp. Maybe in the next life!


July 29, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

"I'd love finding a violin camp that accepts parents players as well."

My mother, a pianist who accompanied me to summer camp, said the same exact thing! Thankfully at night somewhere on campus there would invariably be a gorgeous grand that wasn't being used, and use of the facilities was informal enough that she could spend a couple of hours there every night. And then there was a room where we could bring CDs and listen to our favorite recordings together. It was fabulous.

July 29, 2011 at 02:41 AM ·

Lakefield music has a children's program at the same time as the adult camp - they do music too but also lots of other activities.  I don't know if you can reach southern Ontario....

Oops - I flipped your post in my head!  Never thought of it that way - a camp for young players that has a music creche for adults! 

August 1, 2011 at 11:03 PM ·

I'd love to attend an adult music camp too, that would be awesome! But here in Oz I've never heard of them, nobody in my playing circles had ever mentioned them. I know there is a local camp for students which encourages everyone to join, adults too, but somehow I feel a 45 year old would stick out like a sore thumb. Guess I might have to put this experience on my 'what to see and do overseas' list!

I'll ask around, and see what can be found out. In the meantime I'll just have to be jealous of you all. :)

August 4, 2011 at 04:47 PM ·

Richard, thanks for starting this discussion and making me aware of the Southern Oregon Chamber Music Workshop in Ashland.  What are the average skill levels of the participants? Is there a minimum requirement for playing level? Is previous ensemble experience a must?  I'm wondering whether this camp would be too advanced for me, as I would only have 3 years of playing (probably still in Suzuki book 5) and less than 2.5 years of duets under my belt but no orchestral or other ensemble experience (Unless I join a community orchestra this fall) come next July. Thanks for your time!

August 5, 2011 at 04:13 AM ·


I'm not familiar with Suzuki Book 5 level of playing but can tell you that some of the players were recently returning to playing, after many years of not playing and they were relearning their skills. Like myself, they had challenging days with the music but in the end did just fine and I'm sure felt that the experience moved them to a better level of playing.  I would think that a person should feel comfortable sight reading, able to play in third position, familiar and comfortable playing with others both in orchestra and or in small groups, and most importantly, have a strong desire to better their skills.  The first year I went I identified my skill level as second violin in community orchestra, and listed several works that I had played.  The school will decide if they think yours skills are sufficient to attend.  If you want a better assessment of your skills you could contact the school and ask if they think you have the skill level to attend.  You can contact Rhett Bender at SOU Chamber Music Workshop.  Hope this helps.     

May 31, 2013 at 06:46 PM · I would love to go to one of these music camps. But I am wondering what level you would need to play to be able to participate in all the activities they have. I asked some questions to Interlocken people but their answers were very vague. So, say if you play Suzuki book 4, would it be an appropriate level to actually play and learn?

May 31, 2013 at 08:04 PM · Taylor,

CAMAC (Canadian Amateur Music Association) summer camps have a chamber music coordinator, to whom one sends his/her application with self-assestment of skill level. Then, as OP mentioned, groups are formed to match players on their skill level. There is also "Strings for beginners" class, where a small chamber orchestra is formed and music is intentionally selected so everyone can play. I can assume that a similar practice is followed in other camps.

For more information, please visit:

June 2, 2013 at 09:23 PM · Don't be scared of it. I went to Interlochen in 09. Then to Lubec, MA in 2010. I had the best time! and I was learning 2nd, 3rd and 4th post at that time. haven't back since, but I hooked myself with the ACMP group in FL and had a blast!

Chambers are really fun! I encourage you to join if there is one available in your area. I gain so much confidence in playing/performing.

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