In Overtown, teens experience a band camp they will remember

08/06/2014 3:45 PM

08/09/2014 10:17 PM

Summer can be a boring time for youth. Many parents look for ways of keep them from turning into couch potatoes.

This year 160 middle and high school students had fun, learned to become better musicians and entertained their parents and the community. They participated in the 2014 inaugural South Florida Marching Band Precision Camp presented by the Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida at the historic Lyric Theater Black Archives Welcome Center Complex in Miami’s Overtown, July 21-28.

This week-long day camp offered students a place to develop their skills in a fun and exciting learning environment. The new wing adjacent to the theater had rooms waiting for students with wind, percussion, and brass instruments. A special rehearsal area was reserved for the 13 tuba players.

On July 21, buses rolled up with excited students, dedicated parents and steadfast bus drivers from near and far. Represented were schools in Miami, West Palm Beach, Pompano Beach, Miramar, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Lakes, Coral Springs, Lehigh Acres, Coconut Creek and Hollywood, as well as a school from San Antonio, Texas. An ethnically diverse mix of band students with varying degrees of talent arrived, met new friends, and prepared for the experience of a lifetime.

During an intense five days, students had opportunities to improve their skills with nationally and regionally prominent guest clinicians, as well as faculty from local and state schools and universities. Instruction included rehearsals, sectionals, and master classes. At one rehearsal, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho greeted the students.

A week of studying and rehearsing culminated in a series of concerts. On Saturday afternoon the campers performed at the Bayside mall. One of the bus drivers, volunteer Oscar Vicks from San Antonio, explained excitedly, “This camp was the best thing that ever happened to our kids. It is summertime and many of them would just be hanging out in the street getting into trouble. The way this camp was set up kept them busy. I am so impressed with the good manners and positive attitudes they displayed. When the group performed at Bayside the tourists were spellbound. They stopped shopping to listen and watch. The students played and marched like they were in college and had practiced for months. The tourists at Bayside went wild and so did I. It was amazing for me to see students who were strangers a week ago working together, learning new songs and marching so well. ”

The camp was the vision of organizer Timothy A. Barber, executive director of the Black Archives and a head drum major of Florida A&M University’s Marching Band (2001-2002) in Tallahassee. Barber was inspired by his former band director at Miami Central Senior High School, Shelby R. Chipman, now associate professor of music at FAMU. Barber invited Professor Chipman to direct the inaugural camp at the historic Lyric Theater.

When Chipman was a band student at Jackson Senior High School he was inspired by then-band director William McKenzie. McKenzie and another pioneer band director, Norman Cox Sr. formerly of Miami Edison Senior High, were honored Sunday evening at the camp’s symphonic band concert featuring students and camp directors. There was a standing ovation at the concert’s end.

McKenzie reminisced about marching in FAMU’s band in the 1950s. He and Cox began their music education careers as students in Miami at Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School under band director, Timothy O. Savage, who marched in FAMU’s band in the 1940s. Including Savage, this group represents four generations trained by FAMU’s legendary music educator and band director, William P. Foster. Chipman and Barber later studied under Julian White.

For this inaugural band camp, Professor Chipman assembled an outstanding team of conductors: Ralph Jean-Paul, FAMU Adjunct Professor; Edrick Rhodes, supervisor of music, Palm Beach County schools; Melton Mustafa, assistant professor, Florida Memorial University; and Fred Ingram, president of the United Teachers of Dade. Many other music and arts educators also contributed their time. The team was hosted by the Black Archives staff.

July 28 was the camp’s grand finale and the 118th birthday of the city of Miami’s incorporation. Celebrating both occasions, the entire band marched from the Lyric Theater on Northwest Second Avenue and Eighth Street to Theodore Gibson Park on Northwest Third Avenue and 14th Street. Some residents marched behind the band. Pioneer residents remembered the Orange Blossom Classic, when FAMU’s band marched in Overtown and downtown before the annual football game. At Gibson Park, certificates were awarded to students and praise given for a week of accomplishments. Many of the students expressed disbelief that the camp was over and that it was time to go home. Several youngsters volunteered that it was not a boring week.

Bruce Adams, band director at Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, has participated in at least 13 band camps across the country. He said this one was better organized and executed than most. “In middle and high school, band camp is important to development. It provides opportunities for them to perform with other talented students, receive class instruction from accomplished music educators, make new friends and travel. It is important that this positive summer activity attract major sustaining sponsors to support our youth. Miami is a long way from San Antonio, but it was worth the 24-hour bus ride with 40 teenagers. We are preparing now to return next year.”

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