Caitlynn Bell adjusted her shoulders, raised her hand and ran her rosin bow over the strings of her glossy cello. She had practiced so much during the past few days that her shoulders were painfully tight.
Caitlynn, of Fort Smith, is among 97 children who decided to come to the Community School of Music Strings Camp at the University of Central Arkansas this week. The summer camp — in its forth year — is meant to improve skills in string instruments but also to build relationships among child musicians, said Director Mike Burkepile.
On Thursday afternoon, children who are in the orchestra for
grades ninth through 12th, took their violins, violas, cellos and basses out of black musician bags and took the stage at Old Main to rehearse. Burkepile tapped his foot lightly while waving his baton and went over rhythms repeatedly.
"I come here because I want to," Caitlynn said afterward. "I hope to take [the cello] all the way, and eventually be able to play in one of the great symphonies."
Summer strings camp has grown significantly from 36 students when it started to 60 students last year and nearly 100 this year. The camp is for ages 11 and up, but younger students may attend with permission. Burkepile said string programs in public schools — where the camp gets most of its students — have grown in the past few years. Strings are more popular, he said.
Last year, the camp became an overnight camp to meet demand, said Mike’s wife and Assistant Director Susan Burkepile.
"There are a lot of camps out there, but this one is pretty unique," Mike Burkepile said. "[Students] are excited about coming back and meeting people who are like them."
UCA professors donate their time to teaching music at the camp. Some of state’s top string students come and play in the orchestra and counsel other students. Caitlynn said she likes the camp because she is a second-year cellist who gets to play with students who have played for four years.
In fact, many students know each other from years of attending the camp, said Anna Bass, viola teacher. And, that’s the idea, Mike Burkepile said. Strings camp incorporates hours and hours of practice with fun activities meant to motivate students and bring musicians together, he said.
Later Thursday evening, Caitlynn had the opportunity to attend a dance. Earlier in the week, campers went swimming.
Students said they loved camp, and they loved music.
"I love to play my instrument, and it’s a really fun camp," said Ryan Plemmons, of Conway. The soon-to-be 10th grader has attended the camp three times, he said.
Toward the end of rehearsal Thursday, the orchestra improved dramatically at the end of "Palladio," one of several songs they plan to play during their recital at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Old Main. The song is beautiful, but it’s not Caitlynn’s favorite. She spread her sheet music in her hands and pointed to her favorite song — "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."