music camp gives aspiring musicians a chance to play and perform in a band
More than 60 excited, camera-toting fans packed Cause Spirits and Soundbar on a warm August afternoon waiting for two headline bands to take the stage.
The hotly anticipated musicians weren’t well known. They weren’t 20-somethings trying to strike a record deal. They weren’t middle-aged men trying to relive their youth. They were kids, ages 8 to 17, who spent prior weeks at Twin Town Guitars, at 34th and Lyndale Ave. in southwest Minneapolis, preparing for their first concert.
In an economy where budget cuts deal constant blows to public school music programs, the owners of Twin Town have spent the last three summers providing a haven for aspiring Minneapolis musicians.
The Twin Town Guitars Summer Sessions Camps, organized by storeowners Carrie and Andrew Bell, run for two weeks in mid-June and two weeks during what Andrew refers to as the “summer doldrums” — the time between the end of July and the State Fair. The camp, which meets for three hours a day during each span, is split between two age groups: youth and teen.
At the start of the camp, the kids create a band and decide on a name. Then, thanks to a constant reminder from instructors that “it’s all about the band,” members don’t only improve individually, but they also work toward a common goal: group perfection at the live performance that concludes the camp.
And though the kids often come to the camp with a great deal of talent, they learn new skills quickly, something Carrie attributes to their enthusiasm for music.
“You show them something a couple times and you don’t realize how quickly they absorb it and retain it and are able to replay it,” she said as she sat in one of Twin Town’s 10 practice rooms. “It amazes me.”
On a blistering weekday afternoon, Twin Town served as an oasis for the two bands as they were just days shy of their performance at Cause a few blocks up the street at the corner of Lake and Lyndale.
Following a break that included browsing the store’s selection of guitars, basses, and drum sticks, GHAIM (it’s the band members’ initials, pronounced “game”) Rock, the youth band, made their way to a small area of the basement which serves as a practice facility during the camp. The unfinished room had all the necessary elements of a good practice area: painted sound pads on the walls, amps of various sizes, and cables strewn about the floor.
The kids quickly shuffled into position and began practicing the second of their three-song set, The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun. Eight year-old Amelia Bell, Carrie and Andrew’s daughter, took the microphone.
“Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,” she sang with a quintessential lisp.
Next to Amelia, Haley Baird-Dibble, 8, tapped the keyboard while Ariel Larin, 11, who wore a Van Halen T-shirt and strummed parts of Stairway to Heaven during breaks, worked the acoustic guitar. Miles Hanson, 8, played bass, an instrument he’d never played before this year’s camp, but plucked the chords with ease. In another corner, Miles’ brother, Gabe, 10, played the drums while bopping his shaggy head.
Between songs, the band’s instructor, Allison Raney, helped her pupils work out kinks in the bridge before she listened to 12-year-old Ingrid Snook, a band member whose guitar and vocal abilities won her third place in a recent talent show. But because Ingrid would be absent from the band’s final performance, Allison helped the mature-voiced youngster with a cover of John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery.
“It’s fun,” Ingrid said of the camp. “I can try different instruments and not know exactly what to do. It’s cool because a lot of kids have never played with a bunch of instruments together. It’s a new experience.”
The teen session followed a similar schedule to the younger group: each day of the camp began with a featured artist. During this period, instructors played music from a singer or band while reading information about the artist and testing the students’ knowledge. The instructor then led a seminar where they taught elements of what it means to be in a band. Finally, the bands rehearsed their songs as a group.
Before the teen band, called The Octaves, began practicing for a five-song set that included Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, the group discussed legendary rock band Queen as well as the finer points of gig preparedness.
During rehearsal, bassist Daniel Culhane, 13, wearing a cutoff T-shirt, violently shook his head, flipping his long brown locks. Tony Martinez, 11, and Matt Schultz, 15, acted as the band’s main guitarists while Colby Hansen, 14, and Abby Lothrop, 16, alternated between bass and keyboard. Evan Knutson, 17, sat at the drum set, pressing the pedals with his bare feet and nodding his head as he slammed his drumsticks. The band’s three singers, Zoe Quinn, 11, Mishaila Bowman, 12, and Colby’s twin Greta flanked the keyboard, belting notes that sparked the approval of their instructor, Mark Wade.
it’s all about the band
All of this year’s participants said they enjoyed the camp and most believed they’d return for summer 2011. What’s the main draw for campers? Learning how to make and develop the band.
“I went into this camp not really knowing much at all about how to start a band or promotion or songwriting or anything like that, but I’ve learned something everyday so I’ll take a lot from that,” said Abby.
During the break, they made their way to the front of the store to take a band photo. The group joked and smiled as they posed for Carrie’s camera under a Twin Town sign.
The Bells founded the guitar shop in 1997. Since then, Twin Town has bought, sold, and repaired all types of musical equipment. Adds Andrew Bell, “We are constantly working to refresh the sales floor as well as in the lesson studios and the waiting area.” He pointed to the addition of a new drinking fountain, fresh paint, and additional sound insulation as modifications to the 100-year-old building coming in the next few weeks.
Additionally, Twin Town’s nearly 20 instructors are able to tailor lessons to students’ needs, with sessions beginning as early as age four. Carrie noted that such lessons are Twin Town’s primary sources for participants in the summer band camp and other groups.
“The experience gets exponentially better,” Andrew said of Twin Town’s lessons. “They have the opportunity to do something that gives them knowledge in advance.”
Wearing bright Twin Town t-shirts, the bands took the Cause stage to rousing applause and whistles. Parents gushed as if standing at the feet of Paul McCartney or Elvis Presley.
“I can only imagine myself being a young musician to be able to play on a stage in town,” said Matt Johnson, one of the band bookers for Cause, “And to be able to do it right down the street is awesome.”
Summer Sessions at Twin Town Guitar
In these two-week long summer camps, students work with instructors to develop their skills as musicians working in a group. Daily lessons include small group instruction on drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano/keyboard, voice, microphone work, and overall stage presence. Students will also work on songwriting, improvising, and performing. At the end of two weeks, there is a final performance for family and friends at Cause in Uptown. Visit twintown.com for dates, times, and costs.