What I did at Summer Kamp

Chris Jones‘Tis the season for the bluegrass music camp, and my band and I just returned recently from a great week at Camp Bluegrass, held annually at South Plains College in Levelland, TX.

In a typical music camp of any kind, there are the regular instrument classes that students sign up for, but often there are one-time workshops throughout the week on various subjects, from string-changing, to sound reinforcement. Students attend these classes on an elective or optional basis (not that they’re particularly obligated to attend anything once they’ve paid to enroll, the grade point average not being a big concern).

Some camps leave the subjects of these elective classes up to the instructors, as was the case at Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp. It was called the “Class Scramble,” and all of these elective classes were held at the same time.

As an instructor, you strive to come up with something that would be useful or of interest to as many campers (or, in this case, “Kampers”) as possible. If however, your choice for a topic is a dud, and no one at all shows up, you may find yourself with an hour or two of free time.

Now of course most of us want to do what we can to best serve the students, but what if you are a less scrupulous instructor, or you happen to be extremely tired by day 4 of a camp (highly unusual circumstances, I realize), or you’re just plain lazy? In that case, there may be some incentive to come up with a topic guaranteed to be unpopular enough to keep all students away, enabling you to curl up in a corner and have a nap.

Not that I personally know anyone who would stoop to such a thing. But if I did, that work-ethic-deficient staff member might want  some suggestions for classes that would keep students running as fast as they can to a different class.

So with the disclaimer that I don’t approve of doing this in any way (unless it’s a medical or psychological emergency, or you just really feel like it), here are some topics that I think would accomplish this goal:

  1. My Fascinating Career – instructor will tell road stories, name-drop, and reminisce about people you’ve never heard of for 90 minutes straight.
  2. In Depth Bluegrass Song Analysis – An examination of Freudian themes and Jungian archetypes in The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.
  3. Bluegrass Survival Skills: How to take apart and reassemble a banjo using only a toothbrush and a dime.
  4. Eight Strings and the Painful Truth: Learn to change mandolin strings in the dark. Which leads to:
  5. Bluegrass First Aid: How to play Blackberry Blossom while inserting an IV tube with your teeth.
  6. Learn ten of the world’s most tedious guitar exercises, then play them over and over and over.
  7. I Heard it Through Grapevine, TX – Texas fiddle contest-style arrangements of Motown hits.
  8. Wish fy mod i ar yr hen Rocky Top – Learn to sing Rocky Top in eight different languages, including English.

I’ll have to admit that I personally know three or four banjo geeks who might get really excited about #3, but they may not be at your camp.

If the fear of boredom or disgust isn’t enough to guarantee empty classes, you can always develop a reputation of being crazy and unstable throughout the week of the camp, so that no one would want to attend a class of yours, no matter what the description is.

Next week: how to tell when a music instructor is actually crazy and unstable and not simply acting that way to add to his or her mystique (or get an hour off on Thursday morning).