If you ask the Trombone Camp students about their favorite part of the week, you’ll hear a wide range of answers. “Hearing myself grow over the week,” one student says; “ending every day playing the Mighty Mouse song,” says another. This dichotomy perfectly represents the spirit of Merit School of Music’s Trombone Camp: musical excellence and fun blending in harmony to create a memorable week.
From June 26 to June 30, 25 students of varying experience levels came to Merit for an intensive, exciting week of learning, growing, and building confidence.
Join us for a look behind the scenes at Merit’s longest-running summer camp!
A Little Background
When trombone faculty Timothy Riordan joined the Merit team in 2002, there was very little summertime programming offered. Knowing that his students needed help staying motivated over the summer break, Tim joined forces with his sister Colleen Bayoneto, also a trombone teacher in the Chicago area, and organized Merit’s first-ever Trombone Camp.
That first camp was comprised of only seven students, including a seventh grader at the time named Kevin Dombrowski who now participates as one of our camp’s faculty members. “I’ve been part of the camp since Day 1,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve been not only a student, but an intern, then a teacher. I look forward to it every year…it’s a fun time!”
Dombrowski isn’t the only camp alum who finds himself returning year after year. This legacy of older students passing down knowledge to the next generation is a pivotal feature. Eight Merit alums returned to Trombone Camp this year as interns, volunteering their time to make the experience just as transformative for the current students as it was when they attended.
Intern Henry Carpender remembers his first Trombone Camp in 2014 well. “I remember being, like a lot of these kids, so terrified, not really knowing how to read half the music we were looking at,” he recalls of his first day. “But it was just such an overwhelmingly positive experience.” He has spent the last three summers volunteering for the camp, where he loves the opportunity to help students learn and grow.
“The camp has really helped me improve my own skill by listening to other, better trombonists, like the counselors and all the people that are older than me. It’s really helped me improve my sound quality.”
– Michael W., trombone student
Learning from not only the faculty but from those that came before is central to the camp’s culture. “The camp has really helped me improve my own skill by listening to other, better trombonists, like the counselors and all the people that are older than me,” says student Michael W., who has faithfully attended camp every summer for the past eight years. “It’s really helped me improve my sound quality.”
A Day in a Camper's Life
By 9:45am each morning, Gottlieb Hall in Merit’s Joy Faith Knapp Music Center fills with the cacophony of two dozen trombonists warming up. When camp begins at 10:00, the students split into intermediate and advanced trombone choirs to sightread new music and rehearse the pieces selected for the big performance on the final day.
From those groups, students also split into small chamber ensembles, including trios, quartets, and quintets. “For some of the students, this is the first time they’ve ever been the only person playing their part,” explains Riordan. Playing in these small groups teaches students to be independent on their part while staying together as a group.
Student Braden W. was awarded the Camp Hat on the final day of camp.
The day ends with a few traditions as the full camp assembles back onstage in Gottlieb for the awarding of the beloved Camp Hat, a symbol of the camp’s philosophy. The Camp Hat is given each day to the student who makes the loudest mistake throughout the day but keeps going. “A scared trombone player isn’t a good trombone player,” Riordan says. “It’s an incentive to take risks and fail big.” They close out the day with a raucous rendition of the Mighty Mouse theme, a final burst of energy after a full day of music and laughter.
True to form, the interns also contribute to the silly, lighthearted atmosphere of the camp. On Thursday, they performed a special trombone arrangement of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” for the students.
The Grand Finale
On Friday, the students demonstrated what they learned throughout the week in a performance for their families and friends, featuring lots of familiar tunes.
While the school year is packed full of demanding, rigorous repertoire, summer camp provides an opportunity to explore other types of music, like movie scores, pop hits, video game themes and more. Trombone Camp’s final day performance particularly highlighted film music, including recognizable pieces from Harry Potter, The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Rocky.
Trombone Camp was a delightful whirlwind of a week, with students leaving energized and excited to continue their musical journey. Its rich history, commitment to musical excellence, and fun, welcoming atmosphere make it a memorable, meaningful program that draws students back to Merit for years to come.
Many thanks to Timothy Riordan, Colleen Bayoneto, Kevin Dombrowski, and all the interns who made this camp such a special experience for our students.