Student musicians connect with community
During the second week of summer, 75 instrumental music students from the CH–UH City School District’s middle and elementary schools were not quite ready to put their instruments away. Instead, they attended the 17th annual Reaching Heights Summer Music Camp, learning from alumni and experts in the community, that culminates in a full orchestra performance.
Every summer, Reaching Heights organizes a weeklong, affordable music-immersion experience for the district's middle and elementary schools’ orchestra and band students.
Over the course of the five-day camp, the student musicians participate in orchestra rehearsals; work in their instrument group in a master class and a sectional rehearsal; participate in a chamber group; and explore a new musical interest such as jazz, a percussion ensemble, ukulele or choir. This is all in preparation for a recital on Friday that features the chamber groups, and a final full orchestra performance on Saturday morning.
The 47 staff members, comprising music educators, Heights High students, and local musicians—many of whom are alumni of CH-UH and the camp itself—come back year after year to “pay it forward” to an experience and program that helped many of them grow as musicians and individuals.
Maple Buescher (Heights High class of 2021), a junior at Bates College who has opted not to pursue music professionally, recalled her time as a camper and being encouraged by staff to be involved with music. “I think that’s just a super cool part of camp," Buescher said. "It’s so open to everyone, no matter if their career is going to be music-based or not.”
Being a camper, and then a counselor as a high school student, played a part in Heights High alumna Kym Carter's (class of 2013) decision to become a music educator. Now the orchestra director for Roxboro Middle School, Carter has been involved in the camp since 2006. There, she met her first violin teacher, who later convinced her to pursue music education. As the teacher for many of the current campers, Carter said the immense progress they make during the week nearly brings her to tears. “It’s important for the middle schoolers to see how much they can progress and grow in their time at the camp," Carter said. "It just gives them more confidence.”
The camp's success would not be possible without the 28 high school student counselors, who work in tandem with adult staff. From teaching theory lessons, to helping with the many small tasks that make the camp run smoothly, to providing musical support and encouragement when it gets overwhelming—they do it all, and more. “It is a really important connection,” said Daniel Heim, the director of orchestras at Heights High, who has been involved with the camp since 2010. “And it's a great source of support and encouragement for the campers to see their peers, who are just a few years ahead, doing so well.”
Instrumental music is a beloved program in the CH-UH school district, and Reaching Heights helps its young musicians grow by providing an opportunity for them to stretch themselves with the more challenging music that is a precursor to high school. With the support and encouragement of alumni and community members, they truly see what their hard work can do.
The Reaching Heights Summer Music Camp is open to instrumental musicians in grades five through eight who live in the CH-UH City School District. Scholarship support is available, as are school instruments to borrow. Reaching Heights Summer Music Camp 2024 is planned for June 10–15 at Heights High.
Diana Drushel is a 2011 Heights High graduate, parent and community liaison for Cleveland Heights High School, and special projects coordinator for Reaching Heights.