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Smart Balance with a Symphonic Camp: a research article

Updated: Apr 10, 2020


The purpose of this study was to explore secondary band instructor’s views toward symphonic camps, to investigate specific issues regarding implementation of a symphonic camp, and to assess the feasibility of a web-based survey to collect active practice information. A purposive sample of experienced U.S. band directors was solicited via a 19-question online survey. 50 questionnaires were emailed; one reminder was sent to non-responders. 42 (84%) questionnaires were returned with 19% indicating they did not have a symphonic camp event. However, 80% of respondents indicated that they did offer symphonic camps; additionally, those respondents reported the event yielded strong musical growth for both students and instructors. The evidence suggests that symphonic camps are a viable enrichment activity for symphonic bands.


Secondary school musicians gain the majority of their proficiencies through large performance ensemble experiences. Instrumental music curriculums are chiefly designed and delivered as praxialist environments engaging in active music-making. The expertise of modeling behaviors, technique, and expressivity to create new knowledge and skill levels is crucial to active practice instruction yet is largely limited to the practical knowledge and expertise of the classroom teacher.

Impassioned music teachers often explore meaningful ways to improve student performance, attitude, and engagement through the development of a variety of enrichment events and opportunities. One of the ways teachers grow is by investigating other noteworthy programs for the purpose of extrapolating practices of interest out of a desire to create more effective instructional practices. Historically, secondary band directors look toward peer-reviewed, benchmark performance recognitions as indicators of significant achievement. Benchmarks might include invitations to perform at events such as the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, Music for All National Concert Festival, or state music teacher in-service conferences. Other significant peer-reviewed benchmark acknowledgements include the National Band Association’s Blue Ribbon Award and the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honor Award. Moreover, one milestone achievement by which the high school band profession measures a program’s success is receiving the Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Flag of Honor, distinguishing a program as a role model sustained over seven or more years.

Instructors yielding success in performance accomplishment may utilize a variety of supplemental enhancement opportunities providing aid in the quest to participate in a benchmark recognition event. One of these enrichment experiences is the implementation of a concert clinic weekend experience; in short, a symphonic camp. For the overwhelming majority of the participants in this study, the symphonic camp experience afforded rich instructional and artistic collaboration and social cohesion through extended sessions of concentrated music making. The survey, in this study, was created with the intention of crafting an informative representation of symphonic camp elements utilized by some performance benchmark participant veteran band directors with a intent that other band directors may choose to replicate such elements to enhance and enrich the musical experiences within their own school band programs.

Gathering Information

A purposive sample of band directors in the United States that have participated in benchmark peer-reviewed application processes resulting in their ensembles’ recognition or invitation to perform in state conferences, regional, and/or national events was selected. Criteria for participant selection included directors who participated in benchmark performances such as state Music Educator Association conferences, Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, Music for All National Concert Festival, National Band Association’s Blue Ribbon Award, Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honor Award and/or the Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Flag of Honor.

Survey. This researcher created a 19-question survey (Appendix). The questionnaire was designed to query band directors if they host a symphonic camp event. If a director offered a camp, the survey further directed questions about specific issues such as the implementation of symphonic camp practices, organizational management of the event, instructional staff, and financial support. The survey was designed to be easily completed; the format included multiple choice and open-ended questions.

The survey was administered via electronic format using a Google Forms questionnaire survey and 42 surveys were completed (84% cooperation rate). Eight instructors (19%) indicated they did not have a symphonic camp event. The resulting population studied (n=34) consisted of directors from nine states with 52% from GA. 85% of the school locations were in suburbia, 8% in rural and 7% in urban areas (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Locations of high school symphonic camps.

Half of the respondents had performed at National Events (i.e. National Concert Band festival, Midwest Clinic, NBA Symphonic Band Symposium, NBA Blue Ribbon Award). As indicated in Figure 2, nearly 60% of the resulting sample directors had 20+ years of experience, 35% have been teaching 10-20 years and 5% have 5-9 years of experience.

Figure 2. Symphonic camp coordinators years of experience.

Responses. The responses to questions are reported in percentages (of those indicating they have hosted a symphonic camp) and in narrative text including comments from the resulting sample. Informed consent was not obtained given the inherent, voluntary nature of completing a web-based survey.

The data were collected by a Google Forms survey submission and retrieved via a Google form export into an Excel worksheet. Then, the data were coded to interpret the data for analysis.


Population. The data set (N=50) contained 42 respondents; nearly 60% were veteran teachers of more than 20 years of experience and 40% of respondents with less than 20 years teaching experience. 80% of respondents reported they offered symphonic camps with 20% not having a camp. The resulting sample (the responding directors hosted symphonic camps) is n=34; 45% reported symphonic camps were offered to the entire band program; 35% provided camps to the top ensemble only, and 15% had camp for the top two ensembles. Figure 3 indicates the ensembles participating in a symphonic camp.

Figure 3. Participating ensembles in a symphonic camp.

Most of the directors (41%) have been doing a camp for 10 or more years, many (17%) have done a camp for six-ten years, several (8%) offered a camp for four-five years, and some (12%) were newcomers to this enrichment activity offering them for less than three years.

Timeline. The majority of the directors used the camp to reinforce their spring contest or festival performances. Figure 4 indicates the camp focus regarding timeline preparation and development in a literature cycle. The directors used the camp at various times in the preparation of their literature cycle with 15% using it on at the beginning of the literature cycle, 70% mid-cycle and 15% using the camp at the end to help polish the literature.

Figure 4. Timeline of preparation when hosting a symphonic camp.

Schedule. All respondents had full ensemble rehearsals during their symphonic camps. However, there were a wide variety of other scheduled components. A few schools (5%) presented formal performances in concert black attire while many (50%) had informal performances at the conclusion of their camps. Additionally, 15% scheduled an interaction between a guest artist and the student musicians and 40% included a social event as part of their symphonic camp. Other musical learning occurred through sectionals (85%), master classes (60%) and chamber music ensembles (10%). The symphonic camp schedules took on a variety of formats with the majority of events occurring on a Friday and Saturday. Interestingly, 50% of the directors scheduled their camps to include three rehearsal blocks across Friday/Saturday, while 20% offered a Saturday evening block to account for four blocks of instruction during those two days. Some directors (20%) had Saturday only camps and several (10%) held their camp on Friday only or during two evenings of an instructional week.

Personnel. The staff involved during the symphonic band camps were varied with roughly half using the event to bring in outside, out-of-state educators to challenge their students. The data revealed the following noteworthy use of personnel: 73% used in-house directors and year-round band staff, 65% utilized in-house part-time staff section coaches, and 50% contracted professional section coaches specifically for the single event. While some of the directors taught and led their own rehearsals, many engaged local guest conductors from their school district or community (68%) as well as guest conductors from within their state (65%). Out-of-state guest conductors were employed in some (35%) of the programs. More than half (62%) sought university level or military band guest conductors, but there was no indication as to whether they were solicited from an in-state or out-of-state institution. Based on the overlap of data, it is highly likely that many of the in-state and out-of-state guest conductors were also university or military conductors. Additionally, when multiple bands participated in a camp, directors contracted a variety of conductors (i.e., in-state, out-of-state, university-level, etc.). Of note, most of the schools using local guest conductors were suburban.

Booster parents served an important function in almost all (91%) of the camps. Of those camps utilizing their booster volunteers, booster parents contributed most (97%) by coordinating meals, and offering guest hospitality. Other booster support included medical aid, travel assistance and general supervision.

Director Participation. When asked by open-ended questions about what the director did during the camp, 65% responded they observed and learned from the guest conductors, while (24%) conducted the ensemble themselves. Other duties the directors performed were assisting the guest conductors (3%) as well as providing administration (3%) during the event.

Financial Support. Funding is a vital component of a symphonic camp. Some programs (26%) funded their event with student fees; others (24%) had the camp underwritten by their booster club; and several (17%) used a combination of student fees and booster club support. Other methods used to finance the event included school district support, fundraising, and designated funding.

At one end of the spectrum, several (18%) invested under $500.00 on the event while some (24%) spent more than $1500.00. However, the majority fell somewhere in between with the highest percentage of directors (38%) spending $500-$1000 on the event and some (21%) expended $1000-$1500. Figure 5 shows the funding dispersed in hosting a symphonic camp. It is noteworthy, of those directors spending more the $1500.00, 75% utilize a symphonic camp to provide enrichment for three or more bands.

Figure 5. Budget expenses of hosting a symphonic camp.

Benefits. All directors (100%) described their personal and student experience as positive. Open-ended comments regarding benefit to students included: “extreme and rapid musical growth and ensemble bonding,” “best money we spend. We can bring in some of the most respected conductors in America and qualified regional section coaches for a fraction of the cost of a color guard staff,” “exposes our students to professional applied teachers and conductors,” “heightened performance level,” and “better understanding of literature.” Concerning instructor growth, observations included: “it’s a great way for teachers to learn and have ‘staff development’’’, “reinforced my teaching”, and “we take what was taught and learned from the workshop and music to the next set of literature and concerts.” Finally, the community’s benefit from the program was seen in these comments: “it helps the parents and community see a priority in the concert program,” and “it offers a heightened awareness of the concert program.”

Feedback. Though one person reported no negatives to hosting a symphonic camp, most directors reported challenges to overcome with these enrichment events. Scheduling between student’s activities, campus schedules and clinician availability was an obstacle to be overcome by 65% of symphonic camp hosts. Other challenges sited were funding and facility use.

The respondents suggested the following advice to those considering this type of enrichment activity: “Do it; Do it now; don’t wait,” (73%); other advised: “start small and slowly,” “make it fun,” “seek advice of someone who has hosted one already,” “plan it with the same intensity as you plan marching band camp,” “pick coaches that have the same sound concept as you,” “make sure the students understand the benefit of the camp,” “involve middle school programs.” The majority agreed with this comment from Kathy Johnson (Argyle, TX), “Do It! It’s extremely positive and cost effective, students love it and grow immensely.” Dan Miller (American Fork, UT), said, “Everyone seems to do a marching band camp. If we truly place symphonic band at the core of our programs we need to provide the same level of instruction as in the marching band arena.”


The symphonic camp experience provides fruitful instructional and artistic collaboration and social cohesion through extended rehearsals of concentrated music making and doing. The purpose of this study was to examine how directors use symphonic camps and to investigate specific issues regarding the implementation of a symphonic camp, as well as, assess the feasibility of a web-based survey to collect active practice information.

This study attests to the accessibility and feasibility of a web-based survey as shown by the overwhelming response to the survey. The parameters of the purposive sample assert a high probability that the population of directors solicited with the survey (N=50; n=34) are actively seeking enrichment opportunities for their students as exhibited in their submissions for noteworthy performance opportunities. Thus, it not surprising that 80% of the sample (N=50) indicated they had a viable enrichment activity (symphonic camp) encouraging concert band growth further propelling their achievements to a state and national-level recognition. This researcher speculates that the high proportion of programs in Georgia, who met the criteria of the purposive sample and provide a symphonic camp as an enrichment, may be due to geographic “word of mouth” exposure as legendary Lassiter band director, Alfred Watkins of Marietta, GA, is credited as having birthed the first symphonic camp in January of 1988 (Samuels, 2009).

Education circles and organizations frequently look for data to support what might be considered best practices in the profession to share with their teachers and members. Given that the majority of the directors represented in this study have achieved performance recognition at a state or national level and have incorporated a symphonic camp into their program for more than 10 years, the results of this study lead this researcher to conclude that the implementation of a symphonic camp should be considered as a best practice enrichment event. Furthermore, the symphonic camp concept merits discussion as a worthy enrichment program within university-level pre-service music education programs and various professional organizational mentoring program models.

A symphonic camp can be designed to meet a variety of curricular and instructional goals. The results support the view that a symphonic camp can be of benefit when focusing on either the entire program or a concerted effort for a specific ensemble. Some choose to use the program as it was originally initiated as a launch pad for a new concert season and a jump start to new music while the evidence seems to advocate that the majority used a symphonic camp to reinforce their spring contest or festival preparation. It is interesting to note the directors designed their camps to be used at various times in the preparation of their literature cycle with the majority using it mid-cycle in their quest to learn the literature. Of the respondents using this tool for late end refinement, it’s noteworthy that almost all used upper level university instruction in their camp; thus, refining the performance precision and expressivity of the students as well as providing professional development for the directors themselves. In sociology and social psychology fields of study, group cohesion has been described as an active progression whereby group members unify in the pursuit of common goals or shared purposes (Matthews & Kitsantas, 2007; Steiner, 1972).

Due to the extra-curricular and after school hours involved in a symphonic camp the enrichment event aids in the social cohesion. Inherent in the ensemble concert preparation process is the art of deferred gratification incorporating hard work toward a common performance goal. The cohesiveness of the ensemble or band program is expanded through interactive guest artist masterclass sessions or sectionals as well as informal and formal performances at the conclusion of the symphonic camp. Social connections can be further expanded by including at a social activity event as part of the camp. Due to nature of football games and the frequency of fall events, a sense of community and support is often inherent; the social element to the symphonic camp offers extended student interaction because ensemble related social activities tend to be less in the spring semester.

Interestingly, most of the schools using local guest artists were suburban causing this researcher to assume there is a greater likelihood of availability of local talent for these schools from which to draw. If talent acquisition is not readily available, perhaps programs could share staff or collaborate with neighboring schools where directors do a “podium swap.” Another option may be to utilize university students who are looking to build portfolios and are willing to drive further distances. Additionally, if a middle school camp is offered, high school students can serve as section coaches providing peer mentoring thus, fostering a 6th – 12th grade band community. The results reinforce that there are many symphonic camp formats and suggest that most directors had their camps on a Friday and Saturday; however, it is noted that directors make their camp work within their schedules as well as clinician schedules.

The evidence presented here would suggest that funding is a vital factor in hosting a symphonic camp. When considering priorities and core values of a band program, there is often a strong correlation between fund allocation and program prioritizations. Many would agree that concert band and musical performance pedagogy is at the core of wind band secondary education; however, when examining actual dollar allocation and budgeting, it isn’t uncommon for the marching activity to receive a larger financial prioritization. This researcher believes it is important to be mindful of both marching and concert programs and consider appropriate balances of the two. Also of note, regarding funding, most the directors spent approximately $500.00 per ensemble to host this enrichment event.

All of the directors (100%) reported willingness to recommend a symphonic camp. Both students and instructors showed musical growth from the experience. However, challenges to this camp concept emerged. The biggest one stated was scheduling with respondents siting student, community and guest conductor conflicts. This researcher contends looking at the scheduling conundrum from the backend; first examining school events (testing and sports) that fill the campus facility, then investigating major events in our profession (honor band, CBDNA, regional events, etc.) in regard to university conductor availability, and finally, student involvement. Success of the event may be stronger if directors are a) diligent in keeping the date in front of the students and parents from the beginning of the school year and, b) are prepared to make concessions allowing students to miss a rehearsal block to participate in another activity.

The evidence provided here would suggest that symphonic camps are beneficial to students and directors providing musical and social enrichment. These results indicate meaningful insights and offer a variety of methods that can be used regarding this enrichment activity. Future research might focus on a larger sample size and non-purposive sample. Additionally, researchers might investigate more specifics regarding literature cycle preparation.


A symphonic camp is a strong tool that directors can implement offering concentrated growth and development. Fresh musical insights, skill development and tighter social bonds are all afforded through the use of this enrichment tool for directors, students as well as the community. There are many methods of hosting a successful symphonic camp that should be examined regarding individual program budget, schedule and overall vision. In an age where the balance between cost and benefit is often a concern, the addition of a symphonic camp may prove to be one of the best long-term enrichment values for a director and their total program.


Foundation for Music Education (n.d.) National Wind Band Honors project.

Retrieved April 1, 2015 from

Matthews, W. K., & Kitsantas, A. (2007). Group cohesion, collective efficacy, and

motivational climate as predictors of conductor support in music ensembles. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(1), 6-17.

Midwest Clinic (n.d.) Midwest Clinic performing organizations.

Retrieved April 1, 2015, from clinic-performing-organizations.aspx

Music for All (n.d.) National Concert Festival performing ensembles.

Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

National Band Association (n.d.) Awards and Recognitions.

Retrieved April 1, 2015, from recognition/

Samuels, S. (2009). Alfred Watkins and the Lassiter high school band: A qualitative study. Auburn University.

Steiner, I. D. (1972). Group process and productivity. New York: Academic Press.

Sousa Foundation (n.d.). Sudler Flag of Honor recipients. Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

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