ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshires' Summer Jazz Day Camp was in full swing at Bowe Field this past week.
Playing a musical instrument with others has topped the list of things not allowed during the pandemic, but musical director Richard Boulger found a way to make it happen.
"I thought let's go for it," Boulger said. "So we have been very ambitious...what better time than now to celebrate life with music."
Wind instruments require the player to blow air through the instrument creating spit. It is also impossible to play while wearing a mask. This is not optimal during a pandemic so the camp, that is typically held at Hoosac Valley High School looked to be in trouble this year.
Boulger was steadfast in holding the camp in some form this summer, but instead of exploring virtual options, he turned to the Agricultural Fairgrounds at Bowe Field.
During the daily sessions, the 30 or so students are spaced out 10 feet underneath the pavilion. Students can only remove their masks while playing. If they need to walk around for any reason they must be masked.
"We have measured everything, and we have worked in compliance with the local code enforcement officer," Boulger said. "... We are trying to check all of the boxes."
The camp is sponsored by the Adams-Anthony Center and brings in a group of world-class musicians to work with area high school kids.
Boulger pointed out that the students were not using music stands and have memorized much of the music. They are working on what he calls the HTF (Hear, Think, and Feel) method.
"Your musical instrument is an amplifier for what you are hearing, thinking, and feeling," he said. "A lot of these kids have never improvised before ... so we are taking away that fear of improvisation and giving them confidence."
Jazz camp educator and "Saturday Night LIve" saxophonist Alex Foster said every year the students seem to improve.
"The kids are great," Foster said. "Every year it gets a little stronger."
Students were starting out their day Thursday playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Boulger said latter on they will work on a blues funk jam in the key of C and some other jazz standards.
Friday they plan to premier an original composition called "We Shall Persevere." Students will play at the fairgrounds with camp faculty.
"It is a tribute to all of us and the kids," Boulger said.
Foster said he always looks forward to the Friday night performances at the end of the jazz camp.
"I don't think they get an opportunity to play with professionals like us," he said. "So I think just the togetherness of the whole thing makes it something very very extraordinary."
The performance was not open to the public.
Hoosac Valley Band Director Jacob Keplinger said he was happy to have 10 of his students at the camp. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt music programs, and he was happy to see his students playing.
"We cant play inside. It is very detrimental to band programs," he said. "So this is great to have some students here ... they want to play."
Not only does the camp look different this year, but it also sounds different. Boulger said playing outdoors comes with its own challenges but is a good learning experience.
"It sounds different; it has a different feel," he said. "We have all been under lockdown, and it is just nice to be outside taking in the air."
Boulger said the Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Musical Studies (BAAMS) is also still moving along, and they plan to offer a free virtual jazz academy until they can open in person.
"It is coming along," he said. "We will now offer free online music access to all kids throughout the Berkshires."
In December of last year, it was announced that Boulger, in partnership with the Adams-Anthony Center and Adams business owner Donald Sommer, planned to run a music academy in the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
Sommer, who purchased the church, is renovating the space for the Olga C. Sommer Center for Music & Art.
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