During the summer, I went down to the University of Illinois campus in Champaign/Urbana to learn about Jazz drums and jazz music in general. I got to stay there for an entire week sharing a dorm with my close friend, Griffin, who I have done this with last year.
I had to audition for this camp; this is how they choose what group you belong in. Unfortunately, the audition material is the exact same as last year's, so it didn't provide me with much challenge. I was selected to join a big band and a combo, a smaller jazz group that focuses mainly on improvisation. I was able to socialize very well with the rest of the rhythm section, so I was not one of those people left out. The meals were good and the teachers were fun-loving. My days there were very enjoyable.
Every day there began the same way. We were woken up by our alarms, then we went back to sleep for fifteen to thirty minutes. We get up and wash up, then go downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast we have about thirty minutes of free time. Then it's off to sectionals.
Sectionals are basically rehearsals for a specific section. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion broke apart into different classrooms across the campus. I was lucky enough to have all of my band things in the same building that our dorms are in. Our teacher gave us tips and tricks on how to blend with the band as well as play with good sound. I learned to control my playing to a level where I knew exactly when to get louder and softer in the music. After this class, we went to our improvisation class.
This class is based around soloing and making a groove on your own (of course with a few others around). Again, it was only percussion, but it was all of the percussion from the three bands that there were. The teachers here taught us to play different styles with the rhythm section and to solo on all of them. They taught trading measures (usually fours) and sight-reading chord progressions (which I didn't have to worry about). I learned a lot from this class. Next was our first band rehearsal of the day.
Rehearsal was when everybody got together to play whatever music the band director threw at us. We stuck to playing these four songs-- Blue Trane (John Coltrane), Lester Leaps In (Louis Armstrong), Killer Joe (Quincy Jones), and One O'Clock Jump (Louis Armstrong). I played on the first and last. The other drummer, Grant, played the other two. Blue Trane is a classic call-and-response chart designed to be a piece to sent a tingling jolt through your spine. Lester Leaps In is a fast-paced jazz composition that keeps you on your toes. Killer Joe takes it down a notch by being a calm, laid back piece, but it is written to sound mysterious. Then One O'Clock Jump (my favorite) is one of Louis Armstrong's classic slow rises of intensity to the point where there's so much going on that you want to dance. It is a very exciting piece that was insanely fun to play. In rehearsal, I learned to be exciting, but not too loud.
After this, we ate lunch and had another approximate thirty minute to an hour break. Once we rested, we either went to a combo rehearsal or, for those who didn't make it, music listening, which is basically a jazz analysis class. At our combo rehearsals, we played a couple refrains and then basically jammed out to the chorus chords. We may trade fours, we may not. The saxophonist may receive another chorus or set of choruses. We must watch the director at all times to know our cue. This is what I took back from that experience. After, we wait for rehearsal number two, as for me it is in the same room.
Once rehearsal number two is done, we go to our elective. We had to choose this elective before we got to camp. My choice was Composition Theory. I chose this because I have had an interest in composing for a while and I wanted to learn more. Some concepts I was able to grasp quickly, like the concepts of intervals such as seconds, thirds, etc. Others, not so much. I did take some knowledge on composing back, such as the informal form of it, using odd noises and sounds to craft a piece of music so foreign to many ears that it's almost gibberish, yet in context makes sense. There was a piece on the bombings in Japan in WWII that described the sounds at those moments. It was a very interesting class. Then, we were done learning for the day.
We had some free time, then our floor gathered for a head check in a location just outside the cafeteria doors just before and after dinner every day. After dinner came the fun stuff. Every day was different-- on Sunday, the first day, we went to a camp overview meeting and soon after gathered in a large room where we received camp information and figured out what band we were in. On other days we spent an afternoon on campus, watched The Lego Movie, enjoyed a teacher and student talent show, had a choice of going to a giant gym, going to the pool, or going bowling, and also had the option to go to an ISYM dance. There was no shortage of fun at U of I.
On Saturday, the last day, we held a big concert to display what we learned. It was a great success. We definitely displayed our hardest work and it paid off. A picture of me in this final concert is shown. I am in the very back, playing drums. This is our combo.
In all, I had an amazing fun and learning experience at ISYM, and I will definitely go again next year.