October 18, 2019
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A new riff on summer camps: Rock’n’Roll

Band practice started bright and early Monday morning. Matthew Curtis kept a steady beat on drums. Kincaid MacCulloch and Ethan Lavesque rocked the guitar. Jack Sasker was holding it down on bass, Nathan Von Der Haar played keyboard, and Lia Douillet and Hamish Stevenson provided vocals. They jammed on Weezer, Black Sabbath and the White Stripes, getting into the groove before working on some new material.

A typical scene, for sure. Except for one thing: all those musicians were between the ages of 11 and 14.

The Maine Academy of Modern Music each summer offers an array of rock ’n’ roll camps all over the state that give children from age 11 to 17 a chance to learn the ins and outs of being in a band — from music theory and songwriting, to scheduling, booking shows and marketing.

MAMM, based out of Portland, offers two camps in eastern Maine. The one in Bar Harbor, which began this week, featured the above mentioned youngsters plus six others, and the one in Machias is set for Aug. 16-20.

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“The whole goal is really to teach kids about all the different facets there are about being in a band,” said Jeff Shaw, executive director of MAMM. “The tendency for parents is to sign their kids up for music lessons, but if you want to be in a band, that doesn’t do much for you besides make you better at your instrument. You wouldn’t sign a kid up for baseball lessons and not put him or her on a team.”

Besides making music, there’s a whole lot more that goes into being in a band. Getting along with one another and scheduling practices, for one — there’s a lot of time coordination and diplomacy that goes along with playing together.

Getting your band shows at venues is another element, as is marketing your band through fliers, the Internet and even radio and television. Then there’s recording, mixing and get-ting albums printed and distributed, and maybe someday even working with a record label.

“Being in a band is like running a business in a lot of ways,” said Shaw. “To be successful, you need to know that stuff.”

All that serves the greater purpose, however: to rock.

Bass player Jack Sasker, a 13-year-old from Bar Harbor, already is in a band, playing songs by some of his favorite artists, like Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Green Day. He’s using Rock Camp as a chance to add even more songs to his repertoire.

“I can’t stop playing,” said Sasker. “We learn how to play a bunch of real songs, and we write stuff. We learn real stuff.”

Kincaid MacCulloch, who is 11 years old, started playing guitar just one year ago, and already Shaw says he’s grown leaps and bounds in his playing.

“I started playing guitar about a year ago. I played ‘Guitar Hero’ and it made me want to learn,” said MacCulloch, who rocked some sweet riffs while playing The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” “I came to camp last year, like a couple weeks after I first started playing. I’m a lot better for this year.”

Lia Douillet is the only girl at the Bar Harbor Rock Camp — something Shaw says often happens in boy-dominated band life.

“It often gets boy-dominated. But we are always, always encouraging girls to rock, because they rock just as hard as boys do. And we bring really great Maine female musicians in to work with our kids, like Darien Brahms and Sara Cox,” said Shaw, referring to the Maine-based singer-songwriters. Fortunately, Douillet is equipped with enough attitude and talent to shine of her own accord.

“I discovered punk rock last year, through osmosis,” said Lia Douillet, 14, a guitarist and vocalist who lives in Great Barrington, Mass. during the school year, but stays in the summer with her aunt, Emily Bracale, who lives in Bar Harbor. “My friend played me the Clash, and now I really want to be in a band. I bought a guitar second hand two weeks ago. It’s my pride and joy.”

The camps are divided into two groups — the 11-14 year old students, and the 15-18 year old students. Ezra Sassaman, 16, and Nicholas Teach, 15, came to the first Bar Harbor Rock Camp in 2008, and have attended each year since. They were busy over the week of camp learning Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd and Metallica songs and jamming on a few spare riffs with the fellow campers.

“I learn as much about hanging out and being cool and working with people as I do about music,” said Teach. “If you’re in a classroom playing the same thing over and over again, it gets boring. Here, you’re playing with different people, doing different songs, and it’s always fun.”

“You learn the nuances of playing, and you learn a lot off each other,” said Casey Green, a 15-year-old guitar player from Bar Harbor. “You learn how to be flexible, and to listen.”

Teach’s mother, Joani Teach, helps with the camp, including allowing several campers who live far from Bar Harbor to stay at her house for the week of the camp.

“They love having the opportunity to play with each other and to play all day long,” said Teach. “It’s such an awesome thing for them all to be able to do, because they might not normally get to do it. There isn’t rock band class in school, usually.”

Shaw, a Milbridge native and 2000 graduate of the University of Maine at Machias, credits his music professor, Gene Nichols, as his inspiration for founding MAMM and Rock Camp.

“It was an idea we’d bounced around with a few other folks that never got past the idea phase,” he said. “I was a faculty member at the Portland Conservatory of Music, ironically putting together their summer camps, when I said, ‘You know, why don’t we do rock camp now?’ There’s classical camps, and jazz camps, but nothing for rock.”

Shaw founded the Maine Academy of Modern Music in 2004, with the first summer of camps held in the Portland area. Shaw expanded to eastern Maine in 2008.

“I grew up Down East and taught at Lubec High School, so I know what it’s like to be a teenager in the other half of Maine, without a lot of opportunity to do something like this,” he said. “The Machias camp is amazing. They’re so into it. And you’d be surprised how patient all the kids are with each other in general.”

In addition to camps, MAMM offers lessons in the Portland area with Maine musicians, ensemble playing for like-minded young musicians and a concert series in the Portland area.

The annual Rock Off, a statewide battle of the bands, has three events each year, with preliminary rounds held in April in both the Bangor and Portland areas. The top finalists from each competition perform at a big showcase night at Port City Music Hall in Portland, with the winner decided that night. In 2009, Ellsworth band Entropy won the competition.

Shaw says he hears a lot from parents and relatives of the campers about the positive impact Rock Camp has had on their kids.

“Parents get it now. They know rock is a safe, fun thing for kids to do. Generations before us didn’t always think that way,” he said. “It’s structured and safe, but you still get to rock and stomp on distortion pedals and make cool faces.”

Campers from the 2010 Bar Harbor Rock camp will appear in the Bar Harbor Independence Day Parade, held at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 3, in downtown Bar Harbor. For more information, visit www.maineacademyofmodernmusic.org.

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