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Bemidji MusiCamp makes in-person return after 3 years

It had been two summers since the sounds of band and choir rehearsals overflowed into the halls of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex as part of the Bemidji MusiCamp.

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The soprano section of the full choir class practices a song during Bemidji MusiCamp on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at BSU's Bangsberg Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — It had been two summers since the sounds of band and choir rehearsals overflowed into the halls of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex as part of the Bemidji MusiCamp.

Following its hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the camp made a robust return starting July 17 with its usual offering of band, choir and piano programs for middle and high school students along with an added orchestra camp.

The expanded opportunities mixed in with its in-person return plays into the camp’s mission of “creating meaningful connections and experiences through music.”

Navigating challenges

Founded in 1948, the week-long camp had shut down for a few years before being brought back in 2014.

Offering a variety of performance opportunities, classes and recreation, the camp saw steady growth with nearly 400 campers attending in 2019. Hopes to continue the camp’s growth were dashed once the pandemic hit in 2020.

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“Obviously, we couldn’t be in person because of the pandemic, so we held a virtual music camp,” Camp Director Matthew Marsolek said. “That was a bit of an adjustment for us.”

The virtual camp that year was a three-day affair involving seminars and master classes through Google Meets with the main goal of maintaining musical connections.

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The brass section of the high school jazz band class practices during Bemidji MusiCamp on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at BSU's Bangsberg Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“It was hard for musicians, especially in that first year (of the pandemic), where people couldn’t rehearse together or make music together,” Marsolek added. “Creating an opportunity for those kids to connect and saying to them ‘we’ll get through this,’ we thought was important.”

Efforts to return to the BSU campus in 2021 were scrapped when the Delta variant took hold across the state, and there was still a seed of doubt regarding this year’s camp when the Omicron variant spiked in January.

“We didn’t even know if we were going to be back until February, and we’re usually making plans well ahead of that,” Marsolek said. “We were sort of twiddling our thumbs until we knew we could move forward, and we did.”

Return to form

With around 150 campers this year, Marsolek sees an opportunity to recruit and retain students and staff who didn’t have the usual MusiCamp experience in 2020 or 2021.

“By not having camp since 2019, the kids who were sophomores, juniors and seniors who would have come back continually, and whose younger siblings may have come, they graduated,” Marsolek said. “So we’re kind of starting over.”

The camp added its piano program in 2018 and its choir in 2017. Associate Camp Director Ashley Sands liked the idea of bringing back the orchestra program, last offered in either the 1980s or 1990s, coinciding with this year’s in-person return.

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The alto section of the full choir class practices a song during Bemidji MusiCamp on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at BSU's Bangsberg Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“We’ve had people reach out to us in the past saying ‘we wish you’d offer this at the camp’ because that’s what their kids are passionate about and we weren’t meeting that need,” Sands said. “We thought the ‘restart,’ if you will, would be a great time to come back with that as well.”

Though the pandemic hasn’t caused major disruptions for MusiCamp 2022, a power outage in Bangsberg required the reassignment of rehearsal spaces to other campus buildings for the first couple days of camp.

“The power went out last Thursday (July 14) and with kids showing up to begin rehearsals Monday morning, we thought we better have a backup plan,” Marsolek said. “Going into the different academic spaces to see which were big enough to house a 50-member ensemble, there are surprisingly few spaces that can.”

However, the lights eventually came back on and Bangsberg was bustling once again by the middle of the week.

“We’ve been doing this long enough where we expect the unexpected,” Sands mentioned. “Being back in Bangsberg, our normal home base, feels so comfortable and right.”

Fulfilling the mission

The week will culminate in two concerts, the first taking place at 6:30 p.m on Friday, July 22, in Bangsberg. Small ensembles and jazz bands will be split between the recital hall and the main theater.

A second concert at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 23, will feature large ensembles including band, orchestra and choir. Former BSU Professor and cellist Patrick Riley will also be recognized as this year’s Hall of Fame inductee.

Both concerts are free to attend and livestream links are available at www.bemidjimusicamp.org .

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The high school jazz band class practices during Bemidji MusiCamp on Thursday, July 21, 2022, at BSU's Bangsberg Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Though the concerts will mark the end of MusiCamp 2022, planning for next year’s camp — its 75th anniversary — is already underway.

“We already have the dates set and planning ahead for next year because that’s what we usually do,” Marsolek said.

With the support of the camp’s Board of Directors, instructors and MC's — the camp counselors — Marsolek and Sands look forward to fulfilling the camp’s mission once the baton is lowered on Saturday’s final piece.

“Part of the reason many people work at this camp is because they experienced it first-hand,” Marsolek added. “I still have friends I met at camp in 1999 and though we don’t get together all the time, that connection runs deep.”

More information can be found on Bemidji MusiCamp’s website and Facebook page .

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The high school jazz band class practices during Bemidji MusiCamp on Thursday, July 21, 2022, at BSU's Bangsberg Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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