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Keeping the beat: Lakes Area Drum Set Camp returns to Bemidji

Making an in-person return after two years of virtual camps, the five-day affair gives students an opportunity to learn and improve upon their skills as well as collaborate with other drummers and clinicians.

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Campers gather at Bemidji High School to rehearse as part of a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp on Friday, July 29, 2022.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – The rhythmic beating of drums and resounding crashes of cymbals permeated the Bemidji High School band room this past week as part of the Lakes Area Drum Set Camp.

Making an in-person return after two years of virtual camps, the five-day affair gives students an opportunity to learn and improve upon their skills as well as collaborate with other drummers and clinicians.

Most notably, the Lakes Area camp does this with 20 drummers at the same time.

“There’s an element of playing in a band with 20 drum sets that is unique,” Camp Director Ben Anderson said.

Sporting their ear plugs and drum sticks, this year’s 18 middle and high school students start off each day with warm-ups followed by a review of drumming fundamentals. They then take some time to stretch before rehearsing their pieces, which would be performed at a final showcase on Friday.

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Margie Pansch plays the drums during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal on Friday, July 29, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The campers occupy their lunch break by watching YouTube videos from a variety of professional drummers, after which it’s back to rehearsals.

The afternoon can also include visits from guest artists and the day concludes with a groove session where each camper has a chance to play a “drum fill,” or improvisational solo part, until the campers end the session together.

“By that time, it’s already 4 o'clock,” Camp Director Eric Sundeen said. “It goes really quick.”

Changing it up

Minnesota Drum Set Camps, an organization which oversees the Lakes Area camp along with camps in Eden Prairie and Columbus, Ohio, hosted virtual camps in 2020 and 2021.

Traditionally, each camp would be offered one week at a time, but the virtual option allowed all three camps to take place concurrently.

“The virtual camp came with its own conveniences. The kids could stay at their house and didn’t have to travel,” Anderson said. “You could mute yourself and practice, and do everything at your own pace a little bit more."

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Lael Sanford practices the drums during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal on Friday, July 29, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Despite these benefits, an in-person camp seemed to be the preferred delivery method for students and directors alike.

“It’s way better to be back (in person) acoustically, putting in our ear plugs and just going for it,” Anderson added.

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The Lakes Area camp averages between 17 and 20 campers though initial enrollment halted at six for a while.

“Once word got out, we were able to pick up right where we left off,” Sundeen said. “I’m super pumped with this number (18), but we’d like to see it get bigger, maybe hire another staff member. There’s room to expand.”

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Nolan Sundeen plays a beat during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal on Friday, July 29, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The camp was previously held at Headwaters Music and Arts with their in-person return marking their transition to the BHS band room when numbers dictated the need.

“Going up to 30 or 40 kids, I think that would be very exciting,” Sundeen added. “We have the room now.”

Continued growth

With hopes to continue growing the camp’s enrollment, Anderson noted the pipeline that students go down from their first year at camp to their last drum fill.

“It’s been interesting over the years to watch some campers keep coming back three, four, five or six years. We’ve even had two campers who have become staff,” Anderson detailed. “That’s been really fun for them to see their own future as they’re sitting behind the drum set, thinking they’ll be ‘up there’ (in the front row) someday.”

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Camp Director Ben Anderson helps John Erickson on Friday, July 29, 2022, during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Upperclassmen are intentionally placed in the front row with underclassmen taking up the second and third rows.

“It makes the younger players feel less like people are watching them,” Sundeen said. “The older players, they probably feel cooler that people are watching them.”

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Although this year’s camp is made up completely of students from Bemidji and the surrounding area, adults have been campers before and camp is open to anybody of any age as long as they’re interested in the drum set.

Sundeen’s ultimate goal is to enroll music educators to learn alongside their students and better address the camp’s mission.

“The whole reason this camp started is that drum set education in public schools, a lot of band directors just don’t have the time to get into the nitty-gritty details of it,” Sundeen said.

Sundeen hopes for camper retention that would allow the Lakes Area camp to recruit big-name clinicians. He stated that J. T. Bates, a drummer for Taylor Swift, visited the Eden Prairie camp in the past.

“The more kids we get involved, it gives us more options to get bigger clinicians,” Sundeen added. “Changing that up every year keeps (the camp) interesting for the kids.”

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Travis Johnson practices the drums during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal on Friday, July 29, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

With drum sets made available for those currently without one, Anderson and Sundeen look ahead to the future of the camp as they welcome drummers — new and experienced — into the mix.

“Coming out of COVID, we were very much thinking ‘let’s just get the kids in here again.’ We’d rather you come and get started, and maybe you’ll want to buy your own drum set anyway once the week is over,” Anderson left off. “That may be a model we continue in the future.”

More information can be found on the Minnesota Drum Set Camps Facebook page .

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Camp Director Eric Sundeen leads the campers on Friday, July 29, 2022, during a Lakes Area Drum Set Camp rehearsal at Bemidji High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

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