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Children Become Composers Through SLSO Digital Summer Camps

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

By Mary Hopkins

During the first ever St. Louis Symphony Orchestra SoundLab Summer Camp, a Zoom class of third to fifth graders and a counselor considered how to improve the song they were composing about two of their favorite things—Duck Tales and books.

Campers recorded their own sounds for the composition, represented by small colorful audio files compiled on a shared audio editing program. After several minutes, composer and guest mentor Danny Clay entered the Zoom breakout room to offer his advice on the group’s work. After listening, Clay suggested adding a percussive line below the instrumentation, then made his goodbyes and moved to the next group, who were writing lyrics for their group song about lizards and riding bikes.

Ben greets the rest of the participants in the first ever SLSO SoundLab Summer Camp.

The SLSO’s virtual SoundLab Summer Camp helped 24 young budding musicians learn to make their own music. With hands-on opportunities for lyric composition, audio recording, and digital music editing, the camp is the newest addition to the SLSO’s expanding digital portfolio of education resources.

In the past year, the SLSO increased its digital educational offerings with a variety of projects, including free digital music curricula for teachers and streaming concerts for students online. The brand-new summer camp experience—the first ever in SLSO history—was designed to inspire the next generation of music lovers through activities that explore musical creativity using digital tools, in addition to career exploration with music industry professionals.

Listen to the campers' creations here.

For the SLSO SoundLab Summer Camp, SLSO Director of Education Jessica Ingraham—or Miss Jessica, as she was known to the young students—acted as a camp leader, welcoming everyone to the daily meetings and facilitating the different activities. Every day, she opened the class with a bright smile and a brief group activity such as a “ten-second talent show.”

Savannah was one of the 24 students in the inaugural SLSO SoundLab Summer Camp. Campers worked together to create music compositions.

Throughout the week-long camp, students collaborated with their peers and learned how to make music and mix audio using digital audio workstations. Presented by the SLSO in partnership with Breach, an organization that provides digital educational curricula to schools across the country, the campers used Soundtrap, a digital audio workstation, to create sound effects and music. They compiled recorded sounds, added percussive layers, and learned how to mix sounds to make an original composition. The SLSO SoundLab Summer Camp is the first of three digital summer camps offered by the SLSO and Breach; two other similar summer camps for older students will take place in July and August 2021, both hosted by Breach with support from the SLSO.

The summer camp program was derived from SLSO SoundLab, an original SLSO digital program for teachers and families that explore the intersection of music, science, and technology through activities and videos. The goal behind programs like SLSO SoundLab and the summer camps is to help younger audiences develop a better understanding of music, which can foster a greater appreciation for it.

“Summer camp musicians created their own musical scores, not unlike Beethoven. Instead of using standard notation, they created colorful tracks filled with soundwaves,” said Ingraham. “Just as Beethoven layered and manipulated musical motifs, creating some of the most iconic music of all time, campers explored this same idea using sounds they recorded and borrowed from the software.”

The projects the young musicians worked on throughout the week reflected how Soundtrap can be used to teach the students about sound, music, and creativity. For one activity, a camp counselor read a chapter of a story aloud, and as she did, the children in her group followed cues and played sounds to highlight story elements. At the mention of a butterfly, one student played a recording of a piano trill. When the wind blew through the trees, another blew air into the microphone.

As the final project, campers produced a collaborative musical composition based on their favorite things about life on Earth. Each group of four to six students created a piece using music inspired by themes that they had chosen. The songs were complete with percussive lines, repetitive motifs, and lyrics, all composed and produced by the campers.

Archer used a piano to help with his composition during the SLSO SoundLab Summer Camp.

“With the short amount of time they’ve had in their small groups, it’s incredible how much energy and ingenuity they’ve been able to pack into the songs and compositions they’ve created,” said Brittney McIntyre, SLSO Education Programs Coordinator.

In addition to making music themselves, each day of camp featured a Career Corner, where students interacted with a music industry professional such as Clay. Aside from giving advice on the various projects, Clay talked about instruments he played, answered questions about how he got started as a composer, and explained to the young musicians what his career was like.

In the future, Ingraham hopes to expand the camp to provide as many young students as possible a chance to engage their own creativity and learn unique skills.

“This week was a hands-on lesson in active listening that gives the child creative control and immerses them in the music making process,” said Ingraham. “We’re empowering children to start exploring their own creativity and giving them an accessible means for which to begin to connect with the orchestra experience.”


Mary Hopkins is a member of the SLSO Communications Team.


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