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Area students jam out during music camps at NMSU

For most band students summer vacation is a time to put away the instruments and take a break from practice. When school begins in the fall they will often face the music at their first rehearsal. The Southwest Music Academy located at New Mexico State University helps encourage students to continue practicing during the summer break with their band camps.


Students playing their instruments
Students participate in a jazz studies workshop during a middle school band camp hosted by NMSU. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

For seven years the Southwest Music Academy, a community based nonprofit organization, has helped enrich the music programs in Las Cruces Public Schools. Southwest Music Academy runs summer music camps in the month of June. NMSU has hosted the camp for more than 30 years.

"The camp was put together by all the middle school band directors in Las Cruces," said Katie Tomicek, Las Cruces Symphony Association executive director and co-founder of the Southwest Music Academy. "It was a place for them to start their incoming beginners and give the student a week to play their instruments."

Tomicek began playing in sixth grade at Picacho Middle School then graduated from Mayfield High School in Las Cruces. She has also taught private flute lessons for 18 years and played flute and piccolo with the Las Cruces Symphony for 12 years.


"The musical training and inspiration I received in Las Cruces was excellent," she said. "And probably a big part of why I'm passionate about keeping the school music programs strong."


During the week-long camp new incoming students are familiarized with their instruments and their band directors. Students also have the opportunity to meet with other students from the area.

"This is a unique experience for the beginners because they start off working with a specialist," Tomicek said. "They also have an opportunity to try all the instruments on the first day."

On the first day of the camp the middle school all the instruments are demonstrated and the students are then given the opportunity to try them including the drum, trumpet, trombone and flute. At the end of the day the students meet with their band instructor and decide which instrument they want to play.

Throughout the rest of the week students work with a specialist and learn how to play and read the music. At the end of the week they put on a concert for their families at the NMSU Atkinson Recital Hall.

"By the time they are in the fall they are good to go," Tomicek said. "They often times act as student leaders for the new kids who weren't able to attend band camp."

Students who have had prior experience with band also attend the camp later in the day and follow a different structure than the beginning students. The older students work with a guest clinician for the entire week.

"The camp keeps them playing during the summer," Tomicek said. "Often times their instruments end up underneath their bed. This also gives the students the experience to work with someone other than they always see. For some students this can be very exciting."

This year NMSU Director of Bands Christopher Hughes was the guest clinician for the older band students. During each day the students spend half of the day in band rehearsal and the other half working with a specialist. At the end of the week the students perform an hour-long concert.

"It is wonderful to see the support for this at the end of the week," Tomicek said. "The recital hall is always packed for the concert."

Typically 450 to 500 students attend the music camps each year. She said that many of the students who have participated in the camps over the years become music educators.

Since 2008 the Southwest Music Academy also offers a camp for string instruments during the summer. They also offer sessions for children in kindergarten to the fifth grade to prepare them for formal instrumental music education.

For high school students the academy combines the string and wind instruments to make a full symphony orchestra.

"We work our programs to be supportive of what the public schools here in Las Cruces are doing so we are acting more as support system for what is already in place," Tomicek said.

For more information on the Southwest Music Academy and music sessions call 575-649-9974 or email info@swmusicacademy.org.