- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bassist Chase Kaczmark plays the bouncy riff he has been working on for the rest of his band, Elevator Breakdown. The lead singer swivels in her chair across the room and complains “that happy thing” doesn’t fit with the moody tune the band has been working on all week.

Anyone who has seen a few episodes of VH1’s “Behind the Music” could predict what happens next: The bassist throws a drug-fueled tantrum and quits the band, forgotten forever as the rest of the group achieves fame while the fat royalty checks roll in.

Not at DayJams, a national rock ‘n’ roll camp with branches in Rockville and Alexandria. Chase, 15, and his bandmates are searching for the right chords in their afternoon songwriting class in Rockville.

“Like I said, this is democracy in action. Who wants it in the song?” instructor Ronnie Shaw asks the group members, who then vote with raised hands.

Camp director and former professional guitarist Chuck Underwood says campers pick up cooperation skills and self-confidence while they learn how to design a logo or use a wah-wah pedal.

Parents and potential campers who want more specialized options and personal attention than school or the average camp can provide are looking more and more to arts camps like DayJams. Children ages 8 to 15 with a passion for anything from clay to dancing can spend the summer learning.

While some camps focus on one type of art, others provide a plethora of options in one place — sometimes even in one day.

At Camp Arena Stage in Georgetown, for example, participants can jet from papier-mache sculpture to Directing 101 to African dance, all in the course of a morning. For two weeks ($900) or four ($1,600), campers attend six different arts-related courses every day, five of which they choose for the entire session and one that changes daily.

Moses Gurman, 13, strummed his guitar in Rock Band, his third daily class at Camp Arena Stage, while another camper tuned his bass and a third looked over a notebook of poetry she planned on turning into lyrics for a song. In the two years he’s been going to Arena Stage, Moses says his favorite class was on improv comedy: “You can be creative using the purest form of your imagination.”

Each afternoon following lunch, the camp comes together for the Noontime Show, which, for some reason, actually starts at 12:30. They take in anything from an aria sung by a classically trained counselor to the routine a dance class had been working on.

For the YouTube generation, this sort of variety is “absolutely key,” says Eric Lewanda of Olney. His 9-year-old daughter, Emily, is attending a few weeklong camps this summer at Sandy Spring Friends School’s sprawling campus in Sandy Springs.

SSFS offers more than 100 different one-week camps, including 36 that deal with the arts, for $300 to $400 per week. Camp director Stephanie Ugol says that the average SSFS camper does four or five camps in a summer, ranging from acting to soccer to rocketry.

Campers and camp instructors alike say that arts camps are educational and offer freedom and choice over the curricular constraints many students face during the school year.

On Fridays at SSFS cooking camp, parents are invited for a meal of baked ziti and mint brownies — made, of course, by their children. Between bites of brownie, parent Sharon Elstein of Derwood, says she looked for a place where her two boys wouldn’t be too regulated during the day, like they are at school.

Many other campers and instructors echo this sentiment; the key to a good camp is making it as unlike school as possible.

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