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Annual choral institute a summer camp for elite singers

By Paul Harris

A choir is only as it good as its parts. Every year the Master Teacher Summer Choral Institute, a summer music camp on the K-State campus, has to find a way to blend not only the voices of 40 to 50 students but also the students’ personalities and attitudes. Many of the teenagers hail from Kansas, but this year’s group has students from as far away as Chicago and Houston.

“It’s an elite high school choir camp,” administrative director Bryan Pinkall said. “We try to invite the best singers that we can to come and record for a concert.”

It’s a talent pool that has grown deeper since the program was implemented nearly four decades ago. In order to get the word out, Pinkall sends information packets to 2,000 different schools in the region.

The university, private donations, and Master Teacher founder Bob DeBruyn pay for the institute. The only cost to the students is transportation to K-State. As far as the board knows, it is the only scholarship choir camp of its kind.

Because of the prestige of the camp, students are screened before students can even get settled in to their rooms at Haymaker Hall.

Administrators send out the music a month ahead and expect the students to memorize it.

If students are not prepared, they are sent home. No questions asked.

Chairwoman Billie Woodward said young voices need the extra practice to strengthen their voices.

With only week of instruction, Woodward said it would not be feasible to have the students learn the music and participate in all of the other activities during the week.

The screening process is nerve-wracking, said San Antonio native Salvador Miranda, 17.

“I was the second person to arrive and was second to last to go through the screening,” he said. “It was a lot of worrying and waiting.”

During his wait, Miranda said he spoke with instructor Julie Yu and spent the remaining time perfecting his notes.

“She was just very comforting in that fact,” Miranda said.

Yu said it’s rare that anyone is sent home. She added, “clearing that hurdle brings them together.”

Although instructors and students get plenty of time together, the teens spend the entire week together.

Lessons on leadership and singing

They rise at 7 a.m. for breakfast at the Derby Dining Center and have a few breaks sprinkled in between their nearly 16-hour day.

Miranda said it is rare to see students eating by themselves during meals.

During their day, the teens’ voices are pushed through three or four group rehearsals and a private coaching session. Miranda and Madison Moore, 17, from Pratt, said the schedule has not put any strain on their voices or their bodies.

There is also time for less strenuous activities such as a Disney sing-a-long and an afternoon at the Splash Park.

“A lot of the activities we do, especially the music, and the other extra-curriculars are geared toward leadership,” said Pinkall, who attended the camp back in 2001. “It’s an intensive environment. The students are always creating.”

Yu, who has been with SCI for five years, spoke to the campers about doing everything with conviction.

It’s a lesson Yu said she wished someone had imparted on to her when she was in high school.

Yu’s words of wisdom preceded her lessons on an African piece. She called out students after the song, asking them what they did or did not like about the tune. Despite the young age of the members, Yu was quick to call out a slip in performance. But she was also quick to reward them for great performances. At one point, Yu said the females sang a section better than her college age students, adding simply, “Wow.”


The success of SCI

But it’s also these friendships and their interaction with their future professors that brings many of these students back to K-State.

Nearly 50 percent of all the attendees enroll at K-State.

Before attending as a sophomore, Miranda had never even heard of K-State. Since attending, K-State has risen to the top of his list.

The close-knit feel of the campus and his blossoming friendships have left Miranda spurning the bigger Texas schools for the Little Apple.

K-State was already on Moore’s list.

“My family has attended K-State football games for years,” she said. Spending her days on campus for the second straight year has made her absolutely giddy about donning purple.

It’s not only the students that find themselves caught up in the admiration of their peers, it’s also the instructors. Pinkall and Yu were quick to compliment not only one another, but also the work of DeBruyn and Woodward.

“It’s a love fest,” Yu said.

The Master Teacher for the Arts Summer Choral Institute is in its 34th year of existence with nearly 4,500 students having applied for the opportunity. Fifteen hundred students have been accepted into the program.

Applicants are not just selected based on their singing talent. The average GPA of the attendees is around a 3.75, Yu said. Pinkall said the singers need to be mature because of how quickly they need to mature together in such a short time.

Before attending, campers are expected to know seven songs and during their week-long stay they learn two more.

It’s a pace that many campers are unfamiliar with.

“At our home schools, it takes us days to learn a new song,” Miranda said.

At Saturday’s concert, the group will perform the nine songs for board and family members culminating the seven-day journey.

One hundred and eighty people attended the concert last year.

But the ultimate send-off for the campers is when DeBruyn comes and speaks to the students.  He discusses being rejected by a choir teacher and how that set the course of his life.

“There is a not a dry eye,” Yu said.

The Summer Choral Institute has an honors luncheon, where students are awarded a plaque for their accomplishments. The concert is Saturday at 2 p.m. at the All Faiths Chapel on the Kansas State Campus.

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