HSU Band Camp celebrates 50th anniversary

What began in 1965 as a summer camp for local junior and senior high school band students has evolved into a half-century-long tradition that has attracted thousands of young musicians to Henderson State University.

HSU Band Camp celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this summer and features directors who all graduated from Henderson. Don Colquitt, director of bands at Pleasant Grove (Texas) Middle School, composed a new commission entitled Memories of Living Shadows to premiere this week under his direction.

Former director of bands Wendell Evanson started band camp, which quickly grew into a popular summer destination for talented students. More than 50,000 students have attended band camp since its inception, according to Dr. Carrie Pawelski, current director of bands.

One of those campers was a saxophone player named William Jefferson Clinton. Dr. Wesley Branstine, former trombone instructor at Henderson, pointed to the outstanding talent level of the campers throughout the years. “Every guest clinician is amazed at the high quality of musicianship by the campers,” he said.

“The high level of instruction at the camp is the result of many nationally known guest clinicians,” Branstine said. “And Wendell Evanson established himself as a nationally known conductor and clinician.”

“The camp prides itself on providing a complete, well-rounded musical experience for every camper,” Pawelski said. “Campers have the opportunity to work with some of the finest band directors around, as well as the top students at Henderson who are handpicked as counselors.”

Students attending the camp stay in campus housing and follow a well-planned daily schedule. After auditioning on the first day, campers attend band rehearsals and sectionals, with performances and entertainment in the evening. The camp culminates with a performance by each band.

By the early 1990s, the junior camp had grown to about 10 bands, presenting a need for a third session. Today, the camp starts in mid-June with a session for beginning band students, followed by a junior high session. Senior campers then arrive at the first of July.

“The kids play in a band with a great director, they get great sectional instruction throughout the week, and they have a lot of fun,” Pawelski said.

One addition to the daily camp schedule is the slate of elective classes, such as jazz improvisation, marching, color guard, and even yoga. “The kids seem to love the electives, especially the younger campers,” Pawelski said.

Band camp can be a life-shaping experience for some students, and Susan Ford is a perfect example.

Ford first attended camp in 1985. She “fell in love” with Henderson and later enrolled as a student. She served as a camp counselor, and after graduation began a career teaching music. She taught sectionals and became a guest camp clinician. But many former campers may know her best as their “dorm mom,” a job she held for 18 years.

“Susan is a prime, living example of why the camp is so great,” said Pawelski. “She came here as a camper, fell in love with Henderson, attended Henderson, and now is one of Arkansas’s legendary band directors in Cabot.”

Band camp is a key recruiting tool for Henderson. “It’s our main recruiting method for the Henderson Band program,” said Pawelski. “You spend so much time coming to camp here, then of course you want to come to college here.”

While band camp is geared primarily to the students, it also provides directors an opportunity for professional development.  “These will be times for the directors to learn also,” Pawelski said. “There’s such an opportunity for directors to learn from each other.

“Another special thing about the camp is the camaraderie between the directors. It’s like an alumni reunion for them each year.”

Ford couldn’t wait for band camp each summer. “My kids love it, and I love seeing the other directors,” she said. “You make so many connections. It’s a family.”

“A lot of directors walk in the door saying ‘I’m home,’” Pawelski said. “Now that I know all of these people, I so look forward to seeing them in the summer.”

Pawelski pointed out her colleagues, counselors, and campers: “I am so lucky to be sitting here surrounded by this great group of people who are so impacted by the Henderson band program.”

The Junior II session is under way this week and will conclude with a free concert Saturday afternoon in Arkansas Hall. Senior camp starts July 5, with final concerts on July 11.

For more information about band camp, call 870-230-5054.