5 Ways a Summer Music Festival Will Change Your Life

It’s cold and gray in Boston this third week in January, but I’ve got July and August on my mind. That’s right–it’s time to get serious about summer music camps and festivals. Deadlines are looming and you’re probably getting bombarded with social media posts from every music camp and festival out there.

From 2-week long day camps to 8-week long orchestral institutes, the options can be overwhelming, and what kind of festival to attend is going to be between you and your teacher (and your budget). What they all have in common, however, is the tremendous amount of growth you will achieve by attending one.

Over the years, I have fielded two main questions from parent after parent: “Is going to a summer music camp really so important?” and “Can’t they just practice at home and get the same result”. The answers are: 1) YES and 2) NO. Here are the 5 ways attending a summer music festival will change your life:

1).  Forced Practice Time. 

All music camps, whether they are a “practice camp” like Meadowmount or Bowdoin, or an “orchestra camp” like BUTI or Aspen, have forced practice time built into the schedule. When I was in middle and high school, I attended the Encore School for Strings and the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, and at both, we were basically shut up in our rooms from 8-12 each morning.

Afternoons were reserved for chamber music rehearsals, coachings, lessons, and master classes. I was a serious musician at that point already, and that was still a lot of practicing for me. 3-4 hours a day, every day, for 6 weeks? The thing is, all of my friends were doing the same thing. It’s not like I could have been hanging out with friends instead, because THEY were shut inside their rooms practicing too.

There is great power in numbers, and peer pressure can be a positive as well as a negative.  Each summer, I learned a full concerto, a sonata, and some Bach–not to mention the chamber music. They say you do about 6 months of work in 6 weeks at a music camp, and it’s no lie.

You can have the best of intentions, but I guarantee, if left to your own devices, you are probably not going to practice 3-4 hours every morning, for 6 weeks straight on your own. We need some accountability.

2) Chamber Music. 

I’m not biased because I run a chamber music program. I run a chamber music program because I believe that playing chamber music teaches us how to interact with other human beings in the world. It makes you a better person. It teaches you negotiating skills, diplomacy, and empathy.

You will most likely be learning these things from great teachers and players who learned them from the previous generation’s great players and teachers and that personal history is not something that can be learned from reading a book. Whether it is your first chamber group, or you are a seasoned veteran, chamber music will raise your level of musicianship like nothing else.

3) You will make lifelong friendships

My (non-musician) husband is blown away by the tight-knit community of classical musicians. “How do you all know each other?” he used to ask. The answer? “Music Festivals”. He kept hearing me say “oh, we went to Tanglewood together” or “oh, I know him from Bowdoin” and now, with younger professionals, it’s “Oh, I taught him at Killington” or “I coached her quartet at BUTI”.

The world of classical music might seem enormous to you now, but trust me, it’s a lot smaller than you think.  The people you might spend your summer with this year could be your colleagues in 10 years.  Many of them will be amongst your closest friends.

4) You get to know potential college teachers and get the “inside scoop” on various conservatories and music schools. 

Applying to music school can seem overwhelming. Aside from wanting to like the environment, the city (or countryside–hello, Eastman! hehe) negotiating scholarship and financial aid, we need to find a teacher who is going to be the right fit. This often means traveling to the school twice!  Once, to meet the teacher and have a lesson, and then a 2nd time when you have your audition.

It gets expensive (especially for cellists) and time-consuming. No one has THAT many free weekends. But if you went to a couple of different music festivals, and got to work with a few different teachers over a few summers? You’d be ahead of the game.

Working with a teacher for a few weeks tells you a lot more than having one random lesson the fall of your senior year when you’re having random lessons with 8 different teachers in the span of a few months. Summer festivals are a definite must for anyone going this route.


5) You get to spend 24/7 with people who “get” you.  

When I was in high school, I had my “music friends” who I spent my Saturdays with at The Music Center, and I had my school friends, who were, for the most part, an awesome group of creative, interesting, and ambitious non-musicians. We had as many differences as we had similarities, and sometimes, they just didn’t get me.

They would get upset if I had to miss their sweet 16 parties because I had “music stuff” that day, or-just as awkwardly, they wouldn’t bother inviting me to a party because they knew I had a competition the next morning.  I wouldn’t have been able to go, but my feelings were still hurt at not being a part of things sometimes.

At summer camps, however, the “parties” were getting a bunch of chairs and stands together and reading chamber music in the dorm lobby until 12 or 1am. If we were lucky, the “older kids” would show up and play, and if we were REALLY lucky, some of the faculty would join in.

We all knew what it was like to sacrifice a normal high school social life to do music, and it wasn’t a big deal. We ALL wanted to listen to recordings together and decide who played the best Tchaikovsky violin concerto. We were all music geeks and we were all in heaven.

As you can see, attending a music festival should be considered mandatory for any serious high school musician who is considering going into music for a career, but they are also incredibly inspiring places for ANYONE who is studying music–regardless of their career path.

Most, if not all, have financial aid available, and the investment is worth it a thousand times over. Below, you’ll find a (partial!) list of various options to check out. Don’t delay—audition deadlines are coming up quickly.  If you know of a great festival that I haven’t listed, please add it in the comments. Whatever your instrument, genre, interest and ability, there is a great place for everyone.

Boston-area day camps:

Winchester Community Music School Summer Music Festival

New England Conservatory of Music 

South Shore Conservatory

Chamber Music Camps:

Point Counter Point


Bowdoin Summer Music Festival

Castleman Quartet Program

Killington Music Festival

Orchestra Festivals:

New England Music Camp

Chloe Trevor Music Academy

Texas Music Festival (college, some advanced high schoolers)

Boston University Tanglewood Institute (high school and now they have a program for middle schoolers as well)

Aspen Music Festival (mostly college, but some advanced high school)

National Youth Orchestra (ages 16-19)

National Orchestral Institute (college and grad)

Tanglewood Music Festival (college and grad)


Sphinx Performance Academy


Heifetz International Music Institute

Conservatory Audition Training




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