Piano Camp Keeps the Music Alive


Posted on June 21, 2016 by Joy Washington
Joy Washington


Dr. Robert Holm, professor of music at the University of South Alabama, has been teaching Natalie Newton piano lessons since she was 12.  data-lightbox='featured'
Dr. Robert Holm, professor of music at the University of South Alabama, has been teaching Natalie Newton piano lessons since she was 12. Bottom photo, Dr. Holm is surrounded, from left, second row, by Dr. James Helton, guest professor and pianist from Ball State University; Dr. Laura Moore, associate professor of music and director of choral activities at South; and Dr. Sharon Hudson, guest professor of music from the University of Mobile, along with the piano camp attendees ages 12-adult.

Can you imagine a world where people don’t play the piano?

According to Dr. Robert Holm, professor of music at the University of South Alabama, there are fewer young people taking piano lessons today than in the past.

“There are more activities for youth today,” Holm said. “Piano lessons aren’t taught in most schools, and parents and families have to pay for private lessons for their kids, which limits the number of people based on their budgets.”

This summer, Holm; Dr. Laura Moore, associate professor of music and director of choral activities at South; Dr. Sharon Hudson, guest professor of music from the University of Mobile; and Dr. James Helton, guest professor and pianist from Ball State University, served as the faculty for the 6th annual University of South Alabama Piano Camp, held on campus June 13-17, with a grand finale at the John W. Laidlaw Performing Arts Center.

“This camp is one way we can identify good music students in the area who may want to go on to college,” Holm explained. “This program was created as a community outreach effort, and we don’t want playing the piano to be a lost art.”

This year’s summer camp, which had 24 participants, focused on the music of American composers such as Gottschalk, Joplin, Ives, Copland, Bernstein and others. The week-long camp included:

  • Classes on music theory and reading music
  • Classes on American music
  • Special topic presentations by piano camp faculty
  • Daily private and group mini-lessons, master class and practice time with faculty
  • Solo and duet recital performances

Holm said anyone who wants to play the piano well has to practice and be self-motivated. Natalie Newton, 18, a home-schooled graduating high school senior from Moss Point, Miss., has spent years practicing and improving her piano skills under the direction of Holm, who has been her piano teacher since she was 12 years old.

“I started playing at the age of 7 on a keyboard from Radio Shack, with the help of other teachers,” Newton said. “I was also encouraged by my grandmother. I am fortunate to have Dr. Holm as my piano instructor. He challenges his students by encouraging us to play a variety of music.”

Newton has been attending South’s piano camp since she was 13 years old. She loves the faculty and learns something new every year.

“The instructors have different ideas to share about how you can practice,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Newton is passionate about music and enjoys playing the piano.

“When I am playing the piano, I am lost in the moment,” she said. “Sometimes I see beautiful artwork and feel so free in the musical moment.”

The students attending the piano camp, with the facilitation of faculty, discussed American song, repertoire, American instrumental chamber music, “Jazz and Joplin,” origins and history of jazz styles, and the influence of Charles Ives on the next generation of avant grade composers. The faculty also presented a recital each afternoon from a particular piece of American music.

The piano camp was $275 per person, with a $25 registration fee. According to Holm, it’s one of the most affordable piano camps in Alabama. Attendees and faculty bring their lunch, and they also bring snacks and beverages to share.                           

To stay up to date on department of music events and offerings, including information about next year’s piano camp, like its Facebook page at facebook.com/southalabamamusic.

Dr. Holm is surrounded, from left, second row, by Dr. James Helton, guest professor and pianist from Ball State University, Dr. Laura Moore, associate professor of music and director of choral activities at South, and Dr. Sharon Hudson, guest professor of music from the University of Mobile,  along with the piano camp attendees ages 12-adult.


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