At the new Rogue Summer Band Camp, Ashland Middle School students are learning new styles, rhythms and ensembles to "develop a stronger groove," says teacher and camp creator Jenifer Carstensen.

At the new Rogue Summer Band Camp, Ashland Middle School students are learning new styles, rhythms and ensembles to "develop a stronger groove," says teacher and camp creator Jenifer Carstensen.

The camp allows band students to explore chamber, jazz and improv for the first time, and they're loving it, Carstensen says, after leading them in the theme from "Pirates of the Caribbean," Glenn Miller's swing standard "In the Mood" and the rock-Latin Santana classic "Oye Como Va."

"It's got this self-perpetuating energy," says Carstensen. "The more new stuff they learn, the more energy they have for it and the more they want to learn."

The two-week camp, which cost $178, attracted 40 kids — about twice what Carstensen expected. So she hired local musicians as coaches.

"At first they were nervous, but as they saw other kids do improv, they started trying it and soon everyone was raising their hands and saying they wanted improv parts," says music coach Bruce Dresser, a local trombone teacher. "It's not daunting to them and that's great to see."

The students will perform a free concert at 11:15 a.m. today in the AMS Commons.

The kids daily spend an hour in small groups with their own coach, learning "how to play their instrument with their own best possible sound ... balancing and blending together to create a beautiful group sound," says Carstensen, adding they get drills on sight reading and "working in a variety of dynamic and stylistic ranges."

"We're getting in quartets and quintet ensembles and also playing with the full band," says Eryl Kenner, a French horn player in the eighth grade. "It makes you want to get better. I enjoy playing 'Pirates.' It's really cool."

"I love 'Oye Como Va' and the jazz is really fun," says trumpet player Aiden Duval, a seventh-grader. "We get to learn how to get the best sound out of our instrument and about crescendos and still staying in tune while doing these new things."

His mom, Melissa Duval, says, "My son counted down the days until band camp ... he has grown so much as a student."

Rapid progress happens, says Carstensen, because students aren't studying anything else and can concentrate. "They can build on the previous day's lesson, which is still fresh in their minds, (so) the skills and concepts are going deeper and being retained," she says.

Carstensen promoted the class at all middle schools in the valley, but was only able to attract kids from Ashland this year. She hopes to broaden attendance next summer.

In addition to Dresser, coaches are Mark Jacobs for low brass, Angel McDonald for saxophone, Lori Calhoun for flute and clarinet and Tom Freeman for percussion. Jazz pianist Dave Scoggin did a teaching guest set.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.