Sitting with a group of about 20 other students, Jason Niedle of Cypress High School glanced with a puzzled look at the placement test which he had just been handed in his advanced music theory class. Moments later, as he listened carefully to the piano notes played by his instructor, he set about trying to decipher both the rhythms and intervals of the piece.
As he set about his work, he thought about the two full weeks of intense but exciting musical experiences that awaited him.
For the 16th summer at Cal State Fullerton, the California Music Academy is challenging and inspiring young musicians from all over Southern California and the country at its annual band and jazz camp.
The program, which concludes Saturday, runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. It is open to both junior and senior high school students, though the majority of this year's campers are high schoolers.
Benton Minor, program director and chairman of Cal State Fullerton's music department, calls it "an intense, two-week experience."
Students are expected to attend daily instrumental rehearsals and elective classes in such areas as music theory, class piano, sight reading and jazz ensemble. Each day also includes three hours in full band rehearsal with one of the two groups formed by the 170 participants.
Students are placed--by audition--into either the symphonic winds band, which includes more difficult pieces, or the concert band, geared for those with less experience.
The bands' conductors, who run the rehearsals, insist that their student musicians raise their music stands only high enough to keep their eyes on them--rather than buried in the sheet music--while they are playing. The conductors pick apart each piece in a constant effort to polish the performances, but they also find time for words of praise.
"By the time the kids go through five days of this program," Marc Garriabrant, head dormitory counselor, said, "they get a little tired and need the satisfaction of a good concert to bring them back up."
The long days of rehearsals will culminate tonight and Saturday night with two performances. The jazz ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the campus Performing Arts Centre. The symphonic winds and concert bands will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the centre's Little Theater. Both concerts are free to the public.
Niedle, a senior trombone player who has attended the camp before, said the band formed by the camp members is the best he has ever played in. Niedle plays first chair in his high school band and sits likewise in the symphonic winds band.
"I've played trombone since the seventh grade, back when my arm couldn't reach the end of the slide," he said.
A majority of the camp's participants return each year, even those who do not live within easy commuting distance. Eighty-three of the students spend the two weeks sharing the dormitory rooms at Pacific Christian College with members of a high school wrestling camp.
Although the academy is primarily publicized only statewide, Steve Rochford, assistant director, said, "There are students here from Florida, New Jersey and Illinois."
Not only do students return to participate, they also return to teach. Three quarters of the staff are camp graduates.
"Since so many of the staff went through it themselves," Garriabrant said, "they can understand what the students go through."
With an 11-to-1 student-staff ratio, participants get plenty of individual attention.
"This alleviates some of the tension of a group situation," Garriabrant said, "and in a relaxed atmosphere allows students to further develop their skills and see a more personable side of the staff."
Most of the staff members are upper-division college students or graduate students in Cal State Fullerton's music department, and many are preparing to become music teachers.
Christi Bell, a 15-year-old sophomore from Katella High School, has been playing the flute since the fourth grade. She is also a five-year veteran of the piano.
Bell spends 3 1/2 to 4 hours a day at the piano and an hour with her flute.
"When I started playing the piano, I practiced five hours a day to catch up with a friend who had been playing longer," she said. "My music teacher used to get mad at me because I always worked ahead and skipped to the next lesson . . . which is something I still do."
Most of the aspiring musicians do not equate practice with work because the time passes so quickly.
"When you start playing," Bell said, "you keep saying to yourself, 'Just one more piece,' and the time is gone, just like that."
But most of all, they appreciate the satisfaction when they are able to play a difficult piece. When she finally gets a piece down, Bell said, she gets a feeling of "wow!" and "it's all worth it!"