One broken guitar string at a time, the staff at Candyman Strings & Things has been cultivating the next generation of potential rock legends since the 2010 inception of Summer Rock Camp.
How do they do it? Not through lessons in shrieking, head banging or hip thrusting. In fact, according to program head Mikey Baker, teaching has nothing to do with it.
“You don’t really teach them,” he says. “You just scratch away at the veneer of civilization. Fortunately, at their age, there’s a little bit less veneer to deal with.”
By “their age,” Baker means students ages 8 through 18, though he adds, “Most of them tend to be 11-15.”
These mini Mick Jaggers-in-training flock to the music store during four different two-week sessions that take place from late May through August. The program itself is part of a larger trend in which rock music, no longer seen as a threatening youth movement, follows in the footsteps of classical and jazz by being absorbed into the pedagogical canon.
Next up, hip-hop? Actually, the University of Arizona already offers a summer hip-hop camp. Arizona also plays host to the Power Chord Academy, one of many rock camps spread out across the country. The Candyman’s program, lying somewhere in the middle, still manages to draw plenty of students from outside the state and even the nation.
“We’ve had kids come from Holland, Taiwan, Kansas, Jersey...” Candyman co-owner Cindy Cook tells SFR during a tour of the premises.
“Yeah,” chimes in Baker. “Esoteric places, like Kansas.”
The basic format behind the program’s growing success is a focus on every element of being in a band—from playing instruments to writing songs to developing a name and a logo. At the end of the session, campers record a CD at a professional studio; Frogville and Stepbridge Studios have been participants and sponsors in the past. They then sit in for an interview on 98.1 FM (Hutton Broadcasting provides generous scholarship support for the series), followed by a live show on Saturday.
This year, potential venues for the live shows— some confirmed and some not—include Santa Fe Sol, Warehouse 21, the Santa Fe Bandstand and a series of pre-game shows for the Fuego baseball team. Such variety would make even the most seasoned local session musician jealous. In a way, then, the Candyman staff is fulfilling the role of manager as much as educator.
But despite being a two-week immersion in all things rock, the camp’s final emphasis is on music, and in particular, the original compositions that result from each session. Both Baker and Cook remember with fondness the rousing riot grrrl song “We Were Born Ready” by the four tween girls (and Baker) who composed the 2012 group Scary Cute.
Other songs “will make you cry,” Cook says. “One girl wrote a song about bullying.”
The program itself works as an effective bullying counterpoint due to what Cook and Baker see as the huge confidence-building aspect of writing and performing music.
“We’ve never seen confidence go down; we’ve always, always seen confidence just skyrocket,” Cook says.
To this end, she and the staff introduced a new component to the program: a stage and performance workshop with Amy Lindquist (singer in local funk band The Sticky).
“The younger ones, you’d think, would be shyer, but they’re not,” Baker says. “They’re ready to get up there and boogie and have fun and really feel free about expressing themselves. When you get to the 12-, 13- and 14-year-old ones, they tend to be more reticent, and you have to try to pull that out of them.”
For Baker, building up confidence (through a rigorous peeling-away of civilization’s veneer) is the most rewarding part of the program.
He says, “The great thing about rock, about music in general, is you don’t need a degree in order to be able to enjoy yourself and express yourself. For me, that’s sort of the most fun part of it: seeing them come out of their shell.”
To sign up for Summer Rock Camp click here.