Close this search box.

Starting a Summer Masterclass

Patricia George | March 2011

    In 1970 I organized and taught my first flute camp. I had been inspired by the work of Dr. Martha McCrory, who had launched an orchestral camp for young players a few years earlier. At that time most community, college, and high school orchestras in the United States had weak string sections. Her goal was to recruit talented young players and immerse the students in high quality instruction for five weeks each summer at The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.
    The focus of the camp was on improving each student’s skills through private lessons, chamber music, theory classes, and of course, orchestral playing. She hoped for a ripple effect to occur when students returned home and shared what they had learned. Dr. McCrory saw this as a way to improve orchestral programs across the United States. I thought the idea was quite noble and one I wished to duplicate in the flute world. 

    Even though the public school music program was excellent in my city, the emphasis was on ensemble performance rather than on each student’s playing skills. I decided that to develop outstanding flutists, I should gear my program toward three age groups: students who had played for one year, those who had played for two to three years, and flutists in high school. Since I would be the only teacher, I arranged the day into three two-hour blocks. The first group (elementary) was scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon.  The second group (intermediate) was from 1-3 p.m., and the last group (advanced) from 3-5 p.m. 
    Over the years the performance level improved, so I hired additional faculty. This allowed the advanced students to take classes for six to seven hours per day. The classes were held Monday through Friday the first full week after the public school closed in June. On Friday evening they gave a Gala Concert to share what they had learned. 
     The first several years I held the classes in my basement studio. As the classes grew, I moved to a larger space. The Gala Concert went from the high school band room to a local church that had offered free space.
    Over the next 13 years, the masterclass numbers increased from 25 to over 50 flutists. Students who participated in the masterclass program began winning the top positions in the All-State Band and Orchestra festivals. Many students won local concerto competitions and chose to become music majors in college. My ripple effect had started.
    Then I moved to Idaho and had to start over. The first year I advertised the Pocatello Flute Week, I was met with “you are doing what?” Over time,  however, the program grew and flutists from neighboring states joined the local students in the week-long classes. The enrollment increased and I was able to hire artist faculty to provide students with rich experiences. Some years I included theory classes or flute repair in the curriculum.
    What I learned was that offering this type of instruction not only improved the performance level and commitment in my studio, but it enriched the lives of the students in more ways than I will ever know. This article discusses some of the things I learned that may help you start a program for your students. 

The Program

    One of my students returned from a National Flute Association convention and announced that she knew what her career should be. She wanted to travel around the country and present masterclasses. I asked: What is your message? What do you have to offer?  She did have some excellent ideas about flute playing and musicianship, but she had not put it all together into a comprehensive curriculum.  
    Before writing the curriculum for the masterclasses, research what the students have been taught thus far. If you are teaching privately, you may have an idea where each individual student’s playing level is, but to prepare a comprehensive curriculum, observe band classes at several grade levels in different schools to get a more accurate assessment.
    Once you know what each masterclass level is, assemble materials to make a study/performance packet for each student. My masterclass packets are several pages long, stapled together on the left side of the sheet in performance order.
    The first page is a warm-up routine.  It might include exercises on the headjoint, rhythm studies, and note-reading exercises. The next five pages (one for each day of the week, Monday – Friday) focus on the scales, arpeggios, technical exercises, and tone studies in the key of the day. 
    The final pages feature the material that the class will play together in the Gala Concert. These compositions include solos (played in unison) with a piano accompanist a la Suzuki style, canons, and simple duets, trios, or quartets. More advanced classes will play from the standard flute choir repertoire. Packets may also include a page on “How to Choose a Flute;” “Standard Repertoire,” graded by performance level; or “Flute Performance Opportunities.” These might include a list of regional concerto competitions, upcoming masterclasses and concerts as well as dates for Regional and All-State tryouts.

Setting a Date
    Choosing a date is one of the trickiest things about hosting a masterclass.  A date that works in one locale may not work in another. The first full week after school is out in June is an excellent time. However, I have held very successful masterclasses at other times in the summer. Do take into consideration the band marching camps or other school sponsored programs. Work to be an asset and not a detriment to the public school programs. Start media publicity and mailings about six weeks before the beginning of the camp. 

Choose a Location

    My first masterclasses were held in my basement studio. I could easily accommodate 12 to 15 students in each class. However, as the classes grew, I held sessions in high school band rooms, downtown storefronts, churches, and community centers. Before making a final decision, consider the rental cost of the space and if the participants will be covered by the host’s liability insurance. Think about whether the location is suitable for the Gala Concert. If not you will need to rent an additional space for the Friday performance.

What To Charge
    The first years I chose a fee that was affordable by all. As the program grew and became well-known, I was able to charge more. Expenses should be factored into the cost. Basic expenses include guest artist fees, rental fees, insurance (if needed), music, photo copying of instructional packets, publicity, postage, and refreshments. 

Choose a Name
    My first masterclass camp was called Quincy Flute Week. When I moved to Idaho, it became Pocatello Flute Week and eventually Pocatello Flute Spa. One of my students designed a logo that was used on all materials and on T-shirts. Each year, the T-shirt logo was the same, but the shirts were a different color. 

Boarding Students

    The Pocatello Flute Week masterclasses attracted students from many states. I arranged with a local motel to provide group rates. Since I could not be at the motel to supervise the flutists, parents alternated staying with the students during the week. Many of the adult participants had cars and transported the students to the masterclass location. I did not provide food.

Make A Flier

    The ideal flier is one page that can serve as both publicity material and a registration form. The flier should include the name of your program, class dates, registration deadline, class ages, class size, times, fees, what to bring, instructional topics, information about the final concert, and biographical information about the teachers.
    In the early days, I mailed 10 copies to each band director in my region; but later sent the flier by email so each director could print as many as needed. If you are not well known in your area, contact the band director and offer to give a free masterclass to his students for the opportunity to distribute masterclass fliers. If students like your teaching, they will attend the masterclass. In the flier, I always include the following disclaimer:  Neither Pocatello Flute Week or Patricia George assumes any liability for your person, flute, or property. Be responsible. Keep your flute with you at all times. Depending on the size of the program and laws of your state, you may wish to obtain local legal advice about additional waivers and potential liability.

    Create a press packet to send to area newspapers and for television public service announcements. Include photos from previous years with bios of all faculty members. It is best to send this information via an email. Attach digital photos of 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher with your copy. The best publicity, however, comes from one student recommending the class to another.

Before the Masterclass

    Try to be as organized as possible before the masterclasses begin.  Masterclass teaching done well takes enormous energy. The more you have organized beforehand, the more you can relax during your down time. Create and copy the class packets. Purchase pencils for the students to take notes upon their packets.
    Make sure you have a music stand and chair for each student, and create nametags to be placed on the stands. Reorganize the nametags each class so that you can place a student with a weak sound next to one who is stronger. By switching stand partners each time, students also get to know more of their fellow flutists. Many of my students made life-long friends at summer programs.
    Assemble your teaching tools such as plastic bags, cigarette papers, plastic wrap, black board, etc. Type the Gala Concert program in a computer file so that you may easily make additions or deletions to the program during the masterclass week. On the back of the program list each student’s name and home town. Print the concert program as soon as the program is set. Make an average of two programs for each participant. Ask a parent of one of your private students to organize punch and cookies for the reception after the concert. The reception is a great opportunity for pictures, so bring a camera and arrange for a parent with photography skills to document the event. At the reception you can present each participant with a certificate of participation. Some years I presented humorous certificates. Certificates are easy to download and print from the web, or you can make your own.

    I invite my music education majors to serve as mentors and assist in the classes with younger students. The mentors adjust headjoint corks, align flutes, and take students out for private instruction if special attention is needed. The mentors also play along with the class so younger students get to sit by a great player.
    To keep things interesting, you may want to intersperse activities such as juggling, movement classes, breathing instruction, music theory, or flute repair into the curriculum. The classes should be appropriate for the age group.
    I have hosted 38 summer flute masterclasses, and they have included some of the most enjoyable teaching of my career. Many of the students who attended as young children continued on to become music majors in college. If you want to have great students, sometimes you have to grow them.