Close this search box.

Starting a Masterclass

Karen Van Dyke | March 2012

   Eighteen years ago Karen Van Dyke helped create the Northern California Flute Camp. She shares what inspired her to direct the program and offers advice for others who wish to start a summer masterclass.

    Ever since high school I wanted to run a summer music program because I had such great experiences at music camp growing up, both as a student and as a counselor. I loved being immersed in a musical environment and able to focus on my instrument without distractions. Music camp let me to work with teachers who bolstered the work I was doing with my private teacher and also provided large ensemble and chamber music experiences, masterclasses, and solo performances. Music camp also fosters friendships that form as a result of the intense experience of making music together in an oasis environment. (I met my life-long best friend at Interlochen in 1978.)
   My vision for the camp I wanted to direct included offering classes on subjects that many private teachers don’t make time for in weekly lessons, including pedagogy, analysis of tonal coloration, and sightreading.
   Northern California Flute Camp originated as a small summer flute workshop at Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley. In 1994 I was invited, along with several other teachers, to join the faculty of that program to teach and help with organization and recruiting. The minute I walked onto the campus of HVMS I knew it was ideal for the program I imagined. With some restructure, a massive recruiting effort, and a request from the General Director of HVMS for me to run the program, Northern California Flute Camp was born.
Getting Started
   A mission statement was the first step. We stated our teaching philosophy, goals for development, curriculum plan, and age group. Writing a mission statement forces the administration of any program to carefully and succinctly define what it is they hope to accomplish.
   Next we determined enrollment goals and decided that 50 students would be the maximum number of students that the schedule, staff, facility, and overall structure of the program could handle. A more traditional masterclass with both performers and auditors has different considerations and requirements, as not every participant needs performance or rehearsal time.
    Amassing a committee of teachers or volunteers who share the same vision is invaluable, as long as each person brings something to the table. It is best to have at least one person who has experience running a non-profit of some sort, as well as people who can help with recruiting, negotiating with a venue and appealing to individuals and businesses for donations.
Financial Structure
   Our program is produced by and run under the fiscal umbrella of Hidden Valley Music Seminars. All payroll, donations receipts, and federal and state employee tax filings are handled accordingly. 
   For the overall financial structure an arts program can either be an official 501©3 non-profit organization, or operate under the fiscal umbrella of an already established 501©3 non-profit. There are pros and cons to each. For example, a non-profit organization allows for more freedom, but will need to hire a C.P.A. to do non-profit tax returns, which is completely out of the budget for most small summer programs. If the event can be run by an already existing 501©3 (such as a church or a school) their non-profit status can be used for fundraising and bulk mailings without the burden of having to sustain the infrastructure of a non-profit all on your own. This will mean that you will have a partner in the endeavor, so be sure that your philosophy and goals are on the same trajectory.
Liability Insurance
   Liability insurance is essential and will vary broadly depending on the location, requirements of the venue, age of participants, and nature of the program (day or overnight), activities planned, and size of enrollment. The policies of some venues will cover small programs that take place there; others will require you to purchase a separate policy.
Location, Location, Location
   College campuses, retreat centers, community centers or local schools (for day programs) are all options. Try to determine what surroundings would be conducive to the program. If you are planning a summer music institute, look at universities that can provide concert venues, practice rooms, and pianos. An outdoor, back-to-nature setting might be a good match with retreat centers such as a church or scout camp.
Developing a Budget
   After we created the curriculum and a daily schedule, the next step was to figure out how many teachers and pianists were needed to teach private lessons, classes, and direct rehearsals. The number of people that are hired is a big part of the budget. Remember that if minors attend the camp, additional staff is necessary including teaching faculty, counselors, and at least one pianist. Youth programs should strive for a teacher to student ratio of no less than 1:6. Staffing needs for retreats vary widely depending on the budget, curriculum and format.
   Currently, we have five professional flutists, two collaborative pianists, two faculty assistants, two counselors and one student intern (who is not paid) for 45-50 participants ages 12-18. Our salaries are miniscule considering the number of hours we work, but we all feel that the rich rewards we reap from the program more than make up for this. The budget includes personnel salaries and travel, rental fees, and administrative costs (postage, printed materials, website).
   Tuition payments cover approximately 90% of the total budget. Donations from alumni, music stores, arts education foundations and instrument manufacturers make up the rest. Such fundraising events as recitals or silent auctions also raise funds. Once an alumni list is established, they become an important source of contributions. Personal subsidies may be necessary in the first few years.
Faculty and Counselors
   For faculty positions, select excellent musicians who are experienced teachers and are passionate about the program. It is also important to find people who work well with any age group and have a sense of humor. Look for teachers who can bring something special to the event. Pianists hired as accompanists should already know the bulk of the flute repertoire. You may have to appeal to the altruistic side of several teachers for the first year.
   Counselors should be responsible, college-age students who have a vested interest in music and are willing to roll up their sleeves and enthusiastically dive into even the most repugnant of tasks (such as toilet plunging). Very often it is the support staff that makes or breaks the camp experience for everyone.
   A guest artist adds to the overall stature of the program. Aside from teaching a master class, the guest artist can play a benefit recital that is open to the general public. Although convincing a well-known musician to appear may seem a daunting task, many established players who hold orchestra or college teaching positions are happy to give a class or recital for a summer program. A surprising number of established artists will be generous in cutting their regular fee if they know your budget is limited.
   Search symphony or university websites or the NFA roster to find contact information. Many well-known flutists represent a specific flute manufacturer who may co-sponsor the flutist’s appearance. Once a program is established, do not be surprised if well-known artists contact you to request an appearance.
   Our curriculum includes solo performance, flute choirs, masterclasses, chamber music, and seminar and electives classes. The program is basically divided into four different flute choir groups. All classes and rehearsals are divided by level of advancement, so that students are not intimidated or bored, and teachers can target subject matter effectively.
   A typical daily schedule consists of optional exercise (swing dance or jogging/walking); breakfast; master classes; seminar classes/individual practice time; lunch; electives; chamber music; recreation time (including the ever popular water balloon volleyball); flute choir rehearsals; dinner; evening recitals; social time (includes more swing dancing, star gazing, etc.); lights out. The schedule varies depending on guest artist events, field trips, skit night, etc.

Establishing Camp Traditions
   One of the high points of every session is skit night, in which the students and the faculty perform zany skits, usually with flute-related themes. During summer Olympics years, the faculty traditionally does the “Flute Olympics” for our skit, which includes events such as the “Widest Vibrato”, “Lose the Accompanist” and “Worst Chaminade Concertino.” We also take the students to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk at the end of the week and the entire camp rides on the Big Dipper, a famous roller coaster, together. Swing dance is a popular activity, and every day starts and ends with both organized and ad hoc dance sessions. The rural lighting and wide open sky has made star gazing a favorite tradition as well. And we end our final concert every year with the entire camp performing Nora Kile’s arrangement “In Remembrance” by Burl Red, which leaves not a dry eye in the house.
   One of my favorite memories occurred in 2006 when two of our counselors, Tom and Julie, got engaged in front of the whole camp. Julie had just finished a performance in an evening recital when Tom walked on stage and got down on one knee. The students went crazy. Tom proposed to Julie at camp because it had been such a big part of her life for so many years.
    I attribute the success of this program to a combination of elements. Perhaps the most important is that we seem to draw great students, who are there to learn, be inspired and to inspire others. Many come back year after year, which has formed a strong backbone of tradition and comraderie throughout our nearly two decades. Likewise, our faculty and staff are not only very fine musicians, each one of them, but they are the most generous, passionate, and dedicated group of teachers and employees that I have ever encountered. Our successful partnership with Hidden Valley Music Seminars provides an ideal venue and location. We try to create a balance of serious flute study in a fun, non-competitive environment in one of the most beautiful places in the world.