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Summer Institute for Piano and Strings

Idaho State-Civic Symphony

The ISCS Summer Institute for Piano and Strings (SIPS) serves the entire area of SE Idaho. In collaboration with Idaho State University faculty, any student that plays a stringed instrument or piano, from the beginner in elementary school to a senior in high school, is eligible to participate in one of the five options: Jr. Piano, Jr. Strings, Sr. Piano, Sr. Strings, and Dual Piano/Strings. All students are given the opportunity to rehearse and perform in our state-of-the-art Jensen Grand Concert Hall and Fine Arts building throughout the week.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

Why do students need to understand fundamental techniques and develop their practicing skills?

Throughout the week, students embody several anchor standards. Below are the anchor standards focused on:

Creating: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Students work with faculty closely during the camp, improving their strong skills on the instruments, learning the basic techniques based on their weakness, realizing what students need, and generating the better ideas to approach their piece of music.

Performing/Presenting/Producing: Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.

Based on learning the basic tools, students are given the opportunity to perform in the Jensen Concert Hall, presenting and sharing their music in small and large groups. The goal is to provide students the chance to define for themselves what ‘concert ready’ means and how that shapes their preparation of the music.

Responding: Perceive and analyze artistic work.

It is very helpful and necessary to understand students’ work better by reading the background stories of them at least. This year the theme of the summer institute was “Romantic Music”, and there was a Romantic music history class. Students applied the knowledge from the lecture to what they play, listen, and see from other students and faculty members.

Connecting: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.

The entire week is an opportunity for students to comprehend music in a new and different way.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

As stated above, four main anchor standards drive the Institute and how music is created by, performed by, responded to, and connected to students throughout the week. Based on a variety of conversations with students, we noticed that they always look for a good role model in their life. After the end of private lessons, rehearsals, and faculty concerts, lots of students indicated that they loved our faculty’s kindness and enthusiasm for them. The interaction between students and faculty is very important for both of our institution and us. Sometimes students learn a lot by observing their teachers. One of the students told us that he studied and experienced a lot during the faculty performances. We realized and learned as educators, we will be there always and do our best for our past, current, and future students. As students respond to the camp, we take those responses to develop our approach to the Summer Institute so that the following year can include the most meaningful and helpful activities to continue their journey in music.


After the conclusion of SIPS, many students are inspired to continue practicing and refining their instrumental skill. After working with professionals, being challenged by their peers, and hearing their expedited progress within the week, SIPS gives them unparalleled inspiration. The shared love and immersion in music with faculty and peers embolden them in ways that traditional private lessons and ensembles at school cannot. This year’s focus on Romantic music gave them the academic understanding for better practice and performance. From the variety of classes, students increased their understanding about 19th-century music, its role in history, society, visual art, dance, and expression, which were applied to their performances of Romantic music in masterclasses, small group rehearsals, and coachings, and orchestra rehearsals. Even students as young as eight years old made important connections, pairing works of art to music, making the emotions expressed in music more tangible. Understanding the background gives students the emotional passion to practice with the end performance goal in mind. One of our senior classes is choir, which kinesthetically connects music to bodies through “feeling” the rhythm, pitch, dynamics, etc.  Another fun result was the junior students creating music for fairy tales, composing music to accompany a portion of a story performed for their families. Several students were eager to try this at home with their own books. Altogether, SIPS equipped all students with new skills to interpret Romantic music, rehearse with other musicians, and execute passionate performances.


The organization of SIPS works very well. The week is meticulously planned, with enough time given to each activity and the right amount of adult supervision and support. Our students stay actively engaged all day, as we schedule a variety of classes and activities throughout the day so that students are never doing one thing for too long. We also change our theme yearly, to apply in our varied classes, so our music objectives are consistently met, but the specific content and feeling changes. The combination of valuable learning, bonding with musical friends, and having fun is what keeps students returning year after year. As far as improvements, while we have scheduled some practice time, our students need more than 30 minutes per day. Giving them more time to practice will help them further achieve camp objectives for practice techniques and ensure they have enough time to engage with their music to solidify the content objectives. Logistically, we can also improve by continuously taking note of what we need, how our needs change, and modifying our operations to compensate as our camp grows. Based on our successes, we would suggest to a similar music camp to give students a variety of activities, high-level instruction, some down time, and experiences they may not have at home, such as performing in small groups and hearing the faculty perform. The faculty performances might be the only professional-level, live music our students hear all year. Not only do we hope the students enjoy these concerts, but we also want them to be aware of what kinds of things are possible if they choose to continue their studies in music.