Almost Half of Foster Music Camp Participants Return as EKU Students
For the past 76 summers, almost 40,000 talented young musicians have honed their playing skills at Eastern Kentucky University’s Stephen Collins Foster Music Camp, the nation’s second oldest music camp and longest consecutive operational camp.
At least seventeen countries count Foster Camp alumni, and many participants have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and music educators.
And, as a recent study indicated, almost half – 46 percent of the Foster Campers – eventually return to EKU to pursue a college degree, many in the University’s Department of Music.
“Foster Camp was extremely successful this year with record attendance in all camps,” said Rob James, chair of EKU’s Department of Music. “The students, faculty and staff all did a tremendous job, as witnessed in their performances. Ben Walker, the camp director, continues to do an excellent job in the organization and operations of the camp. The Department of Music looks forward to working with Ben for years to come.”
Founded in the midst of the Great Depression, the Foster Camps – with numerous camp options throughout June for middle school and high school students – continue to draw young musicians from throughout the nation and even internationally.
Only the famous Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan has a longer history in the U.S. than EKU’s Foster Camp. Many young musicians return year after year to the Richmond campus. It is not unusual for a student to enter the camp as a sixth-grader to attend the Middle School Instrumental Camp and still be attending the High School Instrumental Camp five or six years later.
One key to the Camp’s longevity and success has been continuity in leadership. An EKU graduate and former Foster Camp participant, Walker serves as only the sixth director of the Camp.
The camp’s first director, in 1936, was Henri Schnabl, a former member of Kaiser Wilhelm’s personal band. He was followed by James Van Peursem (1940-63), Nick Koenigstein (1964-67), Dr. Robert Hartwell (1968-99), Dr. Joe Allison (1999-2007) and Walker.
Famous alumni of the Foster Camp include Jim Walker, world-renowned flautist and a member of Free Flight, who attended in 1959 and 1962.
“(The Foster Camp) has a deep impact on me,” Walker said, “and was a very important part of my musical education and direction. Being around kids who were serious about music was very inspiring and to this day brings back profoundly fond memories.”
Another Foster Camp alum, Rob Parton, is considered one of the finest trumpet players in Chicago and has played with Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, Tony Bennett, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Mel Torme and Natalie Cole, among others.
“I would have to say that Foster was the beginning of my serious musical career,” said Parton, who attended the camp 1979-81. “I was inspired every summer by great teachers and role models. I would not be the same musician I am today without the formative years of Foster Camp.
James Dickey III, who attended the Camp in 1970 and 1971, is an oboist and solo English hornist with the United States Marine Band.
“My summer camp years there set the standard of musical excellence that started me out on a successful path to a career as a professional musician,” Dickey said.
EKU is recognized as a Conn-Selmer School. The distinction recognizes a high level of academic and musical excellence at qualified colleges and universities and is designed to increase the institution’s national and international profile as a music school, allowing it to recruit more high-quality students, secure more grants, and provide for a long-term position as a leader in music and music education.