BIGHORN MOUNTAINS — The sound of saxophones and upright bass filled the cool mountain air, as more than 20 musicians packed into a small cabin at the Spear-O Mountain Campus Monday.
They talked about music in a language only experienced musicians could understand and performed from sheet music they were seeing for the first time.
Without any difficulty, performers completed one song after another.
Music faculty and high school students brought the sound of jazz to the Bighorns this week with the first Sheridan College Jazz in the Bighorns summer music workshop.
The workshop, open to experienced high school students ages 15-18 and instructors, consists of five days of performing and learning about jazz music.
This is the first year of the course, the brainchild of Sheridan College’s Director of Bands and Jazz Studies Dr. Eric Richards. He determined the Spear-O Mountain Campus would be a great setting to host a music workshop and wanted to take advantage of the unique campus.
After developing a curriculum and meeting with Sheridan College president Dr. Paul Young, Richards got the OK to launch the camp.
“I think he thought it was a good idea,” Richards said of Young. “I think he saw this as a good way to build our music and jazz program and to let students in the community see what kinds of things are possible by having a large retreat at Spear-O.”
A typical day for those at the course consists of rehearsals, private lessons, jazz history or music industry sessions and a faculty combo concert and jam session.
“The goal is to build confidence and comfort level with improvisation with jazz,” Richards said. “That’s an idea that’s central to jazz; composing music that’s right on the fly and playing it in real time. That’s what great jazz musicians do.”
The camp is built for instructors, as well. In the mornings, students are taught jazz theory while educators learn jazz pedagogy, or how to teach students music.
Approximately a dozen students and six faculty members are attending the camp. Faculty members include instructors from across the nation who work at the college and high school level.
What’s unique about the camp, Richards said, is its location. The Spear-O Mountain Campus, located 30 miles from Sheridan in the Bighorn Mountains, allows students and faculty to disconnect from everyday life. Outside of cellphone range and free from daily distractions, Richards said musicians can focus on their music.
“When you take them off the treadmill of life and put them in nature … that kind of environment always energizes and encourages people to be more creative,” Richards said.
On Thursday, Richards invites the public to attend the group’s final concert. It will include all ensembles and will be a culmination of the week’s work. Spear-O Director Trudy Munsick said the community won’t want to miss hearing the culmination of five days of hard work by Dr. Eric Richards, his faculty and all the students.
“I think the opportunity to enjoy great music on a beautiful summer night would be enjoyable for most people,” Richards said.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Spear-O Mountain Campus.