Overton hosts elementary band camp
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — By the end of the two-week band camp at Overton Elementary School, Anthony Johnson hopes students walk away with a lifelong love of music.
Without music, Johnson said, he wouldn’t be where he is today, working as the school’s technology facilitator.
“I stayed in school because of band,” he said.
Johnson, a Livingstone College marching band alumni, set out to share his love of music with the students at Overton by launching the Mini Funk Factory drumline last November.
Since then, the drumline has grown into a full-fledged band with more than 100 instruments including everything from saxophones to trumpets to flutes.
“The kids just kept coming,” he said. “And I believe that if a kid wants to do something at this age you should find a way to make it happen.”
After receiveing donated instruments, Johnson decided it was time to call in some backup. He approached Sidney Sessoms, the band director at Livingstone College, to see if they could form a partnership.
“I was all for it, realizing that a lot of the budgets in the public school system have been cut and music programs have taken a hit,” Sessoms said.
The men decided to host a band camp Overton to give students a head start before school resumes in the fall.
Sessoms brought along four music education majors to provide personalized group instruction during the two-week camp.
“I felt it was a good way to utilize our students,” he said. “They are doing a fabulous job; they really seem to be excited about the progress these students have made.”
Sessoms said that, like Johnson, band kept him in school.
“I would have never graduated had it not been for band,” he said. “Now band has taken me all around the world.”
The more than 50 students who attended the camp, which wraps up Thursday, have a variety of skill levels.
“Some of them had never even picked up an instrument until last week,” Johnson said. “The kids are working very, very hard. They are doing an awesome job.”
Sessoms said during the camp, students learned to play instruments, and received marching and dance lessons.
“They are getting excellent music instruction, plenty of exercise and having tons of fun,” he said.
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Walillian White said her son, Brandon Richmond, has been waking up early to get ready for camp.
“He loves it. He’s been excited every single day, which is rare for any summer camp,” she said. “It’s been a good thing for him.”
White said she’s impressed that Overton and Livingstone combined forces to host the camp.
“It just goes to show that it really takes a community to raise a child,” she said. “I think it’s great that they pulled together to help the kids.”
Christian Bennett, one of the four students selected to be a drum major, said he’s been having fun at the camp.
“I learned a lot more than I already knew about music,” the 10-year-old said.
Bennett said as one of the leaders of the band, he’s hoping to inspire other students to get involved.
“I want to get them to try new things,” he said.
Sydney Sims, 9, said she just started playing the clarinet last week during camp.
“I’ve learned different songs and how to clap out the rhythm,” she said.
Domaneke Morris, 10, said her favorite part of the camp has been learning the dance movies.
“That’s been really fun,” she said.
Johnson said he’s heard students say they wish the camp would last the entire summer.
“They want to be here,” he said.
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The students will show off what they’ve learned during a community performance at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Varick Auditorium on Livingstone’s campus.
“People really need to see and hear what these kids are doing,” Johnson said.
They will perform Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Johnson said he hopes to expand the camp next year to include all of the nearly 120 students who will be participating in the school’s first marching band this fall.
He said this year’s $125 fee kept some students from attending.
“My only regret is that about 70 students are sitting at home,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he did not receive a grant that he applied for that would have made the camp free. He’s hoping next year the program will be more visible to the community and a better candidate for grant funds.
But the community has already stepped up.
Johnson said First Presbyterian Church and F&M Bank sponsored four students each this year. And Rowan-Salisbury Teacher of the Year Theresa Pierce donated half of her $1,000 prize to pay for students to attend.
He said parents have also chipped in.
“They’ve given $25 or $30 extra,” Johnson said. “Those dollars add up.”
Johnson said he wants to give every child an opportunity to play in hopes that they will have more opportunities and possibly land college scholarships.
“They are getting a jump on kids that don’t pick up an instrument until seventh grade,” he said. “By the time they get to seventh grade they are going to be bad players.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.