RICHMOND — Five students sat in a semi-circle waiting for practice to begin. One cleaned his mouthpiece. Another adjusted her music on the stand.
For the members of this brass quintet, rehearsal has become part of their summer routine, as it has for many music students who've sat in their places for the past 80 summers.
Young musicians, from incoming seventh-graders to incoming 12th-graders, have attended the Stephen Collins Foster Music Camps at Eastern Kentucky University since it was founded by James E. Van Peursem in 1936.
For all those years — the Foster camp is the second oldest music camp in the United States, the oldest being Interlochen Music Camp in Interlochen, Mich. — students have worked alongside professionals to improve their instrumental performances.
Trumpet player Jade Curless, 17, has attended for six years.
She decided to come to Foster camp the summer before seventh grade after hearing how much fun it was from upperclassmen in the band at Henry Clay High School. She hasn't missed a summer since.
"I'm a much different player than I was last year and the preceding year," Curless said. "It's interesting how every year I can look back and see how I've improved from that year."
Each day students work with a professional; attend band rehearsals or sectionals; play with the brass or woodwind choir, the brass or woodwind quintet, or the jazz band; and have recreation time.
"You end up almost playing six hours a day, but it's really great," Curless said. "I mean you get tired, but I think it's definitely worth it."
For Curless, the camp is not just developing as a musician but as a young adult.
"From what I've heard, this a lot like what college is like if you're a musician," she said. "It's weird being away from your parents, but I think it's a really good transition because you get an idea of what it's going to be like when you're away from home. It forces you to make choices on your own."
She wouldn't be the musician she is today if not for Foster camp, she said.
"If I hadn't gone to that camp in seventh grade, I don't even know if trumpet would still be this big part of my life," Curless said.
The camp features many different areas for musicians to focus on: strings, world percussion, piano, vocal and band. Also, students perform in free concerts that are open to the public, including Friday's Grande Finale performance at the EKU Center for the Arts.
The camp's popularity has increased over the years. Not only has it doubled in size — going from almost 300 students to more than 600 — but it has added more programs such as classes in music technology, and an additional band and more small ensembles.
Camp director Ben Walker said the camp's popularity grew as students came back year after year to further their skills and to continue making connections in the field of music, he said.
The impact of Foster camp is evident with camp veterans. Almost half of Foster campers return to EKU for college, many pursuing a degree in the Department of Music, according to a 2011 article on EKU's website.
Jacob Harmon, 23, is one of those students. He got a degree in music education at EKU and is working toward a masters in instrumental conducting, also at EKU. Harmon attended Foster camp a year before he graduated from high school.
Foster camp was the reason he attended EKU, and it solidified his decision to pursue music education as a career.
"I think my life would've been drastically different," Harmon said. "The decisions I made would've been different. I came to camp, and that influenced me, influenced me greatly."