While it may not exactly be Camp Rock, the Classroom Music Project Camp at Sea Ranch Resort in Cannon Beach does rock. The vision of the resort’s co-owner Carmen Swigart, the annual event, held June 24-25, welcomes local children for a two-day intensive on music production. At their Sundance Event Lodge, nestled into the woodland setting alongside Ecola Creek, children with little or no musical experience or educationlearn how to write lyrics, compose songs, and record them to share with others. The experience culminates in a digital recording and a live performance.

Carmen Swigart says that this is her way of giving back to the community. Ten years ago when she was “trying to find my niche, my contribution to the community,” she met musicians/music educators Aaron Meyer and Tim Ellis. Their innovative approach to helping children experience music was just the ticket. But there was a problem: the ranch didn’t have a facility that would accommodate such a program. It took five years to get the Sundance Event Lodge built. Then, in 2010, the music camps began.

“It started with my employees and their kids “with friends or others they knew,” Swigart said. She financed the event and gave away scholarship certificates to local children age 8 to 14. She still does. Thirteen children participated in this year’s event, many of them received scholarships.

“To me it’s just rejuvenation to see the kids enjoy themselves and have life,” Swigart said.

She said she misses hearing the happy sounds of children playing across the road where there used to be a grade school. The music camp helps make up for that missing element in her life.

“So much music has been taken out of schools,” artist-in-residence Tim Ellis said. “And without experiences like this, kids would never have such an opportunity. It’s even life-changing.”

The program introduces lyric writing, musical composition, studio technologies, and performance to students over a two day period. Each day consists of two sessions divided by a lunch hour. Each session has a play break which takes place in the park-like setting behind the lodge. Artist-in-residence Aaron Meyer said that it is often where the students have artistic breakthroughs. For example, in the first session the children are divided into small groups where they come up with their song’s topic and write lyrics. Often they need prompting to bring out ideas. On the playground, the wheels in their minds spin and they come back with epiphanies.

In the second session, they’ll choose a style of music and start creating the rhythms and melodies, working with Ellis who records the components. There’s a lot of teamwork and problem solving, observation and participation.

By the end of the second day, the four groups have each created a song and that evening they perform for their parents and friends. Tim Ellis plays most of the instruments and does the recording. Aaron Meyer adds the violin, presents melody ideas, and serves in the logistical-managerial role of teaching. “We really tag-team the whole thing,” Meyer said, adding, “when the kids get stuck we help them.”

“It isn’t about how great the kids can sing or perform,” Ellis said. “It’s about the creative process and working toward a common goal.”

And when it’s all done, he said, there’s an additional reward, “We take them downtown for ice cream.”

By the volume of applause and the smiles on the faces of the 13 students, parents, teachers, and Swigart, it is clear that everyone feels amply rewarded for their efforts.

Many of the students will return, as has Ellie Whitlock, now nearly 18. She attended the camp two years in a row and when she became too old to attend she came back to help. Several of her cousins went to camp this year.

“It’s a lot of fun to see how two days can make a difference to see what it’s like to be in a real recording studio,” Whitlock said. Whitlock will begin her studies in music performance this coming fall at Pacific University.

The Sea Ranch Resort at 415 Fir St. has RV, cabin and tent camping as well as offering daily horseback rides on the beach, a wellness resource center, a general store with a coffee and tea bar. For information visit searanchrv.com or contact the resort by email, cannonbeachsearanchrv@msn.com, or 503-436-2815.


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