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In a sparse and sticky room, five musicians listen sullenly to a managerial pep talk about the importance of compromise. Three want to play heavy metal. Two don't. When they eventually work out their creative differences and agree on a song they'd all like to try on for size, the sound is huge, blaring and absolutely rock-solid.
Here there be giants, I quickly discover during my one-day visit to a summer camp of the sort I wish my parents had sent me to, co-hosted by McGill's Schulich School of Music and the arts-oriented F.A.C.E. School across the street.
Except here, some of the giants are only four feet tall.
Like a shadow, my own bass guitar—shiny, new and barely broken in—remained humbly strapped to my back from the moment I walked into Camp Artemusik's Garage Band Camp to the moment I left, my musical tail tucked between my legs. Some of these kids were good.
Consisting of four two-week sessions open to kids aged 12 to 17 (two sessions at Schulich and two at F.A.C.E.), the annual Garage Band Camp attracts young musicians from all over Montreal and beyond for a taste of what it's like to play in a real live band.
Clément Joubert, the creator and now director of Artemusik, a decade-old community project of the McGill Conservatory of Music, says the musical focus is on rock, since that's what many of the kids are into, but whatever the musical style, Garage Band Camp is all about teamwork.
The young participants learn everything from getting along with bandmates to how to take their show on the road—and some of them learn fast. Some don't and sometimes musicians with differing tastes or duelling personalities need to be reassigned to keep the music flowing.
For the most part, the bands are put together by the camp "counsellors," (mainly seasoned musicians and performers in their own right), based on auditions and stated musical tastes.
Thrust together in this way, the members of Radio Reggae—each band has to come up with its own name—learned to put together a solid sound without the benefit of a bass player. They were way too good for me to think of offering my services.
Alexandre Cambron, 15, supplied the required bass notes on his keyboard while 15-year-old Mayan Ami and 16-year-old David Romano wailed on guitar and drummer Noam Guerrier-Freud, 12, kept a rocksteady beat.
"I can play drums every day, but this is a good chance for me to play with other people," said Guerrier-Freud, who started playing four years ago and clearly knows his way around a drum kit. Already, he's eyeing his first gig somewhere down the line, but at Garage Band Camp, that privilege is reserved for the specially designated "Tour" group.
The pre-camp auditions determine whether the next Jimi Hendrix or Neil Peart will be placed in the "Initiation" (beginner), "Reloaded" (intermediate) or "Tour" (advanced) category.
The Tour group gets to hit the road and play a variety of summer camps across Quebec.
"It was awesome to have people cheering for us and asking for our autographs," recalled Natacha Giguère, 16, who this year was attending her third Garage Band Camp and had been in the advanced group before. "It was one of the funnest things I've ever done."
For those who don't get to tour, there's the "P-Scene," F.A.C.E.'s former swimming pool-cum-stage, where campers showcase their talents for family and friends at the end of their camp experience.
I wisely decided to sit this one out, my bass guitar still securely strapped to my back, secure in the knowledge that the future of rock was in good hands.
Artemusik offers a variety of arts-related youth camps, in English and French, from choir and dance to percussion and garage band. Visit www.artemusik.com for more info.