15 years of soul: Camp S.O.U.L. prepares students for success in music and beyond
Monday, June 24, 2019
Terrilyn Douglas knew she had to come to IU after being in the first class of Camp S.O.U.L. students in 2004.
15 years and an IU degree later, Douglas has come full circle. As Camp S.O.U.L. vocal coach for the past three summers, she is mentoring students who, like herself in high school, have a passion for music but may not know how to prepare for college.
“I didn’t have anybody, and most of these students don’t have somebody, who tells them ‘you’re going to college and this is how you’re going to do it.’ We’re helping to bridge that gap and open doors for young kids who don’t have that type of support at home,” says Douglas, who was a member of the IU Soul Revue for four years and also served as the Soul Revue’s vocal coach for two years.
Camp S.O.U.L.—Students Obtaining Unique musical Levels—is a six-day summer camp offered to high school students focused on studying and performing African American music, such as spirituals, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. After an application and audition process, 25 students are selected to study with IU faculty, staff, and music professionals while learning how to prepare for college. The program was founded in 2004 by Dr. Tyron Cooper, assistant professor in African American and African Diaspora Studies and director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture.
Though the students spend many hours learning and practicing their music, Camp S.O.U.L. director Ignoisco Miles is focused on building his students not only into great artists, but also great people.
“We teach our students that being a great artist will get you the gig, but being a great person will get you a lifelong career in the music industry or any other career you want to pursue,” says Miles, who is in his fourth year as director. “That’s why the mission statement and the rights are very important. They give our students declarations to say ‘this is who I am, and this is who I can be outside of just the music.’”
Raul Treviño, a high school senior and guitarist from Dallas, Texas, was surprised when he learned he would be memorizing and reciting the Camp S.O.U.L. mission statement and 10 rights after the first day.
“Right number one is my favorite. It says ‘I have the right to be educated about not only my culture, but all cultures of the world.’ That really resonates with me because I like to learn music from other cultures, and I think it’s great that this camp encourages us to have that freedom,” says Treviño. “I’ve gained so much knowledge, and I definitely underestimated how much I would learn about music and myself.”
Any Camp S.O.U.L. student or alumni will tell you how much fun the camp is—from exploring campus to hanging out in the dorms to bowling night at the IMU, and making lifelong friends in the process. They’ll also tell you how demanding the days can be. Some have even called it “Boot Camp S.O.U.L.”
For Mikal Jackson, the discipline Camp S.O.U.L. requires helped her realize the strength of her voice, both in performance and in life.
“I used to be so afraid to take risks. Camp S.O.U.L. pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It is very tiring, but I’ve learned it’s important to keep going with what you’re doing,” says Jackson, who has been in Camp S.O.U.L. for three years and recently graduated high school in Blue Island, Illinois. She plans to study music at Fisk University this fall. “I keep telling the new students to just keep going, and that you have to come back next year.”
Students want to return to Camp S.O.U.L. year after year. Partly to continue improving their musical and vocal skills, but also to reconnect with their community.
“I’ve been waiting all year to come back,“ says Grace Johnson, senior at Bloomington High School North and tenor saxophone player. “The friendships and connections I’ve made at Camp S.O.U.L. are amazing. I went to another music camp at IU, and I honestly can’t even remember my roommate’s name. I’ve stayed in contact with my Camp S.O.U.L. friends throughout the year, and when we get back together it’s so fun. That’s why we perform so well on stage because we have that true connection.” Johnson plans to attend IU and wants to join the IU Soul Revue next year.
The camp culminates in an hour-long performance for the students to share all they’ve learned with family, friends, and audience members. In just a week, the students learn and present a full concert at a high caliber, which is rare to find in a high school summer camp, explains Miles.
Though seeing his students shine and playing with them in the concert is a highlight, Bobby Davis says the music is not really why he returned as Camp S.O.U.L. rhythm coach.
“Our students are talented musicians and can play, but playing is the minimum. I recruited most of these kids because I wanted to pull them out of their environments. A lot of them live in the inner cities, and they don’t get to see universities and campuses. What I want them to get out of this week is not just music, but I want them to experience something different, and do things that particularly young black children don’t get to do back at home,” says Davis, who was in Camp S.O.U.L. as a high school student in 2010 and 2011, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from IU, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in African American and African Diaspora Studies.
“I have the right to succeed” is the tenth right students in Camp S.O.U.L. recite daily. After a week, students don’t just say the words. They believe it, explains Steve Philbeck, social studies teacher at Bloomington High School North who has helped recruit students to the camp for the past seven years.
“Camp S.O.U.L. doesn’t just change the way the students approach music. It changes their entire outlook on life. They see themselves as having a potential for success,” says Philbeck. “When they come back to me in school in August after experiencing Camp S.O.U.L., they are different people. They’ve learned how to respect people. They’ve learned how to respect themselves. And they have really learned that they can achieve at a high level if they want to.”
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