For cellist Dequan Smith, 16, Luzerne Music Center in New York is like a second home.
The 20-acre campus in the Adirondack Mountains is a place where he can focus entirely on music among like-minded people.
The young musician will return to the camp for the third time, this summer. Unlike his first visit to the cellphone-free music school, Dequan will not be alone.
Five other young players, ranging in age from 13 to 16, will join him, marking the largest contingent yet to attend the camp with the support of Cayman Arts Festival.
“It’s very exciting because it marks something in musical history in Cayman, because we haven’t had so many go at one time,” Dequan said during orchestra practice Thursday at John Gray High School.
Pianist Cameron Gilson, 16, will join Dequan in the senior session, starting in mid-July. Four other students will attend the junior session, starting in mid-June.
For Cameron, the camp will provide a chance to improve his skills and test his ability to focus entirely on music.
“I want to get an idea of how it feels to do just music for an X amount of time, because I’m planning on getting a degree in music,” Cameron said.
He hopes to improve his sight reading and learn a new piece of music this summer.
In the junior session will be Kyla David, 14, on cello; Jessie Hurlston-Watler, 14, on violin; Daniel Gayle, 13, on viola; and Zachary Allen, 13, on cello.
Travelling in a group means the students will have a chance to learn from each other.
“We all have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s better to work as a team and not by yourself so you can get as much benefits and things as possible,” Zachary said.
Kyla and Jessie both want to work on their vibrato skills.
“I’ve been learning to do this thing called the vibrato for so long. I just can’t do it. That’s one of the reasons. I also want to know different techniques that will help me,” Kyla said.
Jessie chimed in, “Same thing, the vibrato. I’ve been working on it for so long and still can’t get it perfect.”
Daniel knows this summer will provide a special opportunity for him as well.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity. Most people around the world don’t have this experience or opportunity, so really we should be thankful, grateful and not take it for granted,” he said.
The ability to send six budding musicians to the camp has been made possible, in large part, by their own hard work and the support of Cayman Arts Festival.
“We are very proud of this moment because it’s the first time we can send such a large amount of students, who are very talented,” said the festival’s executive director, Marius Gaina.
“We know for sure, having experience from the past, how much this one month, intensive music camp will impact them.”
Students who have attended in the past have been inspired to pursue music professionally, and others have been accepted to prestigious music schools.
With regular fundraising events like Music at the Library, the festival has been able to drive attention to its music programme and encourage donations from the community.
While the camp typically costs US$5,000 per student, Gaina said this year the group will receive a discount – rather than US$30,000 for the group of six, they will pay US$20,000.
“Now that we have a really good connection with Luzerne, sending students every year for the past five years, they gave us a discount,” Gaina said.
With US$5,000 left to raise, he wants to create a buzz.
The students have already shown their dedication and willingness to sacrifice, Gaina said. Dequan, for example, donated money from the Butterfield Young Musician of the Year award towards tuition, and now he is working to raise the rest by busking outside of grocery stores.
The next Cayman Arts Festival fundraising event, Music at the Library, will be held at George Town Public Library on 30 May, starting at 6pm.