Many of these students had never played an instrument before, but after two weeks at Northside United Summer Band Camp they're ready to perform. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Two dozen young musicians and dancers stand perfectly still, their eyes to the ground onstage at North Community High School.

Dancers in white shirts keep their hands on their hips and one heel raised above the floor. Trombonists rest the slides of their instruments on the stage. Flutists and drummers hold their instruments low and ready to play.

One dawdling dancer races down the aisle of the auditorium, the strap of her overall dangling over her shoulder, and hops onto the stage into position.

“Hurry up, you’re late,” says Deondre’ Carter, the drumline instructor.

He offers feedback to some of the students. “Shouldn’t be moving, Larry. Have some distance.”

“Y’all ready?” Arthur Turner III, one of the camp leaders, asks the band.

“Yes!” the kids chorus.

“I thought y’all was in parade rest,” Turner responds. In their parade rest formation, the students are supposed to remain silent and still.

“It was a trick question,” Carter says.

It’s the last day of the two-week Northside United Summer Band Camp. The group of about thirty students is rehearsing for their performance the following night. Some have experience dancing or playing an instrument; some do not. They have come to learn to perform in a “show style” marching band—the high-stepping, high-energy style that is traditional at historically Black colleges and universities.

As her bandmates stand in “parade rest,” the last dancer hops onto the stage to join them. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Minnesota kids often do not have access to this tradition because the state is not home to any historically Black colleges and universities, the band’s directors told Sahan Journal. So a Minnesota trio of graduates from those schools organized a summer program to introduce them to show-style marching band, spark a lifelong enthusiasm for the arts, and show them a path to college.

The program was founded in the summer of 2021 by a North Community High School music teacher. The program is a collaboration between staff at North Community High and LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Registration is free. Instruments are provided. So is lunch. No experience is required.

The camp is open to 5th to 12th grade students across the Twin Cities. For two weeks, students spend their days playing an instrument, dancing, and learning discipline. At the end, they invite their families and neighbors to cheer them on as they perform on the North High stage.

“We hope that we’re igniting the fire that will give them a tool to be able to take their lives from where they currently are to wherever they want to go,” Turner says.

Crazy in love with band

Turner grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, minutes away from Norfolk State University. “I could hear them, growing up: the band, the drumline,” he says. “It was a big thing to be a part of band.”

Now, Turner is the executive director of the charter school LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts in Minneapolis, which serves predominantly Black students in kindergarten through 8th grade.

“How do you get kids excited about something they’ve never seen in person?” he asks. “It’s hard.”

On stage, the snare drummers beat a tempo with their right drumsticks. In a fluid motion, they move their left drumstick: Up, right, center, down. Then they rock their bodies backward, then forward, bringing their drums with them.

“Down!” they shout when the number is over.

The Northside United Summer Band Camp drumline practices beats on July 14, halfway through their two-week band camp. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

D’Shonte Carter, now 25, participated in band and drumline when she was a student at LoveWorks Academy. In eighth grade, Turner, then her music teacher, introduced her to bands in the style of historically Black colleges and universities. She recalled a field trip to Virginia, where she had the opportunity to see this performance style in person for the first time. 

Finally seeing a live show, after learning from videos, was “like a dream come true,” she says. “It was the best experience ever.”

She attended Virginia State University, where she met her husband Deondre’. After college, the two moved back to Minnesota. Now, D’Shonte Carter is the school’s music teacher—and the summer camp’s band director. Her husband, Deondre’ Carter, is the camp’s drumline instructor, as well as a paraprofessional and marketing manager for LoveWorks Academy. 

The Carters and Turner believe they are the only graduates of historically Black colleges and universities trained in show-style band in Minnesota.

The band camp’s dance team rehearses the day before the performance. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

This summer marked the second year of the Northside United Summer Band camp, which was supported by a Genius & Joy grant from the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation. Enrollment grew from 13 last year to 32 this year.

Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” starts emanating from the auditorium speakers at the group’s final rehearsal. The dancers, a group of seven girls, march onto the stage: left hands on their hips, right arms swinging to the beat. They freeze. As Beyoncé starts singing, one small group, then the next, takes a turn dancing in the spotlight.

Over the past two weeks, many of the students learned to play an instrument they hadn’t played before. They improved their techniques and learned to play with a full band. And they practiced discipline; the instructors make them run or do push-ups if they are not following directions.

Fourteen-year-old Terriana Carter-Ricks, a dancer who will be starting at North Community High School in the fall, appreciates the camp’s rigor.

“I like that they push us more,” she says. “They try to push us to do more than what we do.”

Students line up for lunch during their July 14 rehearsal. If they are not still enough, their instructors make them run laps. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Drummers, dancers, and woodwinds come on stage together for the last two numbers, starting with “Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow. Drummers keep the beat. Dancers perform stage right. And at the front of the stage, the woodwinds take on a new role. Saxophonists dip their upper bodies to the beat, leaning left, then right.

“You was never really rootin’ for me anyway!” they chant. “When I’m back up at the top, I wanna hear you say!”

Watch: Northside United Summer Band Camp rehearses “Industry Baby.”

DJ Gipson, a 16-year-old student at Maple Grove High School, does not formally belong to his school band, although he enjoys drumming in the music room after school sometimes. It was not his choice to come to camp.

“My mom forced me to,” he says.

In the end, he says, it was a good decision. “I would have just been outside right now, doing nothing,” he explains.

Part of the camp’s appeal is simple: it’s something to do. While piano or karate lessons with private teachers are common in affluent communities, Turner points out, most of his students’ parents can’t afford to pay for those. That makes accessible opportunities like this one all the more important.

Dancers practice their moves in a July 14 rehearsal. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Turner wants students to see band as a potential path to scholarships, college, and careers.

“Kids fall in love with sports because you hear about the million-dollar contracts. They don’t realize that you can be a principal musician for the orchestra and make pretty good money,” Turner says. 

And he’s an example of that career success, he says. “Band allowed me to be able to use my gift of playing the drums to have several job opportunities. Now I’m an executive director because of my drumsticks.” 

D’Shonte Carter hopes that going forward, band can happen throughout the school year—and ideally, in the schools. She noted that arts classes frequently suffer when schools cut budgets, in Minneapolis Public Schools and elsewhere. She hopes that the performance can inspire better funding of the arts, so students can stay engaged year-round.

“They [students] learn this for two weeks, and then in reality they don’t continue to learn during the school year,” she says. “And there’s obviously a thirst for that. They want to do this. So do families. So my hope is that we as a state, and as this city, continue to provide these opportunities to students.”

Deondre’ Carter looks on as students march onto the stage. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Toward the end of the final rehearsal, D’Shonte Carter calls the students together.

“All right, everybody. That was 70 percent. Our goal is 100,” she says. “We need everybody at 100 percent throughout the whole entire show. Make your last time your best time.”

One more time. From the top.

She calls them out of parade rest: “Band! Attention!”

They respond in one voice: “Northside youth!”

Interested in learning more about band camp, dance, and drumline opportunities for your kids? Contact D’Shonte Carter at dshonte.moore@gmail.comAnd be on the lookout for Northside United Summer Band Camp next summer!

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.