Summer Spotlight: Education and Community Engagement Events Heat Up

June 13, 2023

The summer is a busy time for our Education Department. June alone includes Piano Camp and Juneteenth celebrations in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. 

A week of day and overnight Piano Camp at Sherman Lake YMCA Camp in Augusta will welcome 40 young pianists ages 7-16. The Gilmore has hosted camp since 1999, serving hundreds of young pianists. In addition to classical piano training, campfires, swimming and classic campy things, students can enjoy two electives a day like Composition, Recording Arts, Jazz & Improvisation. At the end of the week, students play at a final celebratory recital for their peers, friends, and family.  

This year’s camp theme is Boogie and Blues–guest artist Rufus Ferguson will be presenting a special concert of boogie woogie, blues, and other popular piano styles for campers. Rufus holds degrees in jazz studies from WMU and directs the Albion College Jazz Ensemble, as well as touring professionally. Kalamazoo Valley Community College student Synthia Sumpter is the creator of this year’s 2023 Gilmore Piano Camp design. Special thanks to Graphic Arts Instructor Aubrey Jewel Rodgers who serves as the current Chair of Applied Arts and Media Technologies at KVCC for supporting this partnership.

We are parnering for Juneteenth celebrations in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Community Engagement Manager Leslie Baron will collaborate on two Juneteenth partner events on June 17 & 18, as she has for many years as part of The Gilmore’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

On Saturday, June 17, music will be part of a day-long event by Battle Creek Juneteenth Family Day at Battle Creek’s Claude Evans Field. The Gilmore presents Tony Fields and Doug Decker at 2 pm. Both local favorites, the pair has worked together for years, covering classic Funk, Soul, R&B, and Motown. 

“Battle Creek’s Juneteenth Family Day is an amazing community event,” says Gilmore Community Engagement Manager Leslie Baron. “There will be free hotdogs, the splashpad, booths for shopping and resources, and of course, great music with Doug and Tony keeping the good times rolling.” 

Tony Fields started singing as a child, and was inspired by his family’s love of music. He has performed in several local groups and has recorded his own original music. Keyboardist Doug Decker has worked as performer, session musician, audio engineer, teacher and musical director. Appreciation to sponsor the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

In Kalamazoo, The Gilmore is partnering with Bell’s to present a Juneteenth Community Event in the Beer Garden Sunday, June 18, 12-5 pm. Headlining at 4 pm is BLKBOK, and setting the groove for the day will be DJ Disobedience and Brandon Fitzpatrick from 1-3:30. 

“Juneteenth at Bell’s will be a ton of family fun in the beer garden with terrific musicmm,” says Leslie. “We’re thrilled to have Detroit native BLKBOK sharing his unique story and sound with us.”

Born Charles Wilson III, BLKBOK grew up in a music-filled house, and by eight was winning statewide competitions as a young pianist. He chose the name BLKBOK to reflect elements of the artist’s identity that symbolizes his journey from pop and hip-hop culture to his acclaimed, neo-classical debut album Black Book. DJ Disobedience, aka Dr. Michelle Johnson will present a curated show of Black classical music icons and edgy emerging artists, along with a set by jazz pianist Brandon Fitzpatrick, a member of the jazz fusion band Minor Element. This event is supported in part by Eaton Corporation, Marvin and Rosalie Okun Foundation, PNC, and media sponsor WMUK. 

Coming up in July as part of the Black Arts Festival, we are supporting the Black Arts and Cultural Center and Kalamazoo Public Library for a State Theatre event on Saturday, July 8 at 7 pm, featuring soul music legend Booker T. Jones, of Booker T and the MGs. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Jones is arguably the most famous Hammond B3 player in history. This pillar of soul music collaborated with Otis Redding, Albert King, and more during his tenure at Stax Records. Space is limited for this free event – register here for your free ticket:

The Gilmore is participating in Willard Library’s summer reading program for area youth with an exciting mash-up of theater and improvised music on Tuesday, July 11. Theater Artist Teri Noaeill, Director of Battle Creek’s What A Do Theater, and jazz pianist Bill Cessna will present Story Time Adventures, featuring stories, poems, and music. Kids and their adults should come prepared to listen, move, and have fun! Two opportunities are available in Battle Creek: 10 am, Miller Stone Building, 77 Capital Ave NE, and 6 pm, Helen Warner Branch, 36 Minges Creek Pl.

Our Piano Lab Coordinators, Nicole Bell and Sara Cleland, recently staged wrapup recitals at the sites of our school piano labs – Ann J Kellogg, Spring Valley, and Woods Lake elementary schools – and one for our adult community piano lab hosted at downtown Kalamazoo’s Epic Center, where The Gilmore’s offices are located. The latter is an adult program for beginners and those who might have studied in the past, and continues this summer. The school programs will resume in the fall.

“The adults were way more nervous than the young students were,” Nicole said with a smile,  adding that the community lab continues this summer, along with a new piano lab program at Battle Creek’s Burma Center, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. When she isn’t managing hospitality (e.g. plating cookies) for recitals, Nicole supports our cadre of piano teachers (8-10 depending on the term), who supported more than 700 students in the last year.  

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