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The clarinetists, timpanists and other band members tapped heels and toes as James Smart led them through a piece called "Diamond Tide" at the University of Montana.

Smart, director of bands at UM, talked the young musicians through the tricky count aloud, and he led them through the transition with a bit of advice.

"If you miss some notes, I don't care at this point. Just get the rhythm," Smart said.

This week, UM wraps up Summer Music Camp, a program that draws some 250 middle and high school students to attend piano camp, band camp, string camp and choir camp. The event is rewarding for directors, who help young and motivated musicians develop their abilities, and it's fun, albeit exhausting, for the campers who attend from Montana and elsewhere.

Kat Machek, a clarinetist heading into the eighth grade, said she appreciates the unique music she gets to play at the camp, along with the energetic instruction. The program required energy from her, too.

"I think it's really cool. It's really fun and kind of tiring 'cause they're really long days," Machek said.

Ignatius Fitzgerald, heading into his sophomore year at Hellgate High School, is returning to camp a second time. The cellist said he enjoys stretching his skills and also likes getting to play music with a different group of people than usual.

"I enjoy the social aspect," Fitzgerald said.

Machek and Fitzgerald both live in Montana, but students also come from New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Idaho and Colorado. Kevin Griggs, who coordinates the music camp, said the event allows instructors to help students develop musically. It also helps UM provide outreach to the rest of the state and recruit future university students.

Each year, anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of UM music students attended band camp before enrolling at the flagship, he said.

"UM needs to recruit, and we're doing our part," Griggs said.

Piano camp has run the longest at 40 years. This week, the students could take miniature courses on a variety of topics including mariachi band, conducting, and West African drumming. Wednesday, they also made their way downtown for Out to Lunch, Missoula's weekly outdoor feast in Caras Park in the summer.

Wednesday morning at the George and Jane Dennison Theatre, Smart told the students their morning rehearsals had been excellent, but their afternoon sessions had been "meh," and he asked them to plan to return for an inspiring afternoon.

"Can we break the trend?" said Smart, at UM since 2008.

After the morning rehearsal, Smart said the summer camp is an enjoyable temporary return to teaching the younger students he taught before coming to UM. Since the camp is optional, he said it also brings to UM the students who truly want to learn about music.

As an instructor, he uses the camp to expose students to compositions of artistic merit from composers who aren't widely represented, such as Viet Cuong, of "Diamond Tide." In this case, he said the composer was inspired by the idea that it's possible to liquefy diamonds, and that Uranus and Neptune may have oceans of liquefied diamonds.

Cuong thoroughly researched the topic, Smart said, and the music demonstrates a composer's sincerity. He too said music camp is a helpful recruitment tool, an uplifting experience for teachers and students both.

"It is great to get the kids on campus because it gets them familiar with UM," he said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.