Tonight we get to hear from MWF alumnus McKenzie Camp, who is now enjoying a successful career as a percussionist in the San Francisco area.
When and how did you get interested in playing percussion?
I started piano lessons when I was 4 or 5, and I was in band beginning in 1st grade playing my dad’s old saxophone. In 6th grade, my band director said they needed percussionists in the advanced band, and I knew that the advanced band got to go to a theme park, so of course, I volunteered! I haven’t looked back since. I love percussion, I started out playing mostly mallet instruments, and then later got into drums, timpani, hand drumming etc.
A big part of being involved in music was the blessing of having amazing music teachers growing up. My band director, Gary Scudder, taught us all about excellence and pushed us past our own limits to be better and better. He always had spiritual lessons to teach us along the way and put God first. Scott Cross was my percussion teacher and band director, and he was so much fun and also had such a great testimony of how he came to know God. He was always sharing these stories when he would teach us, so it was more than just a music lesson. My piano teacher, Enid Friesen, was the person who really taught me musicality, and she was so detailed and pushed each piece to excellence. I still use those same principles in my percussion playing today. All of these teachers were such great influences musically and spiritually, and I am so thankful for them.
I also can’t go on without mentioning my parents–they were and still are extremely supportive. My mom drove me all over the place for my music events and sacrificed so much time for me, and my dad always supported me and had ideas of things for me to go for. In fact, he is the one who read about MWF and pushed me to go in the first place. I am so thankful for them, and do not take them for granted (anymore!).
Did you always want to be a musician?
I think I always knew I would be playing music, but not necessarily as a career. Most of my activities outside of school were music related: piano lessons, band competitions and honor bands, our elementary school’s band trip to Carnegie Hall before I even understood what
Carnegie Hall was…I don’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of my life.
How has MasterWorks influenced your life and your art?
MasterWorks was a life-changer for me. After that first summer (over 10 years ago) my parents said they picked me up and I looked like a different person, so full of joy and grown up! I learned how to have true quiet time with God and I learned so much in the Bible studies and the leadership training. Mr. Kasica, the percussion teacher, was fantastic. He really helped me to see the work I needed to do in order to be a great percussionist and he put fire to the flame both spiritually and musically. Each of the faculty and leaders were so amazing and I learned so much from all of them. Even today, I will be going about life and then all of a sudden remember a piece of knowledge they shared at lunch devotionals, in sermons, or just in passing. Everything just really stuck with me. I think it is encouraging just being around like-minded people who love God so much and who also know the arts/music industry and understand the struggles. And of course all of the fellow students really make it. I am still friends with my first MWF roommate, Katie Rooke Whaley–we led a Bible study together at Eastman; I remember we were so excited when we found out we would be going to the same college together.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
At MasterWorks, actually. I always thought I’d be like a journalist or something–I had even literally looked into taking my horse with me to school (this was in grade school), but after a couple summers at MWF, that all changed, and my purpose became much clearer.
You are currently involved in several performing ensembles and teaching in the San Francisco area. Can you tell us more about your experiences?
I am playing with lots of different groups all of the time, constantly meeting new people and playing different kinds of music–it definitely keeps me on my toes. I came to San Francisco to go to the Conservatory for my Masters, and stayed after starting to get in on the music scene here. I occasionally sub with San Francisco Opera, which is awesome and has led to some good connections and gigs. I got to play a full run of a brand new Italian Opera called Two Women last summer with them. Right now I am playing La Boheme with another bay area opera company, Island City Opera. I am also a member of a new music group called Wild Rumpus, and we are currently gearing up for our next concert (March 18th–Presidio Sessions–be there, bay area people!). We (Wild Rumpus) are also are in the middle of recording our first album, which is made up of pieces that we commissioned. Last year I got to play all of the Lord of the Rings music accompanying the movies in San Jose with Symphony Silicon Valley. We played every movie twice in one weekend (that was crazy!). I’ve played with brass bands, I got to play a set with Chanticleer once when they needed a snare drummer, I’m playing with a young women’s chorus… it’s all over the place and really fun right now. My sister Missy (she plays trumpet) and I also like playing together and hope to pursue our duo sometime soon (she’s awesome!!)
I also teach private piano and percussion lessons to 17 students ages 4-16, and I love my students–I always have a story to tell (nerf guns, whoopie cushions, wedding proposals, you name it!)
What advice can you offer to students that would like to pursue music as a career?
1. Practice! But remember that living a balanced life is important. Sometimes the most inspiring things are totally unrelated to music–so do other things too! Practicing is essential, but not to the point that you feel guilty doing anything else.
2. Pray. Don’t be anxious. Trust Him to lead you. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but God is so faithful, and I want Him to be my first love and number one, so I am always laying it down and living open handed. I have had some really great moments, but also some big disappointments with auditions I didn’t win or doors that were shut, and have realized that those moments were really important for my growth. Always know that He works everything out for good, and that He looks at our hearts, not at our successes.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail. In other words, don’t let fear keep you from trying something new that could be the next step to something greater. Learning to say yes to opportunities out of my comfort zone (for example, a new percussion instrument I’m not familiar with, a different genre of music I haven’t had any experience playing)–often these are the opportunities that lead somewhere! Failure is an important part of life, don’t shy away from it.
What musical moments have brought you the most joy as a percussionist?
Most everything I get to play brings joy, and I hope I always feel that way. Right now it’s usually when I’m jamming with friends, just having fun with no expectations, or trying and learning new things.
What composers or pieces inspire you as a musician?
I am constantly inspired, and I’m glad there’s so much out there still to be discovered! I have to give a shout out to my first ever orchestra piece (which was at MWF): Dvorak’s New World Symphony will always have a special place in my heart.
I am really inspired by Glenn Kotche–I got to work with him a couple of times and play with him on one of his pieces while I was at the Bang On A Can Summer Festival. He is the drummer for the band Wilco (which I also LOVE) and he also has some solo albums. I think he is
fantastic, and he really opened my eyes/ears to different sounds–if you look up his video for Monkey Chant, he has all kinds of weird baubles and instruments and wires sticking out of his drums in his kit setup, it’s pretty sweet.
What has God been teaching you at this point in your life?
Who He is. He is so faithful, and He loves me [all of us] so much. He never leaves me. He is my Rock. He sees when my heart is willing, and to Him that is what matters. He is my love. He has grown me so much the past few years, and I am just so happy to know Him.
Thank you for sharing with us, Mckenzie!
Mckenzie’s personal website can be found at www.mckenziecamp.com