Two dozen young musicians and dancers stand perfectly still, their eyes glued to the stage at North Community High School.
Dancers in white shirts keep their hands on their hips and one heel raised above the floor. The trombonists rest the slides of their instruments on the stage. Flutists and drummers hold their instruments low and ready to play.
A strolling dancer runs down the auditorium aisle, the strap of her overalls dangling over her shoulder, and jumps onto the stage to get into place.
“Hurry up, you’re late,” said Deondre’ Carter, the drum instructor.
He offers feedback to some of the students. “It shouldn’t move, Larry. Take some distance.
“Are you ready ?” Arthur Turner III, one of the camp leaders, asks the group.
“Yes!” the children’s choir.
“I thought you were all on parade rest,” Turner replies. In their parade rest formation, students are expected to remain silent and still.
“That was a trick question,” Carter said.
It’s the last day of the two-week Northside United Summer Band Camp. The group of about thirty students rehearse for their performance the following evening. Some have experience dancing or playing an instrument; some don’t. They came to learn how to perform in a “show style” marching band – the high-pitched, energetic style that is traditional at historically black colleges and universities.
Children in Minnesota often don’t have access to this tradition because the state is not home to any historically black colleges or universities, the group’s directors told the Sahan Journal. So a trio of Minnesota graduates from those schools organized a summer program to introduce them to show-style marching band, spark an enthusiasm for the arts, and show them the way to college.
The program was founded in the summer of 2021 by a music teacher from North Community High School. The program is a collaboration between North Community High staff 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 students in grades 5-12 in the Twin Cities. For two weeks, students spend their days playing an instrument, dancing and learning a discipline. At the end, they invite their families and neighbors to cheer them on as they perform on the North High stage.
“Hopefully we’re lighting the fire that will give them a tool to be able to take their lives from where they are right now to where they want to go,” Turner said.
Crazy in love with the band
Turner grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, just minutes from Norfolk State University. “I could hear them growing up: the band, the drums,” he says. “It was a great thing to be part of the group.”
Now, Turner is the executive director of the LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts charter school in Minneapolis, which serves mostly 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 straight sticks. In one fluid motion, they move their left wand: Up, Right, Center, Down. Then they rock their bodies backwards, then forwards, taking their drums with them.
“Down!” they shout when the number is over.
D’Shonte Carter, now 25, participated in band and drums 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 recalls a trip to Virginia, where she had the opportunity to see this style of performance in person for the first time.
Finally seeing a live show, after learning from the videos, was “like a dream come true,” she says. “It was the best experience of my life.”
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 summer camp band manager. Her husband, Deondre’ Carter, is the camp’s drum instructor, as well as a paraprofessional and marketing director for LoveWorks Academy.
The Carters and Turner believe they are the only historically black college and university graduates trained in a show-style band in Minnesota.
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. Registrations have increased from 13 last year to 32 this year.
Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” begins to emanate from the auditorium speakers during the band’s final rehearsal. The dancers, a group of seven girls, parade across the stage: left hands on hips, right arms swinging to the beat. They freeze. As Beyoncé begins to sing, one small group, then the next, take turns dancing under the spotlight.
Over the past two weeks, many students have learned to play an instrument they have never played before. They improved their techniques and learned to play with a full band. And they practiced discipline; instructors make them run or do push-ups if they don’t follow instructions.
Terriana Carter-Ricks, 14, a dancer who will start in the fall at North Community High School, enjoys the rigor of the camp.
“I like that they push us more,” she says. “They try to push us to do more than what we are doing.”
Drummers, dancers and woodwinds take the stage together for the final two numbers, starting with “Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow. The drummers keep the rhythm. The dancers perform on the right of the stage. And on the front of the stage, the woods play a new role. Saxophonists sink their upper bodies to the beat, leaning left, then right.
“You were never really for me anyway!” they sing. “When I’m back on top, I want to hear you say!”
Watch: Northside United Summer Band Camp rehearses “Industry Baby.”
DJ Gipson, a 16-year-old student at Maple Grove High School, doesn’t officially belong to his school’s band, although he sometimes likes to play drums in the band room after school. It was not his choice to come camping.
“My mother 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 appeal of camp is simple: it’s something to do. Although piano or karate lessons with private teachers are common in affluent communities, Turner points out, most of his students’ parents cannot afford them. This makes accessible opportunities like this all the more important.
Turner wants students to see the group as a potential route to scholarships, college education and careers.
“Kids fall in love with the sport because you hear about the million-dollar contracts. They don’t realize that you can be the first musician in the orchestra and make a lot of money,” says Turner .
And he is an example of this professional success, he says. “The band allowed me to be able to use my gift of playing drums to get several job opportunities. Now I’m an executive director because of my drumsticks.
D’Shonte Carter hopes that in the future the band will be able to perform throughout the school year and, ideally, in schools. She noted that art classes frequently suffer when schools cut budgets, at public schools in Minneapolis and elsewhere. She hopes the performance can inspire better arts funding, so students can stay engaged year-round.
“They [students] learn that for two weeks, and then they actually don’t continue learning through the school year,” she says. “And there is obviously a thirst for that. They want to do this. Families too. So I hope that we, as a state and as a city, will continue to provide these opportunities for students.
Near the end of the last rehearsal, D’Shonte Carter gathers the students.
“Okay, everyone. It was 70 percent. Our goal is 100,” she says. “We need everyone 100% throughout the show. Make your last time your best time.
Once again. From the top.
She calls them out of the rest of the parade: “Band! Attention!”
They respond with one voice: “Youth of the Northside!