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Last modified: Monday, May 10, 2004

Old School meets Hip-Hop at Indiana University's Camp S.O.U.L.

Pre-college program educates about African American musical traditions

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Between September and May, Tyron Cooper directs a talented group of Indiana University student performers in the IU Soul Revue. This summer, Cooper is looking forward to working with an even younger group of musical performers, with arguably more potential for success.

But don't call him a Svengali. He's not looking for the next Justin Timberlake or Lil' Bow Wow. The first-ever Camp S.O.U.L. won't prepare a group of 25 Hoosier high school students for American Idol.

That's not Cooper's gig.

Cooper, an accomplished guitarist and vocalist who has performed with musicians as varied as the Max Roach Quartet, Diana Ross, Lou Rawls and Bo Diddley, is looking forward to working with a group of 10th to 12th grade students who have an earnest desire to learn about the development of African American musical traditions and how they ultimately merged into the sounds of today.

"The impact of today's artists in many ways gives our youth a false reality in terms of the work ethic that is involved or the sense of discipline that is involved in becoming one of these MTV stars," he said. "It's like this microwave effect -- all of a sudden you see this artist out there and wow, they've arrived. They don't understand the process."

Camp S.O.U.L. (Students Obtaining Unique musical Levels) is the only university-based music camp in the region for high school students about African American music, both sacred and secular. It is for young people with a musical background and the potential to progress musically and academically at the collegiate level. The program runs June 14-18 at IU Bloomington.

"I am interested in bringing this music to a higher level of awareness in academia. I'd like to spark these students' interests to understand its importance in the fabric of this American society and how it has influenced popular music of this society," Cooper said. "If they understand that, then it will also give them understanding of the linkages between the various cultures of America, the various art forms of America. It's that sense of awareness that I'd like them to take with them."

Students who are selected will receive a full scholarship to attend the camp, including housing in an IU residence hall and meals for four nights. Applications are available online from the IU Office of Community and School Partnerships at and are due by June 1. For those who do not have access to the Internet, applications also can be requested from the Office of Community and School Partnerships at 812-856-5935.

The curriculum will feature music going back to the days of slavery as well as sounds the teenagers may associate with their parents and grandparents. Cooper acknowledges that one of his challenges will be getting people in his camp excited about music that isn't played widely on the radio or in music videos.

Instructors from the IU African American Arts Institute and the IU School of Music will attempt to bring that music alive through performances of spirituals and jazz, blues and classical music, as well as classic soul.

"We will spark their interests through show and tell, through lecture demonstrations and concerts," he said. "They may not be accustomed to see the caliber of musicians that we're bringing in as their instructors and performers. It will help to bridge that generational gap, and allow them to go straight to the music, versus them saying, 'That's some old stuff.'

"We'll have a repertoire that will be familiar enough because they have either heard their parents or grandparents playing it or talking about it, but then it will have a level of obscurity that will give them a challenge," he added.

At the end of the camp, the students will perform these various forms of African American music in concert. In addition to the classroom sessions, rehearsals and performances in the camp, students will be introduced to other aspects of university life by IU faculty and staff.

"This is a win-win situation for parents, students, instructors and Indiana University," said Frank Motley, IU associate vice chancellor. "Students get to learn and meet other talented musicians from around the state and nation, Tyron gets to mentor the next generation of talented musicians, and IU gets a chance to introduce these talented students to all a great university has to offer in and outside the classroom."

"Students who will attend Camp S.O.U.L. are not just solid musicians. They are potentially the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and scientists who can set the tone for the rest of the millennium," Motley added.