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Pladd Dot Music enters summer camp fray
Jack Blackmon, 11, left, has a rapt audience in fellow campers Audrey Thomas, 12, Whitley Gatch, 13, and Sara Thomas, 13, as he takes the lead while learning sing and play ukulele during small group sessions at Rock U.

Snack time is usually thought of as a time for children to calm down. Not at Pladd Dot Music’s Rock U summer camp. It’s a time to, well, rock out, as campers sway and stomp and dance across the floor as they devour their bags of snacks to classic and contemporary pop music.

After spending a couple of hours sitting and honing their musical chops, snack time is a chance to shake out some energy before winding down the day playing music-based games and with a final rehearsal.

The brainchild of Pladd Dot musical education coordinator Mary Hannah Samples and fellow music instructors Cydney Gardner and Elizabeth Cadman, Rock U gives kids ages 5-18 a week-long crash course in the musical basics found in popular music.

Campers get hands-on instruction in stringed instruments, keyboards, percussion and vocals through the music of acts such as the Beatles, AC/DC, Queen, Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons and Vance Joy.

The camp was built from the ground up, with the three teachers collaborating on what music and which instruments to teach to children at various musical levels, including those with no musical experience at all.

“We had a million ideas, but it came down to asking ‘what can they (campers) actually do’ in a week,” explained Samples.

Instead of the iconic guitar, they decided to use the ukulele as an introduction to stringed instruments, as the instrument is smaller, easier to tune and easier to learn. Gardner and Cadman served as guinea pigs, as both had to learn how to play the instrument. It was the perfect opportunity to design lessons for first-time musicians.

Bongos were chosen for learning percussion, while keyboards and vocals were more familiar territory for the teachers.

The musical material was drawn from classic rock and modern pop, with enough in the repertoire that song choices can be selected on the fly, according to the abilities of the campers and their interests.

Campers learn the parts of their instruments, how to care for them, and some of the history behind them. They get quizzed on their new knowledge in the context of music oriented games played on giant game boards laid out on the floor.

Learning to play in an ensemble and showmanship are also part of the experience, culminating in a performance for parents on the last day of camp.

And they dance. Sometimes it’s freestyle, but even the most shy campers are out on the floor for group dances. The emphasis on dancing during breaks was somewhat spontaneous after the first week of camp, but the benefits were obvious to the instructors, beyond the obvious energy release.

“You have to feel the music before you can play it,” insists Cadman.

“We’re very pro dance,” Samples added. “The dad of one camper came early and saw his son dancing. He looked at me and touched his heart with his hand. That’s what this is all about!”

Rock U is held at the Pladd Dot Music studios Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon. There are three sessions in July with spaces available. Contact Pladd Dot music at (912) 764-3230 or sign up online at

Pladd Dot Music music education coordinator Mary Hannah Samples emphasizes the importance of communication in ensemble musical performance.
Pladd Dot Music instructor Elizabeth Cadman, left, draws a smile from Aiden Cooper, 14, as they go over one of the musical selections on ukulele.
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