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Simply symphonic summer

John HartLucas Schaefer (front), a senior at Nevada Union High School, rehearses on the French horn the morning of Aug. 6 at Donner Mine Music Camp.
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Almost 220 middle and high school students will treasure one week this summer for years to come.

They participated in the 13th annual Donner Mine Music Camp at the former Zeibright Mine, 25 miles east of Nevada City. Of the 103 students attending the camp’s second week, last week – for ninth- through 12th-graders – 73 students were returnees.

Eight students are from Nevada Union High School.



“It’s great seeing everyone who’s returning,” said NUHS junior Eric Hysell, 16, there for his second consecutive summer. He’s back because “it warmed me up for the school year. It gets your chops ready.”

Students put in about 71/2 hours a day, Hysell estimated, and they’re exhausted by the end of camp.




Five-year attendee and oboist Johanna Johnson, a NUHS graduate now studying music at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, is a camp counselor.

She took off one summer when she played with her friend Joseph Robinson, the New York Philharmonic’s principal oboist, at a North Carolina camp.

“That year, I almost made it back in time for this camp ,” she said.

Johnson likes knowing most of the campers from previous years: “With 70 percent returning, you know you’ll pick up where you left.

“I think it’s fabulous being here,” she said. “I do a lot of sight reading and rehearsals. I’m having a wonderful time. I’m learning as much as the students.”

During the first week of camp, three oboes broke during rehearsal.

“I’m the person everyone goes to,” Johnson said. “It was stressful, but good stressful. This is what I want to do after college.”

Even for first-timers such as NUHS senior and French horn player Lucas Schaefer, camp is rewarding.

“It’s pretty fun with all the people you meet from other schools, and learning more techniques. It’s pretty cool,” Schaefer said.

Camp co-director Bill Hill said it’s not all music classes and rehearsals. Campers participate in volleyball, hiking, arts and crafts, archery and swimming. The camp is on 18 acres; the Bear River flows through, and historic equipment and buildings of the earlier mine are included.

Laura Keranen, a member of Music in the Mountains’ board of directors and education committee chairwoman, wishes she had attended such a camp when she studied piano and guitar as a youngster.

After visiting the camp last summer, Keranen’s committee awarded two full scholarships at $350 each. Hysell was one of this year’s recipients.

“We were extremely impressed with the quality of the instruction and the spirit of the camp, and the impact of the closing concert with 110 musicians playing together. The number of musicians is unusual – that’s a lot,” Keranen said. “The selections were challenging and done with such skill and joy. The campers have such a good time doing it. That says a lot.”

MIM will award more scholarships next summer.

Three weeks ago, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer’s children were two of 116 sixth- to ninth-graders at Donner Mine Music Camp’s first week.

“My children’s growth in music ability was phenomenal. I was really impressed with the quality of music instruction and the amount of counselors that they had,” McAteer said.

“So I promised we’d get more Nevada County students in there next year,” he added, “and we’ll be doing some recruiting efforts through the schools, through the private teachers, to be able to make students and teachers aware of this wonderful resource.”

McAteer’s children will return next summer.

“We think it’s such a great opportunity for them,” he added.

Get musical

For more information on renting or touring the Donner Mine Camp, contact Dan Beatie at 878-8832, or e-mail


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