Leader of the band
Ethos Music Camp founder talks about his project’s origins and its future
Zac Smith is the Chico State University Music Department coordinator behind the Ethos Music Camp. Like fellow graduates Matt Baldoni, Tobin Roye, Dave Elke and Bruce MacMillan, he was a student in the guitar program under Warren Haskell. Smith looks to be in his late 20s, his features seemingly registering an almost preternatural calm. In fact, however, it seems more likely that he is simply wrestling with some approaching logistical dilemma regarding the camp. That, and perhaps there’s just a trace of exhaustion.
“I was still a guitar student here,” says Smith, explaining how the camp came about. “[One summer] I taught at a camp in Massachusetts, and that’s where the [Ethos] idea came from.”
The name “Ethos” comes from ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who supposedly first devised a system of notating music. His followers, the Pythagoreans, on the other hand, devised a system of belief around his somewhat cosmic speculations regarding tone and interval and their effects upon a person’s behavior. What is most important here was their conviction that music can change a person’s life, hopefully for the better.
Once more in Chico, Smith proposed the idea of forming a summer music camp. His fellow guitar students were quite receptive to the notion.
“We thought we had something going here [at Chico State],” Smith explains, “and we wanted to draw attention to [the Music Department]. Between Toby, Dave, Matt and me, we were all the beginning of the guitar program. We were the first ones in. And we wanted to create a presence for it. And give Warren [Haskell] some props with that, and give him some students.”
However, the first attempt at a music camp was anything but a success. “I believe it was ‘99,” says Smith. Unfortunately, they hadn’t allowed themselves enough time to organize things properly. “We tried to start it four months before summer,” Smith admits. “Didn’t happen! There was no way we were going to pull it off in that amount of time.”
The first official music camp took place the following year, in 2000.
Initially, Smith wanted to keep the attendance low. They were still feeling their way as far as organizing the schedule and determining what types of activities would best motivate a wide range of young students.
“And we had a lot more [dialogue] this year,” says Smith, “about what we needed to do with this amount of kids, where we needed to be during the day … the logistics of getting them ready for a concert.
“You’ve got a week,” he points out. “You’ve got to figure out what level they’re at, what song is right for them, and then get them going on it! That’s a lot to do.”
Is the camp a success, then?
“This year has been more successful,” Smith readily replies. “Up until probably June of last year, certain bodies in this university were asking me when I was going to shut this thing down. They didn’t think I was going to be successful. They gave me no cushion whatsoever. Now, I’m not talking about the Music Department, I’m talking about Humanities and Fine Arts. They gave me no cushion. If it wasn’t going to be profitable, it was going to be shut down. I didn’t see that as an option, and I knew that wasn’t the case.
“They’re totally on the team now,” Smith says. “They think it’s great, and they want to do more now. I think we’ve turned heads mostly because of the way we’ve promoted it and the way we get kids here.”
Most of the promotion for the camp occurs in cyberspace.
“Ninety-nine percent of this is done on the Internet,” explains Smith. “This is all Internet driven. There are probably only four or five kids from Butte County here. More than half the kids are from out of state. They’re flying in, driving in, doing that sort of thing. We’ve had interest from kids in Italy, Scotland, Ireland, and France this year, lots of interest from around the world.”
Smith foresees considerable growth in the future. Already there’s talk of expanding the camp to two weeks, including a week of training in recording at the university’s studio complex in the Performing Arts Center. He also sees the vocal and keyboard studies, newly added this year, developing into bigger and better things.
“I think all of those things are getting people’s attention," Smith says, "at the university as well as in the community, letting them know that this is actually for real. This isn’t just playing around. There’s been a lot of risk taking with this, but that’s what’s necessary. It’s been successful, and it’s going to continue to be successful."