Foster Music Camp: 89 Years of Performing Arts Excellence on the Campus Beautiful

Published on July 09, 2024

By Evan Bentley

The sight of hundreds of middle and high school students around campus with their music instruments is synonymous with summer at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU)—and it has been since 1935. EKU’s Foster Music Camp is the second oldest music camp in the entire nation, behind only the famous Interlochen. This year, Foster Music Camp celebrated its 89th year with the most campers—more than 800—since its establishment. The camp is for middle and high schoolers with at least one year of experience with a musical instrument. Serving thousands of campers throughout the years, the camp attracts young musicians from across the state and country who want to fine-tune their skills.

“The campus activity and sounds of Foster Music Camp are a point of both nostalgia and pride for many of us at EKU,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “In hosting hundreds of budding musicians every summer, it is our hope that campers have an enriching and memorable time on our campus and can truly experience what all EKU has to offer in the performing arts. We strive to be a leader in the performing arts, and this camp has proven to both grow and recruit excellent students and musicians to the Campus Beautiful.”z

Campers choose from programs specialized in different instruments or music areas, such as band, orchestra, percussion, piano and even voice. Each camp program offers the best music educators from EKU and the region. 

Ben Walker, director of EKU’s Foster Music Camp, has been involved with the camp for over 24 years—first as a trombone player in high school and Foster Music Camp participant. Walker spoke to the leadership qualities that students bring back to their schools after their time spent at the camp.

“We have a large allotment of middle and high school teachers in the state and even beyond our state that send kids here solely because they know it's going to foster them into being a better leader in their programs. They're going to come back a stronger musician and a person, and they're going to hopefully feed that into their programs,” said Walker.

Camp schedules range from one to three weeks, offering a residential or commuter experience for students. Along with expert faculty, EKU provides facilities and venues from the Foster Music Building to the Center for the Arts, Ravine, residence halls and dining hall.  

Throughout the camp, students spend their days in masterclasses and rehearsals for their chosen instruments, and evenings are filled with concerts, recitals and recreational activities. At the end of the camp, students perform a grand finale at the Center for the Arts, where family and friends are invited to see and hear the music the campers have worked on with each other. 

Mikayala Hagen, a Foster Music Camp attendee from Madison Central, said, “It's just a nice feeling to see everyone come to the concerts and have a packed crowd of not just parents and family but people from the community as well.”

While at Foster Music Camp, students thrive as they learn in the campus environment and experience EKU as an option for continuing their music or higher education endeavors.

Former camper and now camp counselor, violinist Eve Blackburn, ’24, knows firsthand about the camp's success with attracting students to the university. Blackburn, a recent music education graduate from EKU, said, “I heard about Foster Music Camp from my sixth-grade orchestra class, and this camp truly influenced my life. I would not be here at this university without the summer camp. This has been a part of my life every single year for the last nine years.”

Future Colonel and trumpet player Cooper Hoverman, from Tates Creek High School, can relate.

“It was the amount of networking I've been able to make through this camp—not only with people my age, but older people who have just graduated from EKU and the professors,”  Hoverman said about his decision to continue his education at EKU. “Like Eve said, I wouldn't be coming here if it wasn't for this camp because I've got connected to my specific professor (Dr. VanFleet), and he's given me a bunch of feedback and we've worked together for seven years now.”

The 2024 Foster Music Camp concluded on June 28. As next year will be the 90th annual Foster Music Camp, Keith Talley, director and professor of music at EKU, said, “We are looking forward to creating great memories with new and returning campers and strengthening the bond between these young musicians and EKU.”

With long-standing programs like the Foster Music Camp, robust music academic programs and impressive venues, such as the Center for the Arts, EKU continues to lead in the state and beyond in providing exceptional opportunities and experiences in the performing arts.