Susan Munsinger was 54 when she started playing the violin. A long-time Denver Public Schools school teacher, Munsinger decided to join her fifth-grade class’ orchestra lessons to learn alongside her students. Now, after nearly 20 years of private lessons and playing in community orchestras across Denver, Munsinger is a proud participant of the Denver Adult Strings Camp.
“I stumbled into it and I just got so hooked,” said Munsinger. “The music can be challenging, but when you go in you realize there’s tons of encouragement.”
Founded by Sarah Jylkka in 2021, DASC is a true post-pandemic organization.
After the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, and five years teaching middle school orchestra, Jylkka was ready for a change. While she enjoyed teaching middle schoolers, she really wanted to teach adults. She also knew that both she and many of her adult students who were taking private lessons craved the opportunity to play with other people.
“My thoughts went wild and I was just like, ‘what if I put all these people together?’ What if it was a structured thing, like a summer camp?’” Jylkka said.
And so DASC was born. With the help of a friend who worked in web design, Jylkka created a website for the camp and told her students to spread the word. After a few short weeks, more than 50 people had enrolled.
Jylkka was floored. She quickly sprang into action, organizing coaches and venues and finalizing logistics. By the end of the first camp, everyone wanted to know when the next session would be.
Jylkka thinks DASC’s success has been due in large part to its accessibility. DASC does not require auditions, it is open to anyone with six months of playing experience and offers financial aid. Unlike other programs with longer commitments, DASC is only four-to-eight weeks long, making it more approachable for musicians with less experience.
With its fifth session set to begin on Nov. 29, DASC includes programming for a variety of learning styles and levels, and offers sectionals, rehearsals and private instruction. Lately, Jylkka has been focused on growing the “spruce group,” which is a group designed for players with less experience.
“It makes it an easy place for people to come in and not feel intimidated because everyone around them is also like, ‘I do not remember how to tune my instrument,’” said Jylkka.
The holiday session will include three play-ins on Nov. 29, Dec. 10 and Dec. 23 and a performance at a senior’s home. The DASC ensemble will also open for a Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert on Dec. 15.
DASC’s seasonal camps also provide an alternative to the traditional classical music environment which, for many, can be overly critical and cause burnout among young musicians.
For Stephanie Agtarap, who started playing violin when she was 9, DASC’s supportive culture provided the encouragement she needed to pick up her violin again after quitting in college.
“It was no longer fun. There was so much pressure to do well, to not make mistakes and to encourage perfectionism,” said Agtarap. “With DASC, it’s not like that at all.”
Agtarap also pointed out that resources for adults to learn and practice music outside of highly-competitive environments are extremely limited.
“For some reason, you’re only allowed to do these things if you’re a professional player or if you take it as seriously as a job,” she said. “DASC fills that gap.”
DASC’s greatest draw? Agtarap, Munsinger and Jylkka all agree that it’s the sense of community gained from sharing music with others.
“It is so fun to play music with a larger group of people,” said Munsinger. “There’s nothing like it.”