Spears said her summer youth songwriting camp will help “connect the dots” with JAS songwriting programming. From last year's camp, (left to right) Natalie Spears, Griffin Didier, Jack Dahl, Maya Rose Lindbloom, Hazel Lazar and Jenny Hill. Courtesy photo

Carbondale singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music teacher Natalie Spears is offering a summer songwriting camp for youth ages 10 to 13 in two sessions: July 18 through July 22 and July 25 through 29 at The Launchpad in Carbondale.

Spears hopes to “continue to empower kids to find their creative voice” in her second year of songwriting camp.

She said the songwriting process needs not be an intimidating one. “Some kids are experienced songwriters and musicians, and others are curious about the songwriting process. Last year, the more experienced student musicians helped us flesh out the musical parts.”

One student activity — song seed collecting — involves scooping up snippets of songwriting inspiration while strolling through Carbondale. Students gather sounds — birds, cars, footsteps or lyrical ideas — by collecting them in a notebook or on a recording device.

As a group, they share their findings, which become the launching place for writing a song. Spears explained, “If someone hears birds, we might figure out how to make those sounds on the piano, which becomes notes in a melody. We might deviate far from the original sounds, but through that process, we start writing songs.”

Some students workshop their songs in the group or pair up with other students.  Spears explained, “Sometimes they come with only lyrics, and they don’t know how to put music to it. But we have some students, who play instruments, who help us figure out how to add chords.”

Spears said that last year, a student, who loves science, said he couldn’t think of a subject for a song. “So we started chatting, and I asked, ‘What do you love?’ He said, ‘Well, right now, I love bees!’ She then took notes as he shared his knowledge about bees. Going through that list, they started rhyming bee facts together. Before long, they had written a song about bees. “This kid was shy in front of people but had the music and ideas in him.”

The workshop is able to offer full scholarships for students in need thanks to the generosity of Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS). This will afford her with the resources she needs while also bringing opportunity to a broader group of Roaring Fork Valley youth.

JAS Senior Vice President Andrea Beard explained that, since 1991, the organization has put $8 million into school programming, from Aspen to Parachute. They also offer summer youth music camps, but with a focus on instrumentation. About two years ago, JAS began a Valley-wide songwriter’s competition, open to students in grades five through 12.

Earlier this year, Beard said, “Natalie asked us about partnering on the camp. I asked about needs, and she said most were for scholarships, so it seemed like a no-brainer for us to be able to provide scholarships for students, because it’s something we want to see grow in the Valley — through our competition and different events.”

Spears invites a fellow Roaring Fork Valley musician to each class to share their experience of how they came to songwriting. Many of them have similar stories, like “some kids who read poems or words, and then they make up melodies instinctually. Others may start writing songs and never stop. Or if they’re told, at some point, that it’s a silly song, then they get shy about it and stop.”

Camp is open to youth living in the Roaring Fork Valley. Tuition is $350, with payment plans available. Carbondale-based mentoring nonprofit Stepping Stones will provide free RFTA bus passes. Registration is open at www.nataliespears.com

For Spears, the beauty of songwriting camp is that “some students come into camp full of music and song” looking for an avenue for expression — a place where their songs are given a voice.