Dr. John Locke to retire after decades directing hugely successful UNCG Summer Music Camp

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Thirty-six years ago when Dr. John Locke accepted a teaching position at UNC-Greensboro, his first goal was to establish an influential music camp. Locke recalls some in the community thought he wouldn't be able to achieve such a feat.

"Band directors around town said, 'John, go ahead and give it try, but it will never work. Too many other successful camps and it doesn't have a chance. I'm sorry,'" Locke said.

Over 60,000 students later, UNCG's Summer Music Camp pulls in students from across the nation and foreign countries. It is also recognized as the largest university music camp in America. Locke relied on his own experience at a music camp as a youth to give him the energy to make the UNCG camp a success.

"We had a camp in the wilderness, about 50 to 60 students, but I thought I had died and gone to heaven," Locke said. "It was the most fun I ever had."

UNCG's Summer Music Camp covers band, choir and orchestra. The classes are intensive for the sixth- through 12th-graders. Reese Riner is a returning camper and plays the clarinet.

"I just enjoy being in the environment," Riner said. "It gives me a sense of independence, being able to play in a huge band because back at school it's a small band."

Returning tuba player Grace Prevette enjoys the teaching as well.

"It's really cool just trying to help people and teachers helping people," Prevette said.

Camp instructors are passionate about their craft and love to have fun teaching. Students like Riner are absorbing the lessons.

"It's really improved. I've been coming since sixth grade and I was bad. Now in ninth grade, I am really good at it," Riner said.

Nearly 2,100 students will participate in this year's music camp. After the final performance, the curtain will close on Locke's role as Summer Music Camp director.

"I've had a great run, but you can't do this forever," Locke said. "I don't want to stay so long they have to carry me out feet first."

An alumni, retirement concert to honor Locke will be held in November. A music scholarship will also be named after Locke. Some of Locke's former students are leading music camps at Florida State and the University of Georgia. After 36 and a half years at UNCG, Locke will retire from teaching in December.