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Founder of Penny's Band Camp at Eckerd College retires

ST. PETERSBURG

It was the second day of Penny's Band Camp. The beat of drums echoed through the palm trees as camp director Penny Janowski hurried from one activity to another across the Eckerd College campus.

There was the leadership class in the Roberts Music Center. The color guards worked on choreography in McArthur Gymnasium. The drum majors occupied Miller Auditorium.

As she walked down a path to check on her fourth group, the percussionists, she whispered: "I'm retiring as director.''

Although she would wait until camp was over before making the big announcement, Janowski, 73, was clear on one point: She's stepping down, but she wants Penny's Band Camp to continue.

"I want a younger music educator to take it over," she said. "It's quite a responsibility to take care of other people's kids. I've done it a long time.''

Just as she has done every June since 1972, Janowski welcomed hundreds of Florida high school marching band students to this year's camp, held last week.

Drum majors came to study the postures and steps they would use to lead their bands. Color guard members worked on choreography and handling of their flags, sabers or rifles. Students in leadership class sat in a circle and talked about styles and techniques. Percussionists set the beat.

As a youngster, Janowski was a bassoon player, but as she grew into a teenager, she turned to the baton and ended up twirling her way to head majorette for the Marching Chiefs of Florida State University. She graduated in 1961.

"Having been involved with band and camp as a child myself, I found it so uplifting. I want to be sure students still have access to this community,'' she said.

That would include students like Jake Meadows, a trumpet player from Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, attending the camp as a drum major.

"What I've loved most about the camp so far is being with people who love the same things I do,'' he said.

Janowski's instructors are music educators from all over the country, including Eric Allen, a band director from Texas Tech; Doug Moser, the director of the percussion line for the University of South Florida's Herd of Thunder; and David Hedgecoth, a music professor from Ohio State.

She attributes her ability to pull in nationally ranked teachers to her long-standing relationship with the Florida Bandmasters Association. "I've been a judge for the association forever. I started judging when I was a senior at FSU,'' she said.

She has also come to rely on several instructors who return each year, like Michael James, the director of the color guard for Timber Creek High in Orlando. He met Janowski 25 years ago when she hired him to teach dance at her baton, dance and gymnastics studio in Largo.

"She and her camp have grown to become an integral part of what we know as 'high school marching band' in Florida,'' James said. "She has had her fingerprint on it for a long time.''

Camper Scott Howery plays the snare drum for River Ridge High in New Port Richey. He says he also has seen how entrenched Penny's Camp is in the marching band community.

"One of the big reasons I started playing the drums was because as a 10-year-old, I went to a River Ridge High football game with my dad. Coincidentally, there was a drummer who was really cool to the point that I said, wow, I'm ready to learn about music. Well, it turns out that guy is Joel Quina, who is one of my instructors in this camp,'' he said. "There's a strong band network, and it goes way back.''

Janowski has seen changes over the past four decades.

"For example, when I first started, I focused on baton, but a few years ago we realized high schools were not using twirlers in the front of the bands as much. We stopped offering baton and focused instead on the rifles, sabers and flags,'' she said.

"And another interesting thing that has happened is that my drum majors used to be all males. This year, for the first time, we've got more female than male drum majors.''

Although his wife has told him that she's ready to retire, Jim Janowski, a retired Honeywell engineer, shakes his head at the thought. In 1999 when she closed her studio, she said she was going to retire.

"She has said this before. I won't believe it until I see it,'' he said.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163.

Founder of Penny's Band Camp at Eckerd College retires 07/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 1:12pm]
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