With the sound of the snare drums echoing off the Lake Murray State Park and Lodge building Monday, Jack Francis begins to grin and tap along to the rhythm.
The tap-tap-tap sound made by several dozen drummers during a drill was one of many signs pointing to the start of the annual Red River Drum and Auxiliary Camp, in its 12th year at Lake Murray. Middle school and high school musicians from as far south as San Antonio to as far north as Tulsa enrolled in the five-day camp which focuses on techniques specific to marching percussion, color guard members and drum majors.
“The main reason we started this was to give back to the small schools,” said Francis, a percussion instructor at Comanche High School and co-founder of the sleepaway camp. “So many schools have seen budget cuts in recent years, which have hit the arts.... we wanted to work with the kids to make them better musicians over the summer.”
Just shy of 300 participants this year, the campers undergo intense training that includes drills, learning the fundamentals and being taught various techniques from band and music educators from throughout the state. During the day, the campers meet in their sections, which are snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums, cymbals, color guard members and drum majors. There, they are further divided into levels such as beginner, intermediate and advance.
The goal is for each camper, no matter their skill set when they enter the camp, to leave perfecting their sounds or moves, making them ready for their school’s upcoming marching season, Francis said.
In the evening, campers attend private lessons with an instructor who may help the camper with their high school’s selected show music for marching season or focus on a camper’s weakness in music.
John Jackson, a junior at Kingston High School, said he enrolled in the camp for a variety of reasons, one being that he could improve his bass drum skills for marching season and take xylophone private lessons in the evening. He plays xylophone for concert band at Kingston.
“I was really interested in coming after hearing about it from my friend, Hunter,” Jackson said. “He said it helped him and I thought I should go. My brother and I are both here this summer.”
Francis, who founded the camp with Dr. Marc White, director of percussion at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, said there are many familiar faces each summer as campers return to further their skill set.
“Lots come back each year,” Francis said. “We see them grow, mature and become great musicians. Some will begin coming when they are seventh graders and continue through their junior or senior year. It is always great to see that.”
Meg Justus, a junior at Comache High School, began attending the camp five years ago. She says she loves the camp environment and spending a week with fellow tenor drummers.
“Each year I have learned something new,” Justus said. “The first summer, it helped me learn to read music. Then, the third summer it was leadership. I was named top leader of that line and others were turning to me.”
Michael Bean, a junior at North Lamar High School in Paris, Texas, said he has become a better player overall, not just for marching season, but as a percussionist. This summer marks the fourth year, he has attended the camp.
“Those that think they’re not good enough to come, shouldn’t think that way,” Bean said. “It will build you up as a musician, regardless of where you are.”
Francis says the camp is not all rhythm and beats. In the evenings, the campers engage in activities such as cookouts, pool time, a dance, and play games, such as kickball and volleyball. And, there are plenty of water breaks as a majority of activities take place outside in the summer heat.
Friday, the camp wraps up with a final performance and ceremony at noon. All campers perform with their individual section as well as together at the Lake Murray Lodge patio and lakefront area.  
“We always invite the public to come and see the end product,” Francis said.
Local students participating in the camp represent Ardmore, Davis, Dickson, Kingston, Lone Grove and Plainview schools.
The camp received grant funding from the Jerome Westheimer Family Foundation and the Oklahoma Arts Council. Additionally, several businesses and other organizations are sponsoring the camp, which helps keep tuition at $250 per camper, Francis said.
“We appreciate all the help and support from the community,” Francis said.