The Music for All Blog
The Music for All Blog


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Music Education During COVID-19

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“A global pandemic is not the way you’d want to force music education to modernize,” explains Philip Brown, choral director at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minn. “But the new tools we’re using may prove very engaging.”

COVID-19 has caused profound changes to school music programs, with technology taking on elevated importance. Tools like videoconferencing, interactive software and Wenger’s active acoustic technology are helping music educators survive and even thrive in dynamic circumstances.

Love of Music Motivates

Through these challenging times, the love of music and music-making keeps educators and students motivated. After the spring 2020 shutdown and summer vacation, a variety of learning models are in place this fall. More than 70 percent of music educators Wenger surveyed indicated rehearsals had resumed, with distancing modifications. However, nearly half the districts were undecided about the future of performances. Whatever the circumstances, affection for music – its creation and appreciation – is a common, unifying bond.

For example, the desire to perform just one minute of a Mozart string quartet inspired orchestra students at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., -- in a modified hybrid model this fall – to accomplish this remote feat using the free Acappella app. The four students layered their parts together, creating a basic sense of ensemble music-making that satisfied their longing while “really challenging them” and raising their level of personal accountability to each other, according to their director, Mark Gitch.

Gaining Empathy & Choices

Altered expectations are also stretching music educators, while fostering their greater understanding and creativity in engaging students.

“Certainly I’ve learned a lot of things not to do,” says Matt Weidner, band director at Gunnison Valley High School in Gunnison, Utah. “I’ve become more empathetic to different types of family situations, realizing that not everyone’s in the same boat. Each person’s facing different kinds of stress with themselves, their homes and families.”

Choir director Michael Gutierrez at Firebaugh High School, Firebaugh, Calif., initially considered the pandemic as a threat to his program’s survival. “This fall I realized I needed to focus on the social and emotional learning of my students and individual music-making,” he says.

Gutierrez accepted that some students did not want to sing at home, or may not feel comfortable doing so. To keep students engaged, he surveyed them about musical skills they wanted to learn besides singing. After considering their input, he let them choose from four paths: 1) Digital music with Soundtrap online software; 2) Songwriting using Soundtrap and Google Docs; 3) Keyboard, using extra keyboards the school had; and 4) Voice, for students who wanted to focus on singing. He concludes, “I wanted my students to have useful experiences expressing themselves through their own music making, while keeping them emotionally connected to the program.”

Shifting Expectations, Motivation

As today’s educators modify their expectations, they’re also shifting lesson delivery. Teaching via videoconferencing is “far from optimal” according to Gitch. “We will cover less content with fewer performance opportunities, but what we can teach, we can teach pretty well.”

Varying internet speeds make creating an ensemble sound impossible. Rather, the focus is more on individual attention, which Gitch considers one benefit. “Last spring’s one-on-one lessons over Zoom exposed a lot of students -- for not understanding rhythm, for example,” he recalls.

“Recording yourself to self-assess is one thing, but it’s completely different to record yourself for a duet, knowing someone else is relying on your accuracy,” says Gitch. Students use apps like Acapella or GarageBand for these assignments. He believes that this realization -- “I’m not quite as good as I thought I was” – positively motivated all his students.

Enabling Self-Direction

For Weidner’s highly motivated students, tools like SmartMusic and Essential Elements Interactive enabled them to greatly accelerate their own personal development during the shutdown. “Those who worked hard online last spring developed into really fine musicians,” he states, adding that some likely finished last school year stronger on their own, without peers holding them back.

To inspire students to practice, band director Natalia Albacete at West Lake Middle School in Humble, Texas, likes Tonara software, which is installed on each student’s computer or smart phone. Tonara listens to them practicing; students earn points based on how long they’re actually playing. A customizable leaderboard tracks students’ practice times; she awards prizes to high performers. “The system creates a nice community and lots of competition for my students; it’s pretty cool,” comments Albacete. Tonara compares simple student recordings to an uploaded teacher example and provides feedback about alignment with the metronome and tone accuracy.

Developing Potential

A number of other tools – both new and updated – are helping music educators. Brown’s students each recently received a Music First account, which includes various software. “It’s helping us maintain four essential elements: vocal warmups, sight reading, music enrichment and also rehearsing a few songs,” he explains. Brown believes the website has great potential for tracking individual progress and engaging students, better enticing them to learn and stay focused.

Weidner is using Essential Elements Interactive for his middle school beginners, featuring professionals playing the parts in the students’ method books. There are 5-6 different background accompaniments – piano, pop, reggae, etc. – so students experience playing different music styles.

He also uses the same Canvas online learning platform from graduate school several years earlier. “We can easily set up recordings for the students to turn in on Canvas,” Weidner explains. “If the kids need to hear a recording of us playing, I can post a recording online so all the students can evaluate it.”

Game-Changing Acoustical Tool

For these teachers, another tool is proving helpful: Wenger’s virtual acoustic technology. Installed in a rehearsal space or practice room, it can electronically simulate nine different performance environments, helping accelerate student learning and concert preparation.

“This technology helps teach my students that every environment requires a different kind of performance,” says Jacquelyn Vondette, choir director at West Lake Middle School. Whether a vocal musician or instrumentalist, students hone their critical-listening skills while learning to balance and blend their sound with other musicians in the ensemble.

Under today’s hybrid’s learning models, having an acoustically supportive rehearsal space is especially valuable with fewer students in school. “In high school choirs, there’s power in numbers, says Kalle Akkerman, choir director at Austin High School, Austin, Minn. The fewer students he has in class, the more timid they are as singers.

By bolstering the sound, the Wenger active acoustic system provides more confidence to smaller groups that aren’t necessarily comfortable singing alone. “Now it’s like everyone is singing in their own personal shower,” he notes. System microphones pick up any sound in the room, modify it using digital signal processing technology and broadcast it through the array of speakers in the walls and ceiling – all in real time.

With digital record and playback capabilities, the Wenger active acoustic system also helps create a full ensemble sound that’s not physically possible due to the pandemic, scheduling conflicts, or any other reason.

“Now we can combine our beginner band classes without physically combining them,” explains Tami Goss, band director at Bridge City High School in Bridge City, Texas. “We record different instrument sections, like trumpets and clarinets together, and other sections play along later. This makes concert preparation much easier and I think our concerts turn out better too.”

Listening to Learn

Along with enabling larger-group “virtual rehearsals”, the integrated digital record/playback capability offers other important benefits such as enabling immediate feedback and self-critique.

“Self-assessment is one of the big analytical concepts we’re working on,” explains Vondette. “As teachers, our goal is for students eventually not to need us – to develop their own skills. Being able to listen to themselves through a high-quality system helps build that part of their brain and analytical ability.”

Her students love the instant gratification of hearing themselves perform and are able to tune and adjust as needed. “I can tell them all day and night: Your vowels need to be taller, Your breath support needs to be stronger, and other concepts,” Vondette adds. “But if they don’t hear the difference, they’re not going to adapt.”

Even before Wenger’s Virtual Acoustic Environment (VAE®) technology was adapted for large rehearsal or performance spaces, it was first developed for individual practice rooms. The patented technology can be incorporated in Wenger’s modular, reloctable Soundlok® Sound-Isolation Rooms or even retrofit into existing built-in practice rooms, called a Studio VAE® system.

Recordings of individual practice sessions or ensemble rehearsals can be easily downloaded for online distribution to students, to support their at-home practice. Finally, the technology’s key benefits also help satisfy the National Music Standards for K-12 education, related to students’ ability to create, perform and respond to music.

Anticipating Creativity

As everyone eagerly anticipates a “new normal” in music education and society overall, Akkerman is also looking ahead to the creativity these unusual times will likely inspire.

“Technology has helped us be together, and also to make and share music, but what kind of music is being created now?” he wonders. “All music is a reflection of a time and place. In ten years, I will be excited to look back at what’s come out of the pandemic; I’m sure people will still be writing music about this time.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

MFA's Impact - Bill Galvin

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Our new Music for All Impact series will introduce you to some of the incredible advocates of Music for All as they share their stories of Music for All’s impact on them and why there were compelled to pay it forward to ensure that others feel that impact as well. In today’s spotlight, we are thrilled to introduce you to Bill Galvin.

Bill Galvin Photo 3

How did you become involved with Music for All?

My first exposure to Music for All, then Bands of America, was in the mid-1980s when I took the band from New Brighton High School to a regional marching band competition in Pittsburgh. In retrospect, we weren’t very good and we didn’t do all that well but the students were excited about their participation and I was challenged to improve my teaching and improve the band.

What attracted you to the cause?

Early on I was simply looking for a new experience, hence our participation in that initial regional. I had been teaching over ten years I was looking to grow as a teacher and to provide growth opportunities for my students. I found that in Bands of America.

What is your favorite Music for All memory?

Wow. The memories come flooding back. As a teacher, there are too many to enumerate but I have always had a soft spot for young people achieving, accomplishing, and being successful. Those moments kept me fresh and challenged throughout my career. As a parent, the opportunity to experience events, and subsequent successes, with my son and daughter during their high school years are lasting and valued impressions.

Bill Galvin Photo 1

What impact has music education had on your life?

I can’t imagine doing anything different with my life, music was oxygen for me, and sharing quality music with my students – educating – provided daily goals and expectations.

What does Music for All's mission mean to you?

The Music for All mission statement of “providing positively life-changing experiences” sets an expectation for everyone, staff, volunteers, participants – it is inescapable. It holds me, us, accountable for all we do relative to our participation. Today, more than ever, we need accountability across society and the lessons learned through Music for All provide the perfect example for all of us, and most importantly, our young people.

What compelled you to be a donor?

Being a donor is a small opportunity to give back to an organization that has provided so many lasting memories and positive growth lessons for me, my children, and my students. It pleases me to know that in some small manner I am making a difference. My continued involvement in Music for All events post-retirement enables me to witness first-hand the positive influences being created for students and teachers alike.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that Music for All does?

First and foremost, Music for All advocates for music education, the growth of the company over the years in that regard has been exceptional. Additionally, they continue to raise the standard for excellence in teaching and to espouse ideals for professionalism within the teaching profession.

What do you wish people knew about Music for All?

Every decision by the staff and advisors is made after thoughtful consideration relative to the mission statement, the best interest of the students, teachers and parents is always paramount in every decision. The Music for All staff is incredibly dedicated, they work tirelessly to ensure every program, event and experience is presented at a very high level.

Bill Galvin Photo 2

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?

Do it! It will make you feel good and you will be nurturing young people in the process. My years of involvement with Music for All have illustrated the need for donations. The programs offered simply cannot exist on “user fees” alone, your donation makes a positive difference.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

MFA's Impact - Breanne St. Martin

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Our new Music for All Impact series will introduce you to some of the incredible advocates of Music for All as they share their stories of Music for All’s impact on them and why there were compelled to pay it forward to ensure that others feel that impact as well. In today’s spotlight, we are thrilled to introduce you to Breanne St. Martin.

BreannePhoto4Breanne pictured left with a fellow swag.

How did you become involved with Music for All?

My high school required our band/color guard members to attend the Music for All Summer Symposium in order to hold a leadership position. I attended my first Summer Symposium the summer before my junior year, and loved it so much I went back the next summer too! And then I came back for four more summers to serve as a member of the SWAG team :)

What attracted you to the cause?

That first summer I wanted to be a color guard captain so I wanted to attend camp for the leadership skills, but I quickly learned that camp was so much more than that. I kept coming back to summer symposium (twice as a camper and 4 times a SWAG) because every summer I was given opportunities to grow as a human, as a performer, and as a member of a team. 

What is your favorite Music for All memory?

There are honestly too many to pick just one. My favorites span from my first opportunity to spin with and meet members of a DCI color guard (Blue Coats 2007), to my first humbling day of SWAG team building, to watching a camper I taught become a SWAG herself, and of course Tutu Tuesdays!

Breanne Photo 1

What impact has music education had on your life?

I will always cherish the lessons I learned from music/marching band, attending the Summer Symposium gave me opportunities in leadership beginning in high school that extended far beyond a football field. From there it opened up doors for me to march 3 summers in DCI and those experiences taught me so much about myself, about being independent, and some major life skills including budgeting and time management.

What does Music for All's mission mean to you?

The mission statement to create, provide, and expand positively life-changing experiences through music was actually my life between the years 2007-2015. From the moment I was a camper to current day, the most cherished memories and experiences I had all in one way or another come back to MFA. 

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What compelled you to be a donor?

I wanted to make sure that the “for all” in the mission statement came true. It can be expensive to participate in a marching band or experiences like the Summer Symposium, and I will never be able to fully give back any amount equal to what I got out of my time with Music for All. 

In your opinion, what is the most important work that Music for All does?

It brings students from all across the country (and the world!) together to create opportunities for them to share their passion with others who love music just as much as they do. 

What do you wish people knew about Music for All?

Music for All as an organization is so much more than marching/concert band, winds, strings, color guard, and drumline. Music for All is an organization that takes students and provides them with opportunities and connections that will change and mold their lives for many years to come.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?

Do it! You have the ability to create a positively life-changing experience for someone and there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you’re able to provide that.

Music for All is pleased to announce the United States Marine Corps as National Presenting Sponsor for its 2020 programs and events.

“We are thrilled to have the U.S. Marine Corps join us and support our mission to create, provide, and expand positively life-changing experiences,” said Jeremy Earnhart, President and CEO of Music for All. “The U.S. Marines exemplify leadership and character. Alongside the Marines’ core values of honor, courage, and commitment, these are qualities that young people learn through their participation in school music and that Music for All instills through our educational programs.”

“The United States Marine Corps looks forward to beginning a mutually beneficial relationship with Music for All as a partner in their member programming,” said Lieutenant Colonel Christian Devine, National Director of Marketing and Communication. “We are honored to extend our support to band, orchestra, and choral music educators across the country and look forward to forming invaluable relationships throughout our engagement with the Music for All community.”

The U.S. Marines’ National Presenting Sponsorship will support Music for All and its programs and events through 2020. Music for All developed new programming to serve music educators during the time of the pandemic, including educational webinars, virtual performance opportunities, remote feedback and workshops for students and teachers. The U.S. Marines presence during the fall programming will include performances, U.S. Marines Pre-Show for the Music for All Live Showcases, and student workshops with Marines musicians.

Music for All is celebrating 45 years in 2020. The organization’s advocacy efforts help to ensure access and opportunity for music education for all children in their scholastic environment. Music for All’s programs and events include the Bands of America Grand National Championships and Regional Championships for marching bands; the Music for All Summer Symposium camp for students and teachers; the Music for All National Festival for bands, orchestras, choirs, percussion and chamber ensembles; Affiliate Regional Music Festivals held across America; and national student honor ensembles including the Bands of America Honor Band that will march for the fifth time in the Rose Parade® in 2022.

Where do I begin to describe the most memorable moments of the Rose Parade?! I have so many. Here are just a few:

I was on the bus with the color guard, and we were heading to the beach. On the way there, someone starting singing “Who Says” by Miley Cyrus. Then someone else joined in, and suddenly there was a big group of us color guard girls singing the song on the top of our lungs and dancing. It was a great song about how we are reminded that we are perfect the way we are, but even more special because we all sang it together.

On the parade route itself, we were over halfway done, and my feet were killing me. I was cold and tired and thirsty. I wanted to stop performing for a little bit just to get my energy up. This guy had a sign that said 3 miles left. Then a lady next to him had a sign that said “he’s lying.” We (the color guard) laughed at it. It lifted my spirits and made it easier to finish the parade! At the end of the parade, the drumline finished their last cadence, and we started dancing to finish it out. I couldn’t believe I actually finished marching an international parade!

I think one of the biggest things I still talk about today, other than performing You Raise Me Up at Bandfest, was the reception after the parade. I was super lucky to go on the trip with my best friend, Maija, she plays clarinet, and any moment I wasn’t with the color guard, I was with the clarinets. At the ceremony, the clarinets and I started dancing, and Maija and I started teaching them to dance cumbia. Someone started a conga line, and we danced around the whole floor. I know all our feet had ached from the parade, but we kept dancing anyway. I loved every moment.

At Bandfest, we performed You Raise Me Up, and I remember having the pre-show jitters. I was focused on making sure I remembered everything from rehearsal the days before. After, hearing the first chord and feeling chills up my spine, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I felt my smile grow bigger. I saw United Sound performing, and it was just so wholesome. I got to stand in the center of the field dancing and spinning with the color guard I just met but was already made great memories with, and it brought some tears to my eyes. There was pride in the music we were playing, and the crowd was reciprocating the emotions. It was a beautiful performance that I will never forget!

I had the trip of a lifetime! Thank you all for the memories!

To be honest, I could write an ENTIRE blog about my trip not just one post! I would write about how one random person I took a selfie with at Disneyland ended up going to college with me and we have been best friends and drum majors for 3 years.

I would write about all of the countless reunions I have had with members of the band since 2017; how the Rose Bowl Stadium ended up being my college home stadium; or how my best friend and I became such close friends with people we met in the band we ended up staying in Ohio for a few days with them after DCI Finals.

But, my most memorable moment is from the beginning.
It is funny, even though the week of BOA TOR 2017 was the most fun and enjoyable week of my life, the moment I will always cherish is when I got the email saying I was accepted into the 2017 Bands of America Honor Band in the Rose Parade early in 2016. I had spent four years waiting to audition, as the seniors from my freshman year of high school had participated in the 2013 Honor Band.

I spent lots of time asking about their experience in the band, and listening to them tell their stories and every single time I thought to myself "I am going to do that." To be quite honest, at that point in my life, it was the biggest thing I had ever been sure of.

I didn't know what I wanted to do after high school, I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I didn't even know what I wanted to have for breakfast the next day. But I knew that I wanted to be in the 2017 Bands of America Tournament of Roses Honor Band.

There were also 7 other students from my school's band program that auditioned, so that Friday morning, we were all nervous wrecks outside the band room, refreshing our emails over and over and being ready to celebrate or console our fellow members once the notification emails came out. I remember one of our trombone players got his announcement first, and we all tried to figure out what the algorithm was. Was there an order to the emails being sent out? Some pattern to this madness?

Then, the time came. I had received my email, and at that moment nothing was more important. I got in! The other 6 members received their emails as well, and that morning there were rounds and rounds of hugs, congrats, and sighs of relief. I even remember our band director being out there with us. And there, that memorable moment, was where this whole amazing journey started.

I ended up publishing a vlog with more memorable moments from my experience:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

MFA's IMPACT: Ric and Jeannette Coons

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Our new Music for All Impact series will introduce you to some of the incredible advocates of Music for All as they share their stories of Music for All’s impact on them and why there were compelled to pay it forward to ensure that others feel that impact as well. In today’s spotlight, we are thrilled to introduce you to Ric and Jeannette Coons.

 Ric Coons Photo 3Ric and Jeannette distributing "Team Texas" shirts before CTJ's 2019 Grand Nationals trip.

How did you become involved with Music for All?

My first introduction to Music for All (MFA) was in 2011. Our oldest daughter was a freshman guard member in the Claudia Taylor Johnson H.S. band program. The program competed in Houston and made their first trip to Grand Nationals in Indy and my wife and I followed the band there to watch them compete and make finals. That was when I realized that this was far different than the marching bands I grew up with in the 80’s in California.

What attracted you to the cause?

Music was a very important part of growing up for me. It was what kept me engaged in school from 4th grade through high school and taught me life lessons that I have used in my adult life and career for the past 35 years. The more I learned about MFA outside of just the marching arts with the Summer Symposium and National Festival as well as the music advocacy programs that work to ensure that every child has access and opportunity to have music education as part of their scholastic environment, I felt the need to support it.

What is your favorite Music for All memory?

While there are many, the 2019 Grand National Championships were special to my wife and me. We attended in 2011 with our freshman daughter competing. We returned in 2019 with our freshman son competing and our adult daughter getting to experience the event as a spectator cheering for her brother. Announcing our program as the Esprit de Corps award winner – it just reminds us of the lessons that our kids are learning as part of their programs and the life value it brings to our kids and families.

What impact has music education had on your life?

Friendships that we have made in our programs, as well as in programs from across the country, have been amazing. The process of learning to be a part of something bigger than yourself has been impactful, as well as learning the passion and dedication required to reach a purpose or goal.

What does Music for All's mission mean to you?

The statement of providing “positively life-changing experiences for students” means a great deal to my wife and me. I experienced this growing up and I have seen it with my children and so many children that have had the access to music education in middle school and high school.

Ric Coons Photo 1Ric, Jeannette, and their son at the Urban Farm for the San Antonio Food Bank with the Claudia Taylor Johnson Band 

What compelled you to be a donor?

We have seen music programs and fine arts across the country lose funding over the years. My wife and I have seen the value of music education and we are fortunate enough to have a phenomenal group of music educators that support our kids. We have been fortunate enough to be in a position to support our middle and high school programs here locally. But we also feel the need to support the mission of MFA outside our local community and are proud to do so.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that Music for All does?

Music advocacy – your ability to bring so many national sponsors together and provide outstanding opportunities for our kids to perform in such a positive way that will touch their lives forever. They carry that with them and it leads them to want to give back so that others that do not have access can be supported.

What do you wish people knew about Music for All?

There is no other organization in the country that provides the ability to bring young people together for the sole purpose of promoting the musical arts in a positive manner and in world-class venues and that promotes access to music education within our youth communities - from BOA events to the honor brands that allow individuals from across the country to grow together. MFA uses its platform to support areas that do not have access to music education.

Do you have an anecdote/story about Music for All or a Music for All event that really moved you?

Grand Nationals 2019 – I arranged a gathering with parents/alumni from 8 different bands that we have gotten to know from across Texas – and Avon, our honorary Texas band after their 2017 appearance. While we had some great conversations with the MFA team prior to that event, the event was just to watch the live feed of the announcements of the finalists. Eric Martin, MFA’s President and CEO at that time, took time out of what has to be one of his busiest days to speak to the members that were assembled to do a Q&A on the direction of the organization. It was touching that he would take the time to join us.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?

Look at the entire scope of the organization, its mission, and the performance of that mission over the years. If you have a family that has been involved in music education and have seen what it has meant to them, then reach out to support this organization. It is a worthy mission and our kids across the country need the arts.

Ric Coons Photo 2The Coons Family

Monday, September 21, 2020

MFA's IMPACT: Dr. Christopher Protho

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Our new Donor Spotlight series will introduce you to some of the incredible advocates of Music for All as they share their stories of Music for All’s impact on them and why there were compelled to pay it forward to ensure that others feel that impact as well. In the second spotlight of our series below, we are thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Christopher Protho.

Chris and Eric EditedPictured left to right: Eric Martin, President & CEO Emeritus of MFA, and Dr. Christopher Protho

How did you become involved with Music for All?

I started when I volunteered in the bus parking lot at the Morgantown, WV Regional (known as the Eastern Regional) in 1990. As a freshman in the WVU band, it was not like I had much of a choice. I had no idea what Bands of America was. I barely understood that marching bands competed against each other. 

The real connection came in 1991, at the end of my freshman year. I was a few minutes late for the Wind Symphony’s commencement rehearsal in May. I was asked to see Dave Satterfield (WVU Asst. Director of Bands and Cadets staff) after rehearsal. Dave was generally responsible for discipline, so I spent the rehearsal preparing myself for a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Instead, he asked me if I could work at a camp in Wisconsin, the 1991 BOA Summer Workshop [now the MFA Summer Symposium] held in Whitewater, WI. BOA needed a clarinet SWAG to fill a last-minute vacancy. Just like that, I was an 18-year-old SWAG who had never been to Wisconsin, never worked with so many students, and (like most of the world) didn’t know what SWAG meant. (Heck, I didn’t know that SWAG was an acronym and I really didn’t know how special it was to be one.) In those days, the whole camp participated as the “Pick ‘n Save Band of America” in a Milwaukee parade. 1400+ kids marching in an enormous band in the rain. The band was so big that, although the picture covers what looks like a mile, the whole band’s not in the picture because the back half of the guard hadn’t turned a corner. An old friend of mine still has my red SWAG shirt. I worked Grand Nationals that year and my thank you note was hand-signed by all FIVE staff members.

 Protho 1991 SWAG

What attracted you to the cause?

The people and the scale of the experience. I met so many great people – students, SWAGs, volunteers, staff, clinicians. It felt then (and feels now) that there’s this giant positive energy created through music - all moving in the same direction. Everyone wants to help; everyone wants to contribute; everyone wants to get their own piece of MFA awesomeness by giving some away to someone else. Everyone was helped to feel and be special – every band on the field, every kid at camp, every fan, every pit dad. It has never been just about the official-looking people – kids in their uniforms or judges and staff in their polo shirts. At an Orlando regional, there was a woman who had pulled up a chair to a pond outside the stadium. I remember sitting next to her, listening to her talk about her life’s journey while she was fishing, yes, fishing outside the stadium. It felt like that in 1990 and every year and every event since.

As for the scale, I am beyond amazed at the replication of this feeling and this experience. It is often said that it would be great if something positive could be bottled. Marching Bands of America, Bands of America, and Music for All have found the magic to do just that. In the last thirty years, I have worked in about 50 or 60 venues, from tiny high school fields to NFL stadiums and complete college campuses. The magic is not just in the mission; it’s in the tens of thousands in the MFA family that replicate the mission everywhere for everyone.

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What is your favorite Music for All memory?

Most MFA events I attend are part of the fall marching championships, so most of my stories come from that part of the year, but I’ve had great memories at the Summer Symposium, the MFA National Festival, and several events that have evolved into other student opportunities in my years between BOA’s 15th Anniversary and MFA’s 45th Anniversary. NOT FAIR. This would be like picking my favorite child. (Editor’s note: Chris provided ten amazing memories, I chose five of my favorite stories he shared for you all to read here.)

5. Atlanta, GA – While problem-solving at the loading dock of the Georgia Dome, the Western Carolina University marching band walked by. From out of the mass of WCU humanity, I hear, “Hey, Mr. Protho, is that you?” A student from my middle school moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, finished high school, had joined “The Pride of the Mountains,” and six or seven years later, we unfathomably found one another in one of the most unlikely places.

4. Charleston, WV – Due to a late scheduling change, the Morgantown, WV Regional was moved to Charleston. Additionally, we needed to do the regional without a volunteer site staff (as the WVU “Pride of West Virginia” stayed in Morgantown for the rescheduled game). It became an “all-hands-on-deck” event. We ran that show with about 15 people, with everyone chipping in wherever they could, including Scott McCormick, BOA President, selling programs until he threw his back out and Eric Martin, BOA’s new Vice President, guiding bands from warm-up to the stadium (across a set of active railroad tracks). 

3. Indianapolis, IN – At the RCA Dome pre-Lucas Oil Stadium renovation, buses and trucks needed clearance from a BOA volunteer (designated “Check Point 1”) before driving around the stadium to unload on the tarmac and at the loading docks. One snowy Grand Nationals, I was working on the tarmac as a form of “traffic cop” to help Check Point 1 know when there was sufficient space for the next band to come around. I got a radio call from Jenny Ridge at Check Point 1: “Chris, there’s a band that has to unload NOW!”  I replied, “What is so urgent?”  Jenny said, “You’ll see.”  A truck came around the stadium with virtually no roof.  It had hit a train trestle that was too low and that had peeled the top of the truck back like a sardine can, allowing it to snow on the band’s equipment.

2. Massillon, OH – During this show I was assisting in keeping trophies and medallions straight during awards ceremonies. One year, Mars High School won Class A and was, therefore, entitled to medallions, including medallions presented on-field during the Finals Awards Ceremony. As the director at Mars Middle School, I was extraordinarily proud of my former students. As I prepared to hand several medallions to a VIP to be presented to Mars’s drum majors, I was asked at the last second to present the medallions myself. My pride for my students went off the chart as I had the honor of looking my past students in the eye as they received the highest honor the band had ever received. (Just writing about this moment has me in tears.) My photo of that moment is one of my greatest treasures.

1. Indianapolis, Indiana - I was serving as Contest Director at Grand Nationals and was taking a break, having a conversation with Eric Martin (MFA’s previous President & CEO). A reporter from a major national newspaper entered the room for a scheduled interview with Eric. As I tried to do the polite thing by gathering my belongings so the two could have the room to themselves, Eric invited me to stay. I listened to Eric go further than share a recitation of what MFA does; he shared the core of the mission, why we do what we do, and how what we do impacts people, schools, communities. It wasn’t an interview; it was a sermon. It was an MFA TedTalk.  After decades of seeing, hearing, and feeling the embodiment of love and care through what was known (at the time) as Music for All, I thought I understood it. After listening to Eric, I instantly knew I had a way to go to really know what was going on and why. It was like climbing a mountain, looking up, and realizing I had thousands of feet left to climb.

What impact has music education had on your life?

I am who I am and how I am through music education. Through mentorships lasting seconds to decades, I have learned my part in the lives of young people, the people that support them, and all the people whose paths cross mine over time.  Learning to play the clarinet has, over the years, become a means to an end.  First, I learned to play, then I learned to lead, to follow, and eventually, through music education, learned what my path was meant to be. Internalizing the process of developing and sharing artistry and creativity with others is something that I no longer need an instrument or a baton to achieve.

What does Music for All's mission mean to you? 

I’d like to address this question rather literally. For grammar fans, the mission has two broad parts: the verbs “create, provide, and expand” and the noun “positively life-changing experiences”. For some time, I focused exclusively on the noun. I gave so much thought to what “positively life-changing experiences” look to our larger music community.  I have come to believe that understanding the noun through J.K. Rowling’s adaptation of Louis Armstrong’s famous quote, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Just picking up an instrument, listening to the radio or your local symphony, coming to an event, or saying “thank you” to a volunteer takes one down the path to a positively life-changing experience. 

The verbs have had a more profound effect on me lately. It speaks to the universality of human connection. Creation, provision, and expansion are all methods to extend the beauty of music into the universe, even that little piece of the universe we get to call ours, whether it’s associated with a mascot, identified with zip code, or measured in light-years. The mission is beautifully interminable. There is no end to expressing and serving the mission; there is no point at which one can say, “OK, I’m done. I’ve achieved the mission. I can sit down now.”

What compelled you to be a donor? 

Donating is a small act of giving back and helping to make the creation, provision, and expansion expressed in the mission statement happen. Since I was a toddler, MBA, BOA, and MFA, have continued to find ways to extend the beauty of music into universes large and small, into genres new and traditional, into communities seeking to maximize the excellence to which they have become accustomed and communities who require assistance and support to take the next step toward excellence.

To the friends and family who haven’t been on my journey, it could be easy to misconstrue our relationship. “Chris, they put you on an airplane and send you to here or there and you get to see the best bands in the country and rub elbows with the most talented music educators.” It can sound like Music for All has given me so much over the years. Through one lens, that may be true. What is far more true, is that while I’ve had experiences at the events I attend, is that those experiences cause one to give that experience to one more person, one more community. If my few meager dollars can make that happen, then all the moments will have been worth it.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that Music for All does? 

Persist. Making MFA’s various events happen on simply the logistical level (that leads to the personal and emotional levels) requires an inordinate amount of time, effort, and resources. Being blessed to have had opportunities to serve in leadership at events from time to time, incrementally learning what happens behind the curtain to allow the magic to happen in front of it is truly mind-altering. Without time, effort, and resources, events simply don’t happen. MFA has been able to put those pieces together for generations, and hopefully for generations more. Your homework should be to go to the MFA website’s staff page to see the names and faces of those people you may never see and may never meet but are indispensable to MFA’s events. Imagine Grand Nationals or the Summer Symposium being planned by this small, dedicated group ranging from interns to executives. That’s where we come in as donors and volunteers.  Whenever and wherever you can add to the pools of time, effort, and resources that allow MFA to persist in order to reach out to just one more child, one more program, one more community.

What do you wish people knew about Music for All?

How few full-time employees actually work for MFA. (See the homework assignment above.) For years, I thought there were hundreds; dozens would be generous. 

Do you have an anecdote/story about Music for All or a Music for All event that really moved you? 

At the 1991 Grand Nationals, the process for presenting medals is different than it is now. Then, volunteers individually presented a medallion to each student. As I was presenting a class champion medallion to a young lady from (what was then) Plymouth Centennial High School, they were announced as the National Champions. She removed her hat so I could get a medallion around her neck. As the announcement was made, she broke out in tears as I presented her medallion. I wanted to cry with her.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?

Think about the next step MFA can take because of your donation. Over the years, MFA has developed different dimensions to meet its mission, expanding its geographic footprint, recognizing more student-musicians in more musical genres, extending its reach into underserved communities, recognizing the impact of supporting the growth of young educators, and more. Your donation helps MFA take that next step and helps you take that step along with MFA.

Join Dr. Protho in making a gift in support of Music for All's impact here.


Music for All continues to assess how we can best serve the needs of school music programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the current uncertainty of many schools’ changing learning environments plus community concerns about safety, Music for All has announced today that it will be unable to present the 2021 Music for All National Festival, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was made after several months of consultations with music educators and our educational advisors, in the interest of the health, safety, and wellness of all associated with the Festival. The well-being of the students, teachers, volunteers, and communities associated with our programs remains our number one priority. Music for All made the decision at this time out of respect for the planning required for schools and ensembles, and the process of facility and venue preparations.

The impact of COVID-19 on Music for All was initially felt with the early conclusion of our 2020 Festival in March, followed by the subsequent cancellations of our June Summer Symposium and the Bands of America 2020 Championship season. With this decision for the 2021 Festival, we share in the deep disappointment of performing students, teachers, and boosters from schools who were aiming to apply for this prestigious event. We hope that the decision will allow directors to focus their energies on the unique task of teaching this semester and for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

Music for All remains committed to providing significant educational programs. We recently announced our remote learning and virtual live performance opportunities for the fall. We will continue to offer these virtual experiences in the winter and spring of 2021. Visit to learn more and sign up.

Music for All is launching special donation campaigns in October and November, in order to sustain the organization through the impact of the pandemic and to continue to offer our educational programs. “We hope that our followers and participants will watch for these special fundraising events, culminating with a special online event with special guests on November 14,” said Neil Larrivee, Vice President of Mission Advancement. Details will be announced soon on the upcoming donation campaigns.

Thank you to all of the music educators, clinicians, event staff, volunteers, and donors who have supported Music for All during this difficult time. We continue to work toward – and look forward to – the time when we can gather in person to make music together again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Changing Trends in Collegiate Music Recruiting

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Students with an entrepreneurial vision, songwriting and composing skills, are as highly recruited as those with advanced music theory knowledge. Students are becoming more aware of the many career paths available to them in the music entertainment industry: movies, television programs and commercials, podcasts, video games, streaming content, and recordings. And high schools are finding they need to incorporate instruction in composition, orchestration, arranging, and songwriting into class curriculum to help the student make college and career decisions. So what does that mean for the scholastic music educators?

Scholastic music educators--choral directors, band directors, and orchestra directors—now need to incorporate arranging and songwriting in their curriculum from early grades through high school to give their students a competitive edge in the collegiate application and audition process. Students with these skills are in high demand, and in fact, several Schools of Music over the past five years have offered scholarships to songwriters and rappers because of their potential ability to bring copyright and publishing royalties into their coffers. Several universities have stated that a student’s advanced placement theory credits are weighted less in the admission decision process than a songwriting submission, especially if the song follows proper song structure.

Additionally, many School of Music and Music Department recruiters are looking for students with an entrepreneurial mindset. Recruiters have realized the US media and entertainment industry is the largest in the world and there are now over 20 colleges or universities offering an undergraduate degree in Music Entrepreneurship. At $717 billion (in 2019) in the US alone, music represented 1/3 of global media and entertainment. This industry includes motion pictures, television programs and commercials, broadcasts, radio, video games, and ancillary services and products. In 2019, the music industry was ranked 11th in the US economy and it is predicted the industry will reach more than $825 billion by 2023.

Collegiate music education is a business. Colleges, universities, and conservatories must make a profit. A growing trend among many Music Departments is to have publishing and recording companies within the department, where they publish new music from professors, students, and alumni, as well as educational resources and curriculums. Music Departments also depend on tuition and student fees, such as lab fees and tutoring fees. And they sell services—master classes, camps, symposiums, and ensemble weekends—as well as showcasing seniors in musical theatre before Broadway producers, opera singers in New York for talent agencies, and instrumentalists before the American Symphony League.

The face of collegiate recruiting has changed and will, in light of COVID-19 and its repercussions, continue to evolve. Scholastic music educators will find themselves with new challenges as they strive to help students and their parents navigate the collegiate music application and audition process. is the premier site for resources for teachers, parents, and students to help in this new, evolving world. And we are proud to announce that Eric Martin, former CEO of Music for All, has joined as its President. Mr. Martin and Randall Bayne, founder and CEO, are committed to assisting students, along with their teachers and parents, navigate these ever-changing and somewhat treacherous waters to find the scholarship opportunities best suited for their career goals. Visit today and explore the possibilities and connections available to help you and your students, especially during this challenging year.

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