Student Features

Student Features

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Music has always been a part of my life; I don’t remember ever not doing it. I’ve played the ukulele since I was six, guitar since I was 10 and began to introduce myself in the world of orchestra by playing the viola at age 13. When I joined 7th grade band, I had my heart set on playing the bassoon, however, since my mom is an amazing sidekick parent, she forced me into playing the clarinet. I was terrible at it and hated band. At the end that year, I asked my band director if I could switch to bass clarinet. As I expected, he said no, and I tried hard to stop playing. 

Luckily, things changed as I went into 8th grade. Being my second year of playing in the Oahu Band Directors Association, Central District Middle School Honor Band, I was given a solo in “Orpheus Overture.” After the performance, Moanalua High School band director, Mr. Elden T. Seta, came up to me to congratulate me on a well-done solo. This was the same man who had taught my older sister (she also played clarinet) and was currently my older brother’s band director. Little had I known that I was going be so inspired by his passion and work ethic for many years to follow. From that night on, I became inspired by his passion and work ethic. I practiced my clarinet everyday and strived to be the best person that I could possibly be. 

The next year I began attending Moanalua High School. During my sophomore year I earned the title of Miss Teen Hawaii United States and, in effort to create a platform for the competition, founded a non-profit organization called “Love ME Through Music.” This organization uses music therapy the heal those who are going through emotional and physical challenges. I began to see music as more than just a common ground for a group of students, it was something to take pride in and grow with.

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My junior year I began attending Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. I felt lost, sad, and by senior year, I felt as though I was no longer performing with the vigor and determination that I once did and thought about giving up on my music. Shortly before losing all hope I found out that my old ensemble, Moanalua High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, was attending the Music for All National Festival in 2015. I suddenly felt inspired and wanted to perform at the same venue they were. Mr. Seta and my mom encouraged me to apply for the Honor Band of America, which also performs at the festival. I decided to audition, which meant practicing and videoing myself with a lot of faith and pixie dust of hopes that I would get in. Turns out,  I did! It was crazy knowing that I was going to be the first student from Hawaii to be in the Music for All Honor Band of America.

Before I could blink, March and a number of financial problems appeared. I ended up buying my plane ticket to National Festival the night that I was supposed to leave, had two connecting flights (including one which was cancelled), missed my seating audition and finally arrived in Indianapolis at 2:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. There were many obstacles getting there, but every moment of National Festival made it absolutely worth it. 

One of the greatest moments I had while I was there was after I performed with HBOA and the band members of the Moanalua High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble greeted me. I looked for them to thank them for coming to the performance and ask them how they enjoyed it. They paraded me with hugs and a plethora of compliments, and then out of the blue, a close friend of mine in the band began to lei me with beautiful orchid lei. It turns out that they had brought lei as a makana (a gift that a person from Hawaii brings when they travel to other places to show appreciation toward people who welcome us) and everyone in the ensemble suddenly showered me with dozens of them. I had so many they went over my heads and arms. To have people who had no idea who I was but just wanted to congratulate me was indescribable—I started to cry!  

When I returned to the HBOA reception, people were staring at me. It’s not everyday you see an individual lei’d over her head in the middle of Indianapolis, IN. I had to bypass several people before I could even reach my mom. She instantly burst into tears when she saw my wide smile, and I excitedly yelled, “Hey Mom, look what I got!” Obviously I couldn’t take the lei with me on my 4,000-mile journey to get home so I followed my first instinct – to share. I started to lei other musicians, their families and all the administrators that I could find. It’s amazing how a single lei can affect such a large amount of people. A friend who I have met in HBOA even came up to me and promised that she would press every single petal and keep the lei as a memoir. People were coming up to me left and right sharing their gratitude of a touch of aloha I have given them.

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Back at home, I see these orchid lei everywhere. Never had they phased me before until that night. To see these genuine smiles on my newfound friends made me love Hawaii more than ever. In fact, I have promised my fellow friends that I would come back up to watch them and bring lei for everyone in the 2016 HBOA.

Music for All and the Honor Band of America helped me realize why I love music so much and that, no matter where I am or whom I’m with, music has the ability to sustain and create lifelong friendships. It’s also shown me the magic of performing that comes from knowing that everyone in your ensemble has put in countless hours to practice and share the thing that they love. Good music comes from perfection. Great music comes from passion. 

I’m so thankful for everything this organization has given me the opportunity to experience and I hope to use my knowledge and passion to obtain a doctorate in music education and teach at the primary education level. I also hope to continue to develop my family’s non-profit organization, Love ME Through Music, into a broader project so that we can help students like me go to National Festival every year. 

Finding the tune of my passion

I sobbed so much the first day of high school marching band and, after an interesting three-year journey, I now know that it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.

When summer band camp started the summer before freshman year I was the new kid – terrified and alone. Day after day it was mentally and physically exhausting, maybe one of the toughest things I’d done in my life, and I hated it. As I began to let my guard down, I grew stronger, made friends and became more excited to play.

School started in August and with the new experiences I had over the summer I now looked forward to concert band during the week and marching band with football games or competitions on the weekends. Each day I spent as a musician I learned more. Not only did I gain knowledge about playing my horn and things such as tuning and rhythm, but I also began to learn how to be a dependable and think critically. School may have taught me English and algebra, but band taught me that my actions and performance in life directly affects others.

I grew tremendously as a person from freshman to sophomore year. I became a more reliable, forward thinking team player. Sophomore year stretched me even more. I began to learn how to lead as a musician and a person. I learned respect, when to lead and when to follow through my involvement with marching band, my school’s inaugural winter guard and the principal horn spot in the wind ensemble. That winter I had my first experience with Music for All when my wind ensemble went to National Festival. It truly showed me how amazing high school concert band could be and how music could bring people together. After seeing the Honor Band of America perform, I wanted nothing more than to play at that level of excellence.

IMG 3891MFA President and CEO, Eric Martin and Mikaela at the Music for All National Festival

After Music for All National Festival I auditioned for drum major. I thought I had the “cat in the bag,” but that dream ended when David, my director, explained that I needed to be mellophone section leader instead. He explained that the section needed someone strong, and he needed me to be that person, but though I was honored I was also disappointed because I didn’t get to lead in the way I wanted. I didn’t know it then, but his decision would mark a monumental change in my future with music.

Overwhelmed with the thought of leading my section during the upcoming fall, I looked to my past and present band directors as well as section leaders and I observed how they led. I realized that they were all passionate about music and people. They were discerning, decisive and weren’t afraid to apologize when they were wrong. They led fearlessly and by example.

I had the passion for music (I practically lived in the band room and loved it), I always had a passion for helping people, but I had no idea how I was going to attain the many other qualities of a good leader. After expressing my concern, my band director encouraged me to attend the Music for All Summer Symposium and leadership weekend. Attending gave me the knowledge, confidence and tools I needed to lead and the tools to put these new skills into practice. I returned home invigorated and ready to make a difference.

Starting with my high school’s band camp, I led the mellophones all of junior year. We tackled after-school rehearsals, long hours at weekend competitions and the dynamic that comes with any group that spends the majority of their free time together. I got to know my section as people began to understand how they learned best. I was their friend and cared for them, which made them willing to follow me. I was fearless, decisive, passionate, discerning and unafraid to apologize. I pushed them as a section and as people. Not only was I successful, but also I had the time of my life doing it.

During the fall of 2013 I realized that I love to teach. I applied play with the Music for All Honor Band of America and was accepted that December. Time flew until the National Festival in March where I got to perform with some of the most talented people of my life and under the direction of some of the most seasoned clinicians, including our amazing director Eugene Coorporon. I made valuable connections that I will continue to cherish in my professional career and I pushed myself to perform better than ever before. Mr. Coorporon taught me how to improve a group’s performance by only saying few, but well thought out, words and to believe in myself. That weekend was the best weekend of my life.

Again, Music for All had given me the capability to go back to school and use new skills to improve personally as a musician and as a leader for my classmates. I applied again for HBOA the next fall and also joined my school’s Serenade Ensemble, which would play at the first ever Music for All Chamber Music National Festival. In addition, I applied for the William D Revelli Memorial Scholarship thinking of the great moment when the winner at the previous year’s festival had received it.

A few months later I found out that I was going to receive the scholarship. I was honored and wanted to tell everyone, but I had to keep it a secret until it was announced.

Revelli Scholarship WinnerMFA Annual Fund Manager, Gregg Puls and Mikaela after she was awarded
the William D. Revelli Scholarship at the Music for All National Festival

Coming back to Indianapolis in March felt like going home. I reunited with old friends, met new ones and got excited to make some great music. Kevin Sedatole was a wonderful conductor for the Honor Band of America and my chamber ensemble performed with precision and true musicality.

All of my experiences with Music for All have confirmed my passion to become a music educator and I can’t wait to bring a band of my own to National Festival someday.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Student Feature: Family Ties

Written by

Hannah and Sarah

We love this story about two cousins who were marching in different bands at the Jacksonville Regional this past weekend. Both of their bands made finals and were able to meet up with each other during Break Ranks!

A big thanks to Sheri Byrd, Sarah's mom (Sarah is pictured left), who shared this photo with us and told us more about these cousins! 

"My daughter is on the left. Her name is Sarah Katherine Byrd and she is in eight grade and on the colorguard for James F Byrnes High School Rebel Regiment. This is her first year on colorguard and her second season marching. She is pictured with her cousin, Hannah Byrd, who is on the colorguard for Harrison High School. Hannah is a sophomore, and has marched with Harrison since she was in 6th grade.

This was taken after the finals performance when they had met up together to congratulate each other on the great performances. I have included a second picture where they had finally found each other amongst all the students on the field. They are cousins and have always gotten along well but Sarah Katherine's older sister was in guard and so the 3 of them have always bonded over guard. Because Hannah and Sarah Katherine have always been closer in age, this opportunity to compete and support each other, has given them a new closeness and made them appreciate the support they get from each other even more."

BreakRanksJacksonville Harrison and James F. Byrnes


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Student Feature: One Core. One Family

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Today's student feature guest blog is from Annette Kukunas! Annette has attended the Music for All Summer Symposium for a few years now, but was part of the inaugural class of the Bands of America Drum Major Institute last year! We are so thankful that Annette shared her thoughts about the experience with us and allowed us to share those thoughts with all of you!
My name is Annette Kukunas. Last fall, I entered my senior year and second year as sole drum major of my high school band in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had attended the Summer Symposium the year before and really had a positively life-changing experience. The minute I left camp I knew I wanted to come back the next year. During the year after my first Summer Symposium, I heard that the MFA camp would have a new drum major training curriculum. It was a difficult decision to put my faith in something that was completely new. Using what I had learned, I decided to have an open mind and take a chance with DMI. I was anxious about what the new camp would bring.

One of the first days at camp for Leadership Weekend last summer I saw Scott Lang at breakfast and stopped to say hello. He introduced me to Bobby Lambert, the Drum Major Institute coordinator, and made me feel more comfortable. Bobby explained that things would be a little different this year, but I responded confidently that I was interested in learning new things in new ways. However, looking back on this, I know that wasn't exactly truthful. I felt fairly confident in my leadership skills and my conducting, as I had spent two previous years conducting and in a leadership position. I was expecting to review most of what I already knew and maybe learn a few new tips.
At the first session of DMI, I knew I was completely wrong. We started conducting immediately (something I LOVED) and I was amazed by the talent of the staff before us. I could tell that this week would be something I would not forget. I thank Bobby and the rest of the DMI staff for starting new traditions and letting us be apart of that. Every veteran I talked to, except for one, agreed that we enjoyed what and how we learned this year more than last. Everyone else agreed it was hard to imagine a better camp.

photo 7AnnetteSaluteCROPPEDOn the first day I also noticed the necklaces that the staff and SWAGs wore. I couldn't help but wonder what they symbolized. When they were handed out to the squad leaders, I couldn't be more excited. The necklaces reminded me of something drum corps members wear and how connected they all are. I know that wherever I may be, if I ever see an arrow, it will remind me of the amazing week I had at DMI, and every person I meet that wears a similar necklace will have shared this week with me and is a part of our family. I can't put into words what I think every time I catch a glimpse of the piece of metal around my neck.
DMI has changed my outlook on so many things. I have not only become a better drum major, but more importantly, I have become a better person. I want to thank Bobby and the Drum Major Institute staff for providing 385 high school students with a positively life-changing experience that will not be forgotten. There are so many things I have taken back to my band. We now have a new tradition for training for our next drum major and we'll be sending them to the Bands of America Drum Major Institute. Hopefully in the next year or two, I will also be attending as a SWAG and will get to join in from a different perspective.
I am so confident that someday DMI will be revered by drum majors across the country and that the 386 students in the inaugural class will be envied for being able to create of the traditions that will still be present. Thank you for demanding excellence from every single one of us. I don't think I've ever felt closer to such a large group of virtual strangers. It's crazy to think that in only a week, Bobby and the DMI staff transformed us into such amazing people.
One Core. One Family.
Annette Kukunas
BOA Drum Major Institute 2013
Yellow 4, Squad 1


Friday, January 31, 2014

Student Feature: Journey to the Cavaliers

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Today's blog is a guest post from Luke Stoner, who was a member of the 2013 Bands of America Honor Band in the Tournament of Roses® Parade, as well as a Music for All Summer Symposium participant in the marching band track. We appreciate Luke sharing his story with us, and hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


I remember thinking towards the end of my eighth grade year that I didn’t want to be in band anymore – quite frankly, high school band intimidated me – I didn’t think I could handle marching and playing at the same time, not to mention the challenging music played in my high school’s Wind Ensemble. Many years later, I now find myself as a member of Music for All’s Honor Band in the 2013 Tournament of Roses, a participant in the Summer Symposium camp, a member of Ohio’s All-State and District Honor Bands, and of all things, a member of The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. I couldn’t have accomplished this on my own – I owe my success to the incredible support and education from my band director, as well as the opportunities given to me by Music for All.

My first “musical revelation,” I should say, would be when my band director showed us videos of drum corps, something I didn’t even know had existed at the time. We watched several shows, but the one that really stuck out to me was The Cavalier’s 2002 program, “Frameworks.” I was simply astounded at how clean the drill was, as well as how perfect the music was performed. It was from this moment that I wanted to be a part of something amazing.

A few months later, I saw that Music for All (I had recognized the name because of the competitions that my band attends) had released information about auditioning for an honor band – specifically, a band that marched in the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California. I was interested, so I auditioned for the band, and I had made it! I was officially a member of the Bands of America Honor Band in the 2013 Tournament of Roses. I could describe the experience in its entirety, but it would go on far too long – rest assured, it was one of the most amazing experiences I could’ve asked for.


After I returned, since it was my junior year of high school, I began thinking more about drum corps, and decided that I needed to work on my skills with playing a baritone. I decided to attend Music for All’s Summer Symposium on the marching track to accomplish this. The instruction I received was great, and I felt that I was a much better player towards the end of camp. But there came a twist – towards the end of camp, staff from The Cavaliers, the corps in residence for the camp, was impressed by my work, and told me to audition for a spot at the corps – I was in shock.


As soon as I returned home, I looked up some etudes online, submitted an audition tape, and my dream had come true – I was a member of the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. I left the very next week, flying into Kansas City, Missouri, to meet up with the rest of the corps. My time with the corps, as well as my time with Music for All, was eye opening. Every performance I was at, there was a life I was changing – someone who, like myself, wants to be in one of these programs. It’s through all of these experiences I’ve had that I realize the importance of music education in people’s lives, and that there truly should be “music for all.”



- Luke

Luke Stoner
La Salle High School
Cincinnati, OH
2013 Member of the BOA Honor Band in the Tournament of Roses® Parade
2013 Member of the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps


All of us at Music for All love hearing from students, directors and parents about their stories involving band and music education! Every once in awhile, someone sends us a great message on Facebook, gives us a call, sends a letter, or shares a photo with us, just because. Words cannot express how much we love hearing from all of you! Today's Student Feature is one of those photos and a story that was shared with us by Sara from the Cary Senior Marching Band!

Green Hope Hearts

 This past fall at the first ever BOA Winston-Salem Super Regional, The Cary Senior H.S Marching Band was attending along with our down the street rivals, The Green Hope H.S Marching band. During the award ceremony for prelims, when either of our band's names were called for caption awards, clapping didn't seem to be enough to show our respect to our fellow high-schoolers, musicians, and friends. At one point, a member in our band stood up when Green Hope's name was called and made his hands into a heart, and quickly the rest of our band followed. As the award ceremony progressed, suddenly there were hundreds of hearts in the air when either of our names were called. While both of our bands were able to move on to finals, that wasn't the point. The hearts and support we both gave and received is something I'll never forget. It perfectly showcased what marching band is really about, the love of performing, musicianship, unity, and the experiences you get along the way.

- Sara Mears

Sara is absolutely right- THIS is what band is all about. THIS is what Music for All is all about. The experience, the music education community coming together. What a fantastic story and an awesome photo, thanks for sharing Sara!

Have a story or a photo you want to share with our community of music education advocates? We'd love for you to share! Send us a message on Facebook, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or just fill out this "Share Your Story" form!



Erin Fortune is the Marketing Coordinator focusing on digital marketing at Music for All, and has been working with Music for All for nearly three years, first in the Participant Relations department and now in marketing. She is a graduate from the Music Industry Management program at Ferris State University in Michigan and is a former Percussive Arts Society Intern and a Yamaha Corporation of America, Band and Orchestral Division Intern.

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