Music for All Celebrates 35 Years

With events and advocacy for marching bands, jazz bands, orchestras and individual students, Music for All has been a leading music education organization for the past 35 years. Here’s a look at the past, present and future as the organization celebrates this major anniversary.

Photo Courtesy of Music for All

Over the past 35 years, more than 1.25 million lives have been positively changed through Music for All (MFA). This year, the organization commemorates the past and prepares for the future with an anniversary celebration at Bands of America (BOA) Grand National Championships—one of Music for All’s premier events.

High school bands big and small have benefited from participation in Music for All’s many activities, which also include Summer Symposium, Concert Band Festival and Orchestra America.

Providing High-Caliber Opportunities

Marian Catholic from Chicago Heights, Ill., has participated in BOA for 34 of its 35 years and is the most decorated band in its history—earning five Summer National Championships, 10 Class AA National Championships and seven Grand National Championships.

“Bands of America has provided us for a long time with a venue for our marching and concert bands of the highest caliber and profile,” says Greg Bimm, director of bands. “There is nothing more wellknown— they are giving us the best opportunity to play for the best audiences and the best adjudicators everywhere.”

According to Bimm, participating in Grand Nationals is the ultimate goal for his group. “Our whole season is built around a great performance at Grand Nationals,” Bimm says. “We’re halfway through the season and still learning our show; almost everyone else is probably done. We perfect this marching show, so that when we go to Grand Nationals, we can bring the highest level of excellence.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the Vestavia Hills High School Marching Band from Vestavia Hills, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham, competed in its first-ever BOA competition this year.

“Now my students have a different perspective on the activity of marching band,” says Jerell Horton, band director. “Their eyes were opened to creative possibilities. It’s a great starting place just to jump off and be who we want to be. It gave us an opportunity to aspire to more than what we see in our local area.”

Engaging and Mobilizing Performers

Marian Catholic and Vestavia Hills are just two examples among the hundreds of schools that participate in Music for All. “We feel we have contributed to America in terms of producing consumers and listeners of music,” says Eric Martin, MFA’s newest president and CEO. “Grand Nationals and all our events are opportunities for performers to excel and be defining moments in their lives, inspiring and encouraging others to recognize the importance of music and the arts.”

One area that Music for All has recently stressed is alumni involvement. In 2008 during a time of financial crisis, the organization ran a fundraising campaign that raised $250,000 in 81 days. Since then, MFA has launched, an alumni social networking site and new fundraising campaign in honor of the anniversary.

“It reminds people of our commitment to our mission, and it’s a celebration that over 35 years, we’ve had more than 1.25 million people come through our programming,” Martin says. “It’s a celebration of what we can do in the future in terms of our growth and participating students. We can continue to further engage and mobilize current performers and our alumni to continue to be engaged in advocacy and be consumers of the performing arts.”

At this year’s Grand Nationals, a number of special performers and guests will commemorate BOA’s 35th anniversary. A portion of the Army Old Guard will perform in exhibition—a tradition that dates back to the early years of Grand Nationals. The Riverside Community College (RCC) Marching Tigers will also put on a show. RCC has performed more times than any other exhibition group.

For the second year in a row, a college band representing the Big Ten Athletic Conference will perform. The Michigan State Spartan Marching Band, led by former Bands of America high school director John T. Madden, will perform along with local Indiana universities Marian University and Indiana State University.

Special guests will include Yoshi Doi, president of the Yamaha Corporation of America. In addition, the 2012 Tournament of Roses President Richard Jackson will be in attendance to present the Grand Nationals championship band with an automatic invitation to the 2012 Rose Parade. This new partnership with the Tournament of Roses will continue for at least three years.

Networking and Personal Growth

For Horton and Bimm, Grand Nationals and other MFA events not only provide musical growth, but they also provide opportunities for networking among students, parents and directors.

“Some of the best bands perform at Grand Nationals and the Concert Festival, and it’s good to be around them,” Bimm says. “I’ve developed good friends among the staff and the other directors. It’s exciting to see what their creative minds and these kids around the country can do.”

For Horton, taking parents along on the trip was a huge boost to their enthusiasm and helped him get additional support from the administration as well.

“My parents were talking to other parents in the parking lot, sharing ideas about food, transportation, clothing, how they raise funds; it turned into a big learning lab for all of us,” Horton says. “Now that my parents have seen how BOA is, they press the administration to support us in a different way.”

The Summer Symposium also serves as a big draw for both directors. Horton was inspired to enter his band into BOA because the Summer Symposium created a “positively life-changing experience” for him—quoting the Music for All mission. Bimm sends a portion of his student leadership and staff to the event each year.

Both groups plan to continue working with BOA and MFA for years to come. “Everyone was so encouraging and gave us a ton of great feedback, and they made us feel like we were a part of it already and respected for what we brought to the table,” Horton says. “My goal is to get the band to Grand Nationals.”

For Bimm, alumni from that first year of BOA participation are now in their 50s and still coming back to talk about how band changed their lives for the better.

“Happy anniversary—there have been very many people who have worked very hard; I guess I’d like to say thanks,” Bimm says. “It’s been a wonderful 35 years, and they’ve given a lot to an incredible number of people—so let’s go for 35 more.”

According to Martin, some of Music for All’s short-term goals for the next few years include the continuing expansion of programming for orchestras and middle schools and to expand programming and advocacy to the scholastic level, underserved communities and new technologies. “We’re starting to look and be much more like our name, ‘Music for All,’ and to engage students in every aspect of music education and music making,” Martin says. “We want to use the next few years to make sure that when we celebrate our 70th anniversary, that we will have an organization that truly is an institution—strong and healthy and endowed to make sure the work will continue forever.

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she is currently a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.