Leadership Weekend has come to an end, and we’re excited to welcome everyone to what I’m sure will be a totally awesome week at Summer Symposium. My name is Hannah Carlson, I’m currently a graduate student at Butler University in Indianapolis, and I work in the Participant Relations department at Music for All. Working at Music for All is the best job ever. I’m serious. We make a living helping to organize competitions, concerts, and camps, and we get to spend our time with band and orchestra students (the best students in the world, in my honest opinion).

This is my first ever Music for All Summer Symposium experience, so I decided to spend some time with the returning leaders at the ARK Ropes Course. When we got to the course, I jumped right in with group 7, and we started with the “Muse” challenge. There were seven wooden stumps on the ground, and four 4×4 posts, and we had to find a way to get everyone from one end to the other without ever touching the ground. It was great to see all of the students work together to come up with a game plan, and then follow it through to completion as a team.

I think the coolest part of the day was the Matrix. The Matrix is made of two gigantic posts with a bunch of ropes and ladders and balance beams, and the goal is to get all the way to the top. It’s a two person course, and you absolutely need help from your partner in order to get to the top.

After we fought our way through the Matrix, we talked about some of the things we learned during the course. Too often, as leaders, we feel all of the weight on our own shoulders. It’s important to realize that you’re never on your own, there are always people who can help you get through trying times. When I was a drum major in college, game days were the most stressful days EVER because I always forgot about the team behind me who were there to help. As soon as I learned how to ask for help, game days became much less stressful and more enjoyable. When we strapped in and climbed up the matrix and rock-wall, there was a belay crew of four Group 7 members pulling our ropes to make sure that we were safe. It’s easy to climb the wall and let your determination get in the way, but as soon as you slip and feel the rope pull up on your harness, you remember that there’s a whole team of people there supporting you.

Part of the Matrix course included a catwalk, which was definitely the scariest thing we did all day. There’s absolutely nothing to hang onto while you make your way out to the center, and then have to switch places with the person on the other side. Here’s a picture of Group 7 SWAG leader Amy Suggs and Bo Sodders up on the catwalk.

If you’re afraid of heights, there are still plenty of totally awesome things you can do as a Returning Leader! We played a game called “Over, Under, and Through,” where there was a rope tied between two trees about four feet up, and then a second rope about two feet higher. The object of the game was to get one person under the bottom rope, one person over the top rope, and everyone else between the two ropes without touching the ropes. Group 7 came up with a game plan, and then got to work. I was really impressed at how everyone participated in the discussion, and they all made a point to put safety first.

After they finished, we “waffled up” and talked about the experience. One of the interesting things about leadership weekend is that almost all of the students are very similar: outspoken, extroverted, leaders, and it creates a very interesting dynamic when you put everyone together. When we talked about the ropes course experience, we agreed that one of the most important lessons we learned was that we have to create an environment in which our peers feel comfortable with our leadership. Whether we’re helping with sectionals, learning drill, or about to perform a concert, as leaders, our peers look up to us, and it’s important that we establish an environment which fosters friendships, learning, and excellence as we all work towards our common goal.

My mentor, Jay Bocook, always says that one of the most important qualities in a leader is resourcefulness, which was evident in every single student I interacted with this weekend. As leaders within our own band programs, we are often presented with challenges that we have to figure out on the spot. At the ropes course, we were shown a problem, and then given 20 minutes to figure it out. It was encouraging to work with all of our students to see them put their heads together and come up with a solution on the spot. Leadership isn’t about being the most important person in the room, it’s about setting a great example and always being ready to help when you’re needed the most. Spending time on the ropes course helped us to physically experience this, and was a great reminder of what leadership is all about.

Finally, shoutout to Group 7 for welcoming me to the family, and can I please have a WAFFLE??