By Jonathan Cao – July 1, 2022

As I sit here writing this, hundreds of student leaders are on the floor of Worthen Arena preparing their showcase for the end of camp tomorrow. It’s difficult to encapsulate all that they have learned this week in a way that meaningfully displays their new skills and mindsets. Much like their role as Drum Major, the visible portion of their responsibility is excellent and polished, but in reality, 99% of their role is behind-the-scenes, internal, and difficult. This week, in addition to learning to conduct and salute, they have been stretched mentally and emotionally to see outside of themselves and think more globally about their home organizations and how they can better serve their peers and facilitate the success of their colleagues. From daily logistics to creating cultures of mutual excellence among their leadership team, these young men and women have been tasked with taking home a new outlook and vision for their season. They will look back at this moment in three to four months and not recognize the version of themselves who is leaving Muncie tomorrow because they will have grown in so many ways that they cannot even yet imagine right now.

I know this because this was my experience 16 years ago when I first attended this camp as a 16-year-old. Coming from a small program in Tennessee, I had never experienced any place where so many people my age wanted to be excellent. We all had aspirations for our programs to be incredible! If only everyone could experience this, maybe our corners of the world would be a slightly better place. I will always be grateful to my school for giving me a scholarship to attend camp as a sophomore because it permanently changed the course of my life, as it will for hundreds of young leaders this week.

From my Symposium cohort, four of us went on to conduct at world class drum corps, countless more led our college marching bands, and even more became music educators. I’m honored to be teaching alongside three camp alumni this week. Music For All’s ‘positively life-changing’ outlook had ripple effects far beyond those five days, as we all now use our experiences to pass on the gift of music to our thousands of students across the world. 

Jonathan teaching with Koji Mori during a DMI session earlier this week.

As I look across this arena full of students, I’m overwhelmed at their maturity, their sensitivity, and their relentless pursuit of excellence. Out of this group, how many will carry on this legacy of excellence to share their gift with the next generation? The Drum Major Institute at Summer Symposium doesn’t just give its students a few patterns for conducting and some motivational speeches – it gives these young leaders tools to become lifelong learners of humility and service, no matter where their life paths may lead them. 

Jonathan Cao is on the Marching Band faculty at the 2022 Music for All Summer Symposium.