WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Summer Symposium for Marching Arts

On July 12-16, the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band staff will be hosting a four-day long marching arts clinic throughout the campus of Western Carolina University.
For over a decade, The Pride of the Mountains has annually hosted a summer symposium event as a means to educate and inspire nearby students with a deep passion and desire for music.

The symposium originally began as a drum major academy in 1996, and has since evolved into a program that ultimately provides long-term resources that empowers band students. “We want to make their experience as real-life as possible,” said Symposium Director, Matt Henley.

The WCU Summer Symposium welcomes a wide variety of leaders and musicians, which include color guard members, drum majors, as well as a wide range of percussionists.

The Symposium will take place all throughout WCU’s campus. This includes the marching band practice field, as well as the football stadium; both designated places in which marching fundamentals will be taught. Lectures will also be given in a number of buildings, including FPAC, Coulter, and the UC.

“We want to educate our Southeastern band communities in regards to marching arts so they can return home and make their programs better” said Henley. “We want to empower them with information.”

The program that originally started out as a 24-student academy, has since exponentially grown. Last year’s turn out of students set the record of most to ever attend the symposium clinic. A total of 236 people attended last year; the turn out this year is expected to reach the same number of participants, if not increase the number.

Participants are predominantly involved in a number of marching band leadership positions. It was reported last year that 85 percent of symposium students were in at least one type of leadership role with their marching band. This, however, also indicates that the other 15 percent of participants came to the symposium solely to learn and improve.

“We saw a need for marching arts in our Southeastern band communities,” said Henley when asked what inspired the program. “We realized that there were very few camps.”

Recruitment also plays a large role in the benefits of the Symposium. Almost half of the students that participate in the symposium later choose to attend WCU for college. Last year it was reported that 48 percent of symposium students chose to attend WCU in the fall, a mere two months after symposium ended.

The Pride of the Mountains marching band staff, which consists primarily of WCU’s own music students, heavily runs the Summer Symposium program. The bands Staff Coordinators, all of who are currently enrolled in the WCU music programs, are essentially in charge of assisting the band directors and planning the entire symposium altogether.

Andy Alexander, the head Staff Coordinator assigned primarily to coordinate the symposium, overlooks the operation in its entirety. Alexander takes care of logistics such as room assignments for the students and gratifying the several guest clinicians that are scheduled to perform lectures throughout the event.

“It is an especially daunting task,” said Alexander. “It involves a lot of work and it has been building since January. I was a counselor for two years so I know how meaningful [Summer Symposium] can be. This position is an honor.”

While staff coordinators are in charge of operating the program, the selected symposium counselors are in charge of everything else. The counselors will consist of several WCU leaders involved with the marching band. It is a counselor’s responsibility to assist an assigned group of 10 symposium students in every possible way. Each counselor will ultimately be in charge of those 10 students for four full days.

“Our counselors are imperative to the success of camp,” said Henley.

The counselors of the program are carefully selected by the band directors and are scheduled to receive a day of training before they take on the responsibility. This summer, the counselors will be meeting on July 11 to prepare for their duties that will begin the following day. The counselors will participate in all activities and are also expected to teach a few lessons, all the while setting a good example for all students.

“As a counselor it was an outstanding experience,” said Alexander. “It’s really cool seeing the same students [from Summer Symposium] show up at WCU for college right after.”

Even though the majority of the clinic is about learning, there are recreational activities planned in between lessons as a means to create bonding between the students. Such events include ice cream socials, swimming, and even putting on a dance for the students in which they hire a live band to perform.

Henley reports that he has seen major improvement from students in the past few years, and he believes that this program is “filling a nitch” in the band world. He hopes that the program will continue to be a huge success.

“The best thing for me is when a student tells me about the life changing experience they had at the camp,” said Henley. “And also being able to see the counselors learn so much as well. The positive feedback is definitely the best part of this camp.”