Two young men play trumpets

Calling All Leaders

There is something different about watching young people lead change. It is more hopeful. It fills us with a sense of promise.

Katie Prior plays the trumpet at a cemetery

Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps founder Katie Prior

For Katie Prior, a 16-year-old from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, leading change is about being there in someone’s moment of need. Prior is the founder of Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps, an organization that dispatches high school trumpet players to perform “Taps,” the traditional bugle call used to honor military, at veterans’ funerals when no military buglers can attend.

She remembers: “The first funeral I played was for a homeless veteran. There was no family there. In most cases when I play ‘Taps,’ it’s for the veterans, but it is for the families, too. But when there is no family, that day, in some way, you’re his family.”

Prior founded Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps in 2014 to fulfill her Girl Scout Gold Award project. Now a registered nonprofit, the organization has 130 high school student volunteers across 30 different states that are ready to serve funerals in their local communities.

When I speak with Katie, I get an undeniable sense that she believes in the restorative power of music and the effect it can have on others. This makes sense, given the mission of the work she has taken on. What really impresses me, however, is how passionately she speaks about the effect that playing “Taps” for veterans has on her. “It’s healing,” she explains. “It just changes you. That is what I really wanted to share with my friends, that experience [of] feeling healed, feeling changed.”

Young trumpeters play Taps at a funeral

Members of Youth Trumpet & Taps Corps perform at the 2nd Annual Veterans Day Motorcycle Rally in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Every musician would agree with Katie that music can change you; many would agree it can even change your life. But where, in the average community, do we foster that connection to music, to something that seems like such a vital force for good? According to Scott Casagrande, President of the National Band Association and Director of Bands at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Ill., that work often comes from public school programs. He says, “Public music programs have always been about the work of doing good within our communities. Whether it’s sparking excitement on Friday nights, celebrating Memorial Day on Main Street, America or gathering young musicians and their families together, school music programs prize themselves on serving small towns and urban neighborhoods across the country.”

But Katie Prior’s ambition and passion got me thinking: Can young people have more of a role in community music? And if so, how do we cultivate this sense of leadership in them?

I reached out to my very own local young person, my daughter Mary Pauline Sheridan-Rabideau, to get her take. She’s a first-year student at Furman University, double-majoring in music and psychology. I asked her what advice she would give to musicians of her generation on how to lead change. She told me that she took inspiration from one of her own musical idols. Who else? Beyoncé. Specifically, her quote from the Lean In #banbossy campaign: “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”

Here’s what Mary Pauline said:

Today, our knowledge and acceptance of who a leader can be is growing. But for those who still experience discrimination while aiming to acquire a leadership position, Beyoncé’s quote is a motto to live by. It empowers those who have been given power to cultivate a productive, nurturing and effective environment. It allows people who are told that their input is inferior to proudly assert their ideas. It embodies a sense of purpose and confidence. And it reminds leaders to treat their colleagues with respect.

Mary Pauline confirmed something that I had already suspected, that she is a whole lot more insightful than her dad; but more importantly, that the first step in leadership for young people is to visualize themselves in that role. And the more diverse leaders there are out there, the more will arise.

I see that desire to inspire others in Katie Prior. She says, “It’s important for kids out there to know that [Youth Taps & Trumpet Corps] did start small. It was me training my friends. I never thought it was going to become a national organization. You start small, you start with what you care about, and then other people will see that passion within you. If one person can believe that strongly, you can get other people on your side.”

Can we be more like Katie Prior? How can we be the boss of the change we want to see in the world? I broke it down into a few steps:

  1. Start at the finish line. Ask yourself where you want to end up. Now, work your way backwards. What do you need to do to get where you are going? And what are the steps along the way?
  2. Collaborate. There’s no reason to go it alone. Find the right team by recruiting friends to form a band, inviting parents and teachers to provide support or partnering with another organization that has shared goals.
  3. Don’t wait for perfection. We can get paralyzed when we don’t have “the perfect idea.” Sometimes it’s just a good idea to start.
  4. Tell your story. Share your story with friends, family, those you hope to impact and those who share your vision. Telling your story will help you clarify your project and get others excited about the change you want to make.

Remember, your music matters to you, but it has broader implications, too. Music can heal, uplift and inspire. Music can bring people closer, rally them around an idea and incite an artist revolution. Harness that. Be the boss.

Tell Us How You’re Making a Difference

Are you, or someone you know, a high school student who is using music for good in your community? We want to hear your story. 21CM has partnered with Kendall Hunt Publishing Company to celebrate Young Musicians Making a Difference.

See our Call for Submissions for more details about how you can win cash prizes for your organization and a signed copy of Brian Horner’s “Living the Dream: The Morning After Music School.”

Kendall Hunt Publishing Company

Mark Rabideau

Mark Rabideau is a cultural entrepreneur, busy re-imagining how we must prepare musicians to thrive within the shifting marketplace and cultural landscape of the contemporary moment. …more 

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