by Ronda Atwater
Young women sharing and affirming their faith in the Elm cabin after a full day of music-making. Varying melodies of “Be present at our table, Lord…” at meals. A sea of purple marching with instruments, tambourines and flags at an amusement park. Stillness after a Wonderland Band number. The grassy fields of Camp Wonderland peppered with campers and faculty silently reading sealed orders and praying with their heads bowed or faces lifted toward heaven. Choir students singing as they left rehearsals, their joy overflowing into their next class or activity.
These are among the memories that will rise up within me whenever I think of Central Music Institute (CMI) 2019, themed “Steadfast.”
With five instructional periods each day, many of the 219 CMI students double-majored in voice, brass and percussion, praise band, woodwinds, drama or dance, allowing for well-rounded musical training. Some also chose an elective from piano, guitar, dance, drama, handbells, timbrels, percussion, conducting, instrument repair, leadership, media engineering, CMI-TV or Bible study. Over the course of the camp, three student showcases and two concerts displayed a blending of expressions and featured winners from each major’s solo competition.
Welcome night, accompanied by the Pep Band, brought together students and faculty hailing from England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
On guest night Bandmaster Paul Sharman shared his journey as a performer and composer and conducted the Faculty Band in his piece Solid Rock. Amsterdam Staff Songsters Leader Roel van Kesteren led the CMI Chorus in “Boundless in Love” (Phillips) and invited all campers to join them. Leading the Gospel Choir and woodwinds, I taught voice parts for the gospel “Praise Him” (Harper). Dancer and choreographer Kellyn Thornburg got everyone on their feet with Kirk Franklin’s “123 Victory,” assisted by her dance majors. Memphis area worship pastor Ronnie Murchinson was active throughout the week with the student praise bands, including a daily Evensong. One evening the Creative Arts Services Team (CAST) presented the Jesus Theater production Kites—a striking look at God’s attributes, our life experiences and how Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father which concluded with an opportunity to respond.
Alongside the rigorous music and arts curriculum, the priority of devotions and discipleship remained strong. Each day sealed orders (devotionals by Rebecca Phillips based on Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction) were hand-delivered to every student to work through individually. Then small groups brought faculty and students together to unpack and discuss each day’s lesson which became a rich time of reflection and transparency.
Sunny afternoons found students involved in all manner of activities such as swimming, team sports, puzzles, arts and crafts, and even a zip line. Some practiced vigorously for solo contests, while others chatted or slept. Daily after-dinner marching practice prepared students for a midweek parade at Six Flags Great America, after which they enjoyed a free day at the park.
Anchored by Captain AJ Zimmerman, a relaxed Q & A night with Colonels Steven and Janice Howard, chief secretary and territorial secretary for women’s ministries, gave students a glimpse into their family and ministry. On the first Sunday morning, Colonel Janice also gave the message, using her journey as an officer and her heart for missions as examples of God’s providence and grace.
The final Sunday worship service carried overtones of an 11-day journey of musical strides, worship and deepened relationships, witnessed by those attending alumni weekend. Among the many awards, Samuel Leka and Alexis Dill shared the Ben Merritt (highest camper recognition). Alexis also won the Wonderland Band solo contest with her rendition of The Carnival of Venice. In her Sunday morning testimony, Alexis said, “I’m gonna seek the Lord more aggressively,” to a collective murmur of agreement from the audience. CMI chaplains Lt. Colonels Philip and Deslea Maxwell, territorial program secretary and assistant program secretary, were ever-present, and at this last gathering Colonel Philip spoke again, sealing the week’s spiritual teaching.
CMI, what a “place to be!” A favored moment of mine was at the start of each day when I would watch and listen to the full range of technique classes beginning. Groups of vocalists and instrumentalists gathered under trees, in log cabins and on porches. Scales and exercises warmed up bodies and brains in anticipation of goals to be reached that day. The students were hungry, eager, steadfast and faithful.
CMI Top Awards and Scholarships
Ramsdale-Jaudes-Boyer Rookie Award
Jack Strand (Olathe, Kan.)
Harry Strissel Most Improved Musician Award
Bailey Sawka (Omaha Citadel, Neb.)
Steve Diaz Chaplain’s Award
Mikal Mathews (Indianapolis, Ind., Harbor Light)
Lois and Len Duguay Spirit of CMI Award
Luis Guerrero (St. Joseph, Mo.)
Ben Merritt Award
Alexis Dill (Yorkminster, Ontario, Canada)
Sam Leka (Rockford Temple, Ill.)
Arthur Shoults Scholarship
Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Corps