UpClose: Doug Brasell on All National Music’s Robert W. Smith Music Festival

Mike Lawson • ChoralJuly 2021UpClose • July 10, 2021

Doug Brasell – Founder, All National Music

All National Music, in conjunction with the RWS Music Company, held the “PreFormance” National Clinics Virtual Preparation Festivals and National Music Festival March 2 – April 24, 2021, featuring high school and middle school bands, choirs, orchestras, jazz bands, and flex ensembles from around the US and Northern Mariana Pacific Islands – all from their home stages/rehearsal hall performance locations. This event, in conjunction with All National Music’s Festivals Plus+ Virtual Events, featured a top adjudication panel from world class music educators, directors, composers and musicians.

The 2020-21 judges appeared from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Hawaii and included Robert W. Smith, Chadwick Kamei, Peter Sciaino, John Fulton, Johnny Folsom, Deborah Bradley, Terre Johnson, Sean Vogt, Bill Renfroe, Ralph Ford and other featured clinicians from RWS Music Company, as well as other national adjudicators. The “PreFormance“ Clinics focused on preparing each ensemble for their own state MPAs or performance events. Each ensemble experienced performing in a national adjudicated music setting virtually and had an exclusive clinic session with judges and composers via video conference and more as they prepared their program for further performances and rehearsals.

Su-San Band participated in the festival from Saipan

Four of the groups found the events via social media, including from as far away as Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.  The Mount Carmel Schools Concert Band and Wind Orchestra under the direction of Julian Greening, the Saipan Pacific Winds Community Band under the direction of Atsuko Eck, and the Su-San adult quintet performed.  The Saipan Tribune did an article here.  

This event included concert performance adjudication from a panel of judges in areas of music performance aligned with the Florida Music Education Music Performance Standards.  Ensembles also elected to have additional clinic adjudication and feedback from conductor panelist as well as sectional and/or instrument/voice specific specialists. Some ensembles performed “live” via virtual video presentation to the video call or submitted a prerecorded video. Directors presented their groups from their own home rehearsal hall or stage – with no travel needed, but also, no travel options anyway during the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

Other participating bands included the Opelika High School (Alabama) Wind Ensemble under the direction of Neil Sasser, the Marbury Middle and High School (Alabama) Band and Choir under the direction of Brett Johnson, and the A. Crawford Mosley High School (Florida) Wind Ensemble under the direction of Douglas Dobos.  

The Opelika Wind Ensemble performs remotely before adjudicators

A virtual awards presentation was experienced with a personalized video from Robert W. Smith, which was produced and posted on social media for each of the performing ensembles.   This helped each school promote their ensembles online and with local media. Finally, a video conference with judge’s commentary was available online and for download post performance, as well as adjudication score sheets, and each specific judge’s audio commentary files.  

Said CEO Doug Brasell, “I’d like to personally thank all ensembles, directors, student musicians, and adjudicators that were part of the very first PreFormance National Clinics from All National Music in partnership with RWS Music Company.  Also, a big thank you to all of the parents and administrators who ensured successful and safe performance opportunities on their campuses virtually.  We want to help school music programs succeed and become better through this preparation format for the local and state MPAs and performance events and it will be back in the winter/spring of 2022.  We wanted to create an environment to support music education, directors, their student musicians, and communities – tying in performance, education, technology and giving the students an opportunity to perform on a national stage virtually while gaining meaningful feedback from top adjudicators across the country.  This virtual environment will be something we will provide for all music performing ensembles in our ongoing National Music Festival series, Festivals Plus+.”

Robert W Smith and Doug Brasell announcing the festival at MidWest 2019 before COVID-19 hit

Said Robert W. Smith, “I’d like to personally invite you to be a part of the very first composer entrenched music festival.  I’m going to be interacting with the director, working with the students, and, should you choose, to guest conduct one of your works at the performance.  It promises to be something incredibly special, unique, and truly a life changing experience for your students.  I know it will be life changing for me.”

SBO caught up with the busy Doug Brasell to find out more.

Tell us about your student travel and festival business, when it started, and why.The name of the company is All National Music. We were founded in 2012 and we wanted to facilitate educational student leadership training and we did that through a series of DVDs for drum majors and student leadership. We also launched a national honor band concept that we were working on. In December 2019, we relaunched with a new vision, which focuses on bringing incredible U.S. music performances to educators and their students with affordable performance tours and something that’s unique, immersive, and exclusive.

We strive to be different, not just another travel and tour company. We want to be a partner in music education, and we want to make an immeasurable lifelong, experience and difference for every music program for the director and their students. We do these through exclusive invitational and affordable educational performance tours. We want to do that in world-class venues bringing world-renowned composers and conductors and hopefully, we can then connect that music classroom with the music industry, performance, and the entire music education life and create a music for lifetime experience that everyone involved will never forget. So, that’s where we’re at and how we got we restarted and before COVID hit.

Who are some of the partners that you were working with prior to COVID and relaunching with now?

The Marbury Band and Choir under the direction of Brett Johnson

We began what’s called All National Music Featured Composer Music Festival and we started that with the Robert W. Smith Music Festival. Our main partner is Robert W. Smith, he is our featured composer, and we will work with his company, RWS Music, as part of this venture. Our main travel partner is Universal Orlando Resort, in Florida, which is Universal Studios in Florida and Islands of Adventure, and their resort combinations and dining venues that come along with that. We will premiere everything in conjunction with those two major partners, Robert W. Smith, and Universal Orlando Resort.

What’s kind of the sweet spot price point for an average student to expect to pay to participate in a trip down to Orlando for a Robert W. Smith festival?

What we have designed has a basic package. This festival is a four-day, three-night opportunity and with that opportunity, a student gets four days in Orlando, they also get three nights accommodations included, which will be at Universal Orlando Resort’s new Endless Summer Resort, and The Dockside Inn and Suites. Breakfast is included at the resort, there’s a special awards breakfast event on the departure morning at the Hard Rock Café at Universal Orlando. There will be commemorative gifts for the directors and students, performance recordings and things very similar to an adjudicated festival, this also includes a clinic on stage after the performance with Robert W. Smith.

The festival’s namesake, composer, director, and adjudicator Robert W. Smith

This is an integrated festival with him as the composer, so the students are going to be playing and performing a selection that has been composed by Robert W. Smith but it’s also an exclusive national adjudicated concert festival. Students will get a two-day park-to-park experience at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure included, plus the awards event. So, with that, that four-day, three nights inclusive of those things is $530 for a “quad” rate (four students to a hotel room) type of event. The only things that it does not include is transportation and some of the meals, but we would work with the director to customize that opportunity and be able to add those things on or things that they might want to add in additionally to further customize.

When COVID hit, student travel came to a screeching stop for everybody. When are you seeing the kind of reemergence on the calendar for booking these trips? 

For this featured composer festival, it’s Q2 of 2022, late March-early April. Our event is slated for March 31st through April 2nd, we’ll basically come in on that Thursday and leave out on Sunday. And from what I can see even with our other custom performance itineraries that we have sent out and quoted on, many programs are choosing that period as their start date, so just under a year out. I do know some groups that are looking to go in Q4 of this year. However, it looks like the majority of them are in Q2 of 2022.

Without the travel opportunities, which are an amazing recruitment and retention tool, what did All National Music do to make it through COVID-19 and schools closing or shifting online?

Even though everything came to a screeching halt, we wanted All National Music still involved in helping the programs to navigate the environment that we’re in. So, we did a number of things virtually during this downtime where we stayed majorly involved with programs, not only in Florida but across the country, even all the way to the Pacific Islands. Even though we had some downtime, we had some greatly successful virtual events that we’re actually going to carry forward and make part of some offerings since they had a big impact.

In the future, will these virtual offerings be something that the groups that might not be able to travel still do remotely?

The Mount Carmel (Saipan) School’s concert band and wind ensemble perform at the Virtual Music Festival

We did one of the first, if not the first virtual marching band festivals and that was a success in November. There were schools, to our surprise, that had full shows and did their performances and went to football games and they were looking for a culminating performance. We offered a virtual marching band festival and had groups from Florida all the way to Iowa, and so that was eye-opening. Some were standstill and then one even had like a full show with complete visuals and everything — it’s amazing how different school systems were impacted performance-wise. We took that into the spring where we created the “PreFormance National Clinics and Festival”, and we had groups, from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, all the way to the Pacific Islands and had adjudicating on a national basis, including adjudicators that are part of the American Bandmasters Association and live as far away as Hawaii.

So, we have some top-notch national adjudicating and a number of groups that did that virtually where they submitted their videos, and then the band director dialed in with the judges’ panel on a Zoom call and we were able to have all of that put together, where we all watch that video in, per say, real-time. And the band director and the judges had an instant session where they could have questions and answers, as well as the adjudicators would do many clinics with the director, each one of them giving feedback. That was a highly successful thing that came about which those schools and directors really found valuable to them. So, if a group cannot travel, we’re going to make an available portion of this just like that “PreFormance” clinic to where they can perform virtually and still be adjudicated as part of this festival.

Is your company involved in the travel planning part of it?

We are 100% fully involved in that, we can handle everything from departure back to arrival at the original destination. We are partnered with accommodations, meals, tickets, and all that for this event with Universal but all of our custom destinations and even things outside of this practice, we can fully handle through, arranging busing, other meals, airfare, and whatever we need to do to help that program get to the event and back home safely.

That’s why the package does not include transportation, because many schools will provide the transportation, even if it’s a public-school bus or it could be a charter bus. Some schools and some booster organizations or school districts will provide transportation or at least make an impact into that pricing for those groups. We don’t include that because every school transportation need seems to be different, though that’s an additional thing that we can work with them on. 

You’re from Florida, hurricane country. You’ve seen disasters. Did your programs purchase trip insurance when you were teaching?

I was a band director for about 16 years, mainly high school, and we did a lot of travel and I worked it through the companies, or we did the trip on our own and customized them through our school district. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been a director, but we often did not purchase travel insurance, that wasn’t a thing that seemed to worry many people. I will tell you that I never, ever 100% planned a trip that we did not go on — if we did the groundwork and planned the trip, I did not do the trip or announce it or even go forward with it unless I knew it was going to happen. And so, we fundraised, we made the effort to go and include, you know, as many students as possible and we never did have a cancellation but that was way before a global pandemic, that was not even on our radar.

I think a hard lesson learned by a lot of directors was, “Huh, maybe in a post-COVID world moving forward, we should buy the insurance.” Are you guys partnered with any insurance companies to offer insurance to people who are buying the packages now? 

Doug Brasell – All National Music Founder

Absolutely, we are, and that is something that is not included because it is an additional cost, but we’re designing that through a couple of different providers. Of course, insurance changes from time to time so it’s not included as part of the package, but it will be offered for individual students to buy as an option within those programs. There may be some parents that don’t want to do that and some that do, so it will be not a core item. If you would like to buy insurance, it’s basically if a trip is this much money, then the insurance premium is this. So, after the package is designed, whatever that cost of that trip is when there’s an insurance premium offered for that amount if something does cancel.

We have a comprehensive cancellation policy, which gives back really much of, if not 100% of the money prior to travel as long as the director adhered to deposit deadlines, so we have also a cancellation policy in place. Even though we were reorganizing and coming out right before COVID, the monies that we had received, we refunded nearly 100%. So, I believe we have that base covered.

We’ve also made a commitment that we’re not going to spend any profits that we may realize until after all vendors are paid and the event is concluded. I want the directors to feel 100% confident of that as they are making the deposits. 

As a former director, but not only that, as a dad, I saw and I know how hard these families work, not every student can fundraise, and not every program has the money to offset the cost of the students and not every student can write a check. So many of these families work very hard to send their children to these destinations and I keep that in mind. I tried to have a lower price point, to begin with, because this is all about the kids and I want to help these programs and we want to create something special. I know how I would feel as a director if something like that happened. We’re going to do our 100% best effort to make sure these trips happen and then be there for the students and the directors if they don’t, they get their hard-earned money back.

Safety in student travel now has a bigger component to consider, and that is a virus that is deadly to the wrong person and can potentially have a lifelong impact on people that get it. How does a travel and festival planner deal with this now?

Right. It’s part of our disclaimer, just like what Universal has on their signs that if you’re not vaccinated being a part of an event like this, you may contract COVID or any other number of illnesses on a performance and mass group type of thing. So, we encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidelines and then also all the guidelines that are in place by their school district and then the actual venue such as Universal.

Of course, more than recruiting for band because students love riding roller coasters, these programs have to meet National Core Arts standards.

I’m glad you brought that up. We partner with Universal Orlando Resorts Youth Programs. Their STARS program and their performance workshops as well align with the National Core Arts Standards. So, you know, we are thrilled to be a part of that and then for them to be our partner too.

How far ahead do you advise directors to start fundraising? And not just for travel, but annual expenses, uniforms, instruments, repairs, and everything else they don’t always get funded.

My personal experience and also my advice from working with programs is plan at least one year out, at the very minimum, if not a year and a half. I would incorporate fundraising on an annual basis as part of a director’s annual plan, if not a five-year plan, as to what they propose to do with their program and the steps that they’re going to take — whether that’s a regional trip one year, a national trip one year, no trip one year. You know, maybe they’re going to purchase instruments one year, maybe they’re going to buy new uniforms one year, and maybe one year, it’s a drum line. Whatever their funding needs are, I would encourage them to include trips estimate or equipment inventory as well as cost of running a program and do their fundraising efforts.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s new Jurassic World Velocicoaster will surely help with recruitment and retention to music programs to student groups that travel

As far as tour or travel-related, most of those are most successful when they plan at least one year out, and they start making those deposits because All National Music and most other travel companies usually require quarterly deposits with an upfront deposit and then those quarterly deposits are deposit amounts per person that they estimate will be traveling. It’s hard to put together something very quickly if they wait too long. I’m already running into vendors that are booked out a whole year from now because everybody’s getting back to traveling, so the further ahead you look and book an event, the better off you are.

If a program has funds from not traveling during COVID-19, and wants to travel in the spring of 2022, with this pent-up demand is it going to be hard to get reservations and pull a trip together? 

Yeah, so if they haven’t registered, then it’s time to register now because there are many of the event-related accommodations, especially in March and April of 2022, are already booking up because everybody wants to get back to doing this. The demand is way up. And again, everybody’s coming out of a down year where there was nothing. Everybody is ready to get back to it and demand goes up, pricing goes up, et cetera. 

So, if they haven’t already booked travel for 2022, I would highly encourage them to do that quickly, at least reserving the space or that trip even if they don’t have the money to make the deposit yet. If they think they’re going to or if they think they can get approval, go ahead and reserve that space and that trip with your travel planner so that can happen. 

I remember even often as a director; I’d still fundraise knowing that I was probably going to take a trip and then not make a commitment to an actual travel provider till maybe six months or even sooner sometimes and they were often surprised to know I’d already fundraised and had money set aside for that. So, some schools do that, some directors do that, so it’s not impossible to book them at a later date but with the accommodations booking out, they at least need to try to reserve a space with their travel company.

I expect next spring to be absolutely crazy in Orlando with student travel as long as we don’t have a variant and more people, you know, wise up and get the vaccine. 

Do you want to get recruitment or retention back up? Do you want those kids back in the band room? Tell the student they’re going to ride a roller coaster.

Absolutely, and I think that’s also important for community support. If they know that the band or the choir or the orchestra or the dance group, wherever, if they know they’re going somewhere to perform and it brings back recognition and it gives these kids an immeasurable experience with something like what we’re trying to do, they use that to recruit and it builds community support, it builds fundraising opportunities, it builds funding that helps everybody in general. And so, people have to see it and they have to be excited about it.

Universal Orlando Youth Programs reimagine the classroom, enabling students to experience show-stopping performance opportunities, engaging music-based workshops and unforgettable hands-on education programs that take learning to new heights. 

STARS Performance Programs 

Students take the stage with Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance Program, which offers a variety of performance options that places student groups in the heart of non-stop excitement. Whether the group is a marching or concert band, dance team, choir or other performing group, Universal Orlando presents students with once-in-a-lifetime experiences and one-of-a-kind thrills.

Performance Workshops 

In these workshops, students get hands-on, real-world experience geared toward several performance career paths. Bands and choirs will score an actual movie scene and dancers will learn how to ace auditions and more. All of our workshops are developed to align with National Core Arts Standards and focus on career readiness.

With Sound Design: Music and the Art of Foley, band, choir, or orchestra students experience life as working movie musicians, syncing music or choral arrangements – including Foley and digital sound effects – to real movie scenes from hits like Illumination’s Despicable Me and The Lorax. Robert W. Smith, a consummate music educator and one of today’s most popular and respected music composers, designed this workshop to reinforce National Core Arts Standards. universalorlandoyouth.com

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