Western Music Institute 2020—the online edition

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Pandemic or not, WMI must go on.

By Matt Woods –

The annual Western Music Institute (WMI) looked different this year. Instead of bringing together the territory’s young people for 10 days of hard work and fun at Pine Summit Camp in Big Bear Lake, California, the Music Department held WMI online, with 90 delegates attending Aug. 3-7, on Zoom.

While the easy solution would have been to cancel WMI this year due to COVID-19, for Territorial Music Secretary Neil Smith, that was never an option.

“The young people that come to WMI year after year still need to be cared for, encouraged and loved even if that happens over the confines of a video conference,” Smith said.

Delegates signed up for classes that included leadership (praise team, brass, choral), guitar, ukulele, songwriting, dance, storytelling, musical theater, brass technique, vocal technique, keyboard, music theory, timbrels, percussion, and brass for praise team.

Participants were grateful WMI went on despite the pandemic and anticipated the time when they can share what they learned at their corps.

“I miss seeing everyone, but with what you guys could do, you all did amazing,” said Abbigail Hartt, from the Suisun City (California) Kroc Center. “I learned so much this week from my class and definitely will be using what I learned to help in my corps.” 

Everett Bernal from the Fresno (California) Citadel Corps said the fellowship he experienced at WMI helped him grow closer to God. He, too, plans to put his new knowledge into practice.

“I can take some lessons that I learned in my Brass Leadership elective class back to my corps, because I can start leading the beginning band and I can take responsibility as the bandmaster for the band at my corps,” he said.

Isaac White from the Mesa (Arizona) Citadel Corps also looked to the future. “[WMI] allowed me to learn more about brass leadership, so I can be better prepared for the needs of my corps band as a leader, not just as a player.”

Each morning, everyone logged onto Zoom. Some people came on early for some pre-meeting chit-chat. The devotional times focused on “Hope,” led by Majors Amy and Rob Reardon from the Seattle Temple Corps, and John Opina from the Portland (Oregon) Tabernacle Corps led the group in song.

Because of the pandemic, the Reardons’ messages on hope were especially powerful; many delegates commented on how helpful they were.

“WMI this year was amazing,” said Lillian Escobar from the Tulare (California) Corps. “I enjoyed the lessons of hope taught to us by Amy and Rob.”

Glory Soriano from the Seattle Temple Corps said she felt blessed to be part of WMI 2020, noting that “God continually tests us and blesses us… No matter what happens in the future we always need to have hope.”

Nicola Reimers from the Redlands (California) Corps said at first she had doubts about WMI online. That changed, though.

“We were still able to gather together, learn new things, and worship the Lord at home or wherever we are,” she said. “Because of our biggest fear of COVID 19, many people including myself were distracted, stressed, broken or lost…I personally think WMI is where I find comfort and peace, where I built long-lasting relationships with God and friends.”

Laila Mejia from the Los Angeles Central Corps found hope and confidence at WMI.

“WMI impacted me by knowing that there is still hope for us and happy that I was able to do camp still for this year,” she said. “The lesson I will take back to my corps is the confidence about my talent that my teacher gave me.”

The Sealed Orders, a staple of WMI daily life, are normally given to delegates before dinner. Designed to deepen the reader’s walk with God, the Orders—all written by WMI alumni—were released at noon every day this year. They can be viewed online at usamusicwest.org, with links to music highlighting the written word.

Even though she wasn’t a delegate, Theresa Bernal, Everett’s mother, felt compelled to comment.

“I truly loved after each session the excitement in Everett’s voice talking about how he cannot wait to gather again at the corps and start up beginner band,” she said. “As well as the topic of ‘hope’ especially in our world today…The Sealed Orders have been amazing!” 

Before the commencement of WMI delegates, staff and alumni were invited to take part in two virtual music projects: the effervescent WMI PEP SONG with dance moves included and the benediction sung at the end of every evening at WMI, “The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee.” Former Territorial Music Secretary Ivor Bosanko wrote both pieces.  

WMI 2020 maintained its normal practice of having public concerts during the week. Welcome Night, Midweek Concert, Soloist Night and Final Festival were all broadcast on YouTube (@TSAWestVideo), featuring new and archived material.

“All of the delegates and staff missed being able to gather together in person to create, but through WMI 2020 Online we were at least able to connect with our young people and let them know that they are important to us and to The Salvation Army West,” Smith said.

Sylvia Strickland from the San Diego Citadel Corps summed up the WMI 2020 experience.

“WMI 2020 wasn’t what we’d expect…But no matter where and when WMI is, it’s the people that make WMI happen,” she said. “It’s our love of God that gives us joy to see one another. Sure it’s difficult fellowshipping with one another through a screen, but I would rather do that than not having WMI 2020 at all. I believe this year’s WMI tested all of us in our faith in him and because of our commitment to him, he will bless us for never losing hope. I hope that next year we will see each other again and by then, we will be closer than ever.”

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