Music for All is an organization that brings people together to build community, especially through music. As we celebrate Pride Month and recognize those we serve and work with who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we share this story from current and past staff members who had the opportunity to play alongside their Music for All colleagues with the Pride of Indy Bands.
“Do you need somewhere to play your horn? We could use a sub for our next concert, and I thought of you.”
It was around 2009 and I was at the Music for All office in downtown Indianapolis. I was a Marketing Coordinator on staff at Music for All, and I did need somewhere to play, whether I realized it or not.
That opportunity was with the Pride of Indy Bands, Indiana’s only LGBTQIA+ instrumental ensemble, with which many Music for All staff have performed over the years.
The invitation came from Travis Tester, who is now Chief Development & Communications Officer for Foster Success. At the time, Travis was a colleague of mine at Music for All and a founding member of the Pride of Indy Bands.
“Being a founding member of the Pride of Indy Bands was, and is, one of the best achievements of my life,” Tester said. “It not only provides access for adults across Central Indiana to continue their love of music playing as an adult, but it created and continues to build awareness of LGBTQIA+ individuals from all walks of life. Music becomes a catalyst to bond those who may not always interact, from performer to audience member, while creating a safe space for LGBT individuals and our allies. The Pride of Indy Bands has become a community for all those who just want to be accepted and loved.”
Laura Blake, Director of Events at Music for All, is also a founding member of the band. 2022 marks her 18th year on staff at Music for All.
“When we get new people at Music for All, one of the first things I’ll ask is, ‘Were you in band? Do you play an instrument?’ I like trying to make sure that people who come through our doors or are affiliated with Music for All – if they’re in town, if they want to keep playing music, that there’s a place for them,” Blake said. “All are welcome.”
Shelly Snider is currently the Executive Director of Indy Pride, and she is a founding member of the Pride of Indy Bands. Snider also used to be on staff at Music for All. She was attending her first Pride Parade in 2004 with musician friends from college and noticed there was not a marching band in the parade. A year later, Snider wanted to get more involved in the Indianapolis LGBT volunteer sector. She reached out to Gary Brackett, President of Indy Pride at the time. He invited Snider to a board meeting, where she was introduced to Stephen McCoy. McCoy, who is currently Vice President of Donor Relations at the Damien Center, also used to work at Music for All.
“Gary tasked Stephen and I with starting a band,” Snider said. McCoy and Snider got to work and formed a committee that included members of the Indianapolis community and two other Music for All staff members: Laura Blake and Travis Tester. Snider became the first president of the Pride of Indy Bands.
“When we started the Pride of Indy Band it became very clear, very quickly, that there was a lot of interest and a big need for an LGBTQ band in this city,” McCoy said. “All of these wonderful humans came out of the woodwork. All of them were incredibly passionate and had a mind to make it work – even when we didn’t have percussion equipment and we had to use trash cans, or when we didn’t have money to buy uniforms for the band, so we made our own t-shirts with iron-on transfers. The band has grown and changed, but I think the character of the band has stayed the same. It is a group of wonderful, passionate, dedicated individuals coming together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.”
Today, the Pride of Indy Bands organization is comprised of musicians from all walks of life—those with 20+ years of experience to those who haven’t played in 20+ years. Anybody can be a part of the organization, whether you are LGBTQIA+ or not, and support the community at large. The organization includes a concert band, pep/marching band, jazz band, and visual ensemble. Pride of Indy is also readily able to assist adult musicians who may not have access to an instrument. The band helps members borrow or rent instruments through local organizations like Music for All, Paige’s Music, and Musicians’ Repair and Sales. Additionally, the band does not have an audition process – all are welcome to play.
“It is great to have a network of musicians through Music for All,” Snider said. “Local high school band directors and some of the local university band directors helped us with finding personnel to be in the ensembles, helped us find percussion equipment. Using one’s network is important for any nonprofit music organization.”
Pride of Indy has helped Music for All through the years as well.
“A lot of the band has volunteered for Music for All,” Blake said. “Band members have volunteered to host the Indianapolis Super Regional, people have volunteered and worked our Grand Nationals event with us and the Music for All National Festival. We had a whole group from Pride of Indy that ran the chamber music festival one year, so there’s some mutual trade there to get people involved. We’ve also gotten some weekend warrior event staff from the band. So, I think the relationship is a good mutual balance of helping each other out when we can.”
Sam Cantor, Senior Events Coordinator at Music for All, decided to join the band after completing his studies at University of Toledo and moving to Indianapolis in 2012.
“For me, it was mind-blowing when I first moved here to find out that a band like that even existed,” Cantor said. “It had a profound effect on my mental state to know that something like that existed, that there was a safe place that we could go, and it just happened to also be a music-making organization, which was pretty awesome.”
“All of my strongest, closest friends came from the band,” Cantor said. “I met my husband in the band, who also now helps as event staff at Bands of America shows.”
Blake and Snider also found each other through the Pride of Indy Band and have been married since 2009.
Cantor was president of Pride of Indy Bands for three years, including in the year 2015 when Pride of Indy hosted the Annual Conference of the Pride Bands Alliance, which was a major highlight for him. Cantor, Snider, and Blake all said another unforgettable experience was marching in Barack Obama’s inaugural parades.
The band has provided a way for Chris Forsythe, Senior Travel Designer with Music Travel Consultants and the conductor of the Pride of Indy Concert Band, to stay connected to music as well.
“The world of music has many points of intersectionality, and that is definitely the case in my personal and professional lives,” Forsythe said. “Being a part of Pride of Indy Bands first as a performer and now conductor for close to ten years has allowed me to stay very connected to an important part of my life that I left when I transitioned from teaching band in the classroom to a related field. I’m fortunate to still be able to create music and share that music with the greater Indianapolis area in a safe and affirming environment.”
Community and connection are common themes many band members discussed.
“Music heals the soul and some days you just need that,” Blake said. “If people can just take the step to leave their office chair and get to rehearsal, they’d be surprised how much better they’ll feel at the end of rehearsal. I appreciate that I can still play, and I have a place to play. And that I have a work environment that supports me being a lifelong musician.”
Snider emphasized that she wants people in the community to know there is a place for them where they can be their authentic selves and not have to hide any parts of their identity.
“It is a source of energy. Not only the energy of, you know, the endorphins that you get from performing and from just playing music, but also a source of energy from people who are LGBTQIA+. People who are like me, and people who I can be my authentic self with.”
Blake added, “It’s just kind of reassuring that music is alive and well and needed. I think it’s really great that anybody who works in our office or has an affiliation with the organization can see that firsthand. And all they have to do is walk in the doors or come to an event and they’ll see that music is alive and well.”
Pride of Indy Bands will be performing on Wednesday, June 8 at 7 pm at The Athenaeum Theatre at 401 E. Michigan Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204 as part of Indy Pride Festival. Learn more about the Pride of Indy Bands at www.prideofindy.org.
Update on June 8 concert location: note that the location listed above is correct as of 6/8/22, a venue change due to weather.