T’was a Friday afternoon showcase at NACA® South in Winston-Salem, NC, and the band was an acoustic duo who had recently graduated from Wake Forest University (NC). I’d been introduced to them the previous year when they were seniors and I was a first-year student at the same college. I’d seen the band on campus many times as a fan, then played with them a few times as a percussionist, and then, in my sophomore year, they invited me to perform with them at their first NACA® showcase.
When they asked me to play with them, I had no idea what that meant. What was “NACA?” What did it mean to “showcase?” I didn’t have any clue how this moment would play a part in my future, my life and career. After all, it was “just” an afternoon showcase at a conference that was conveniently located in the town where I went to college. And, I was able to get to “the gig” and back to campus between classes!
On that day, I played the tambourine. I played the conga drums and shakers, too, but really it’s the tambourine that’s the most memorable. After all, that’s how I was introduced to the crowd. One of the singers said, “And this is our tambourine player, Jason.” And the crowd went crazy and cheered for me. They clapped and whistled and yelled, “WOOO!” It was my first showcase as a performer. Both the band and audience accepted me and made me feel like a rock star. It was awesome!
In that moment, I was younger than most of the students in the room, definitely younger than all of the grad students and advisors, but their response to me being there was unforgettably welcoming and inclusive. I was not being treated as “just the tambourine player.” I was being treated as “THE tambourine player.” It was personally uplifting to be recognized and applauded for my efforts. After all, I was the new kid. It was my first conference. But that big room full of people made me feel like I mattered and that was very important for the “new kid.”
I took a conference schedule home with me and flipped through it during my class and then looked through it again in my residence hall that night. It was then that I decided to go back. I wanted more! I wanted to see some more showcases! I wanted to meet more people! I wanted to go to educational sessions and figure out how to do “NACA” all the time. So, the next morning, I drove back over to the convention center and just walked in. It was 8 a.m. I had the whole day ahead of me.
It must have been a really good day, because I kept going back.
Fast forward 25 years: at this point in my NACA® career, I’ve attended hundreds of educational sessions and professional development luncheons. I’ve presented and co-presented and given presents to presenters. I have volunteered on a regional conference program committee – twice! I have showcased as a drummer, singer, guitar player, speaker, and even as a Master of Ceremonies.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to perform in every region and have even been selected to showcase at a few National Conventions. Not only that, I have showcased in regions that aren’t even regions anymore! I’ve performed both with a band and also under my own name. I have worked with over 2,500 different colleges and universities across the country. I have grown as a touring artist, a speaker, and as a volunteer. And, it all started with a tambourine.
It really all goes back to that first conference where I stood on stage and was introduced to a welcoming audience. I was included in the community. I was invited into the “we.” One of the amazing things about my experience is that “we” continue to strive to make sure our newest members feel welcome as they walk into any of our rooms, whether it’s an educational session, a banquet hall, or a showcase. “We” have done a great job of passing that same feeling along to new students and professionals. “We” want everyone to keep coming back and to get the most out of the experience. And the way we’ve done that is by encouraging everyone to “play their tambourine” – to show up and be themselves, to let their personality shine as important and indispensable members of the community.
As we head into the 2018 National Convention, let’s be sure to help our newest tambourine players feel like rock stars. There’s no telling what potential lies within each individual. Let’s encourage them and support them so they, too, can become part of the “we.”
It all starts with a tambourine.
Jason LeVasseur lives in Nashville,TN, and is the most awarded music performer in the history of campus entertainment. He is also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, summer camp counselor, husband, father, and the creator of “The Rock Star Project® – Creative Leadership Development Programs”