Music is a universal device that connects people no matter their background or culture. Anything that means a lot to you may not come naturally to you, so do not be afraid to dedicate more effort than others to the things you love. These are the two mantras that Cameron Rodgers-Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama, a junior music education major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, lives by.
Rodgers-Johnson, a trumpeter, who first picked up an instrument during his fifth-grade year at Bumpus Middle School in Hoover, Alabama, is passionate about social issues and advocacy and uses his music to express it in a unique way. He was recently named a finalist at the Alabama Music Educators Association’s Young Composers Competition at the BJCC for the second year in a row for his concert band work, “An American Outcry,” which explores gun violence and its ties with the K-12 education realm. Last year, he submitted his first full concert band work, titled “After the Dust Has Settled,” which was inspired by the question “What will remain afterward?”
“These awards have meant a lot to me, and it is heartwarming to see my efforts come to fruition,” Rodgers-Johnson said. “They have reiterated my interest in music education as they reassured me that what I am doing is not in vain — it matters, and it is worth all the time and dedication I put into it.”
Dedication To Advancement
Rodgers-Johnson has always been committed to his music and does not shy away from going the extra mile to advance his skills and academics. He was not admitted as a Honors College student; but in a short span of his college, he proved himself worthy of admission in the Global and Community Leadership Honors Program, a specialized pathway in the Honors College aimed at laying a foundation for unique educational experiences, engagement, responsibility and inspiring leadership. He learned about the college through advertisements about what they do and how membership in it is valuable and was intrigued by it.
“As a part of the Honors College’s GCL program, I have met people with common interests — people who enjoy taking on challenges and setting high expectations for themselves,” Rodgers-Johnson said. “The whole premise of the program is to have a space to train yourself in how you can apply your education toward making a bigger, global impact. And who doesn’t want that?”
His favorite class as an honors student has been “Burning Issues,” which gives an overview of various issues facing society such as human rights, sustainability, health care access and educational opportunity. The course concludes with students’ identifying an issue that ignites their passion — their “burning issue,” which was the best part for Rodgers-Johnson.
“It was wonderful finding my passion for education access and, more so, listening to people from a wide array of disciplines about their calling,” he said.
“Obsession With Music
Johnson remembers having an “obsession” with music all his life. Some of his earliest musical memories include humming Disney movie scores long after the credits rolled and listening to his mother, Sybil, a nurse at the UAB Women and Infants Center, singing along to gospel music in the car.
“I’ve always had [some piece of music] or another swirling in my head from a really young age,” said Johnson.
At Bumpus, Johnson said he performed in the regular school band and a middle school jazz band, where he developed a love for jazz. Yet it wasn’t until he was under the tutelage of Hoover High School band directors Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Cicero, and particularly Sally White that he really understood jazz.
“I dedicate all of my love and appreciation for the for the deep, rich history with the music that is jazz to [White] because she’s not only a fascinating educator but a true and genuine musician. … Every time she plays, when she teaches, you can tell that this is what she loves to do,” said Johnson.
It was also in high school that he deepened his love of the music he now writes—classical music or, more specifically, “modern contemporary wind band music.”
“I was fortunate enough to be exposed to some really challenging wind band literature and got to play works by some really fantastic composers who have all inspired me,” Johnson said.
Key To Success
According to Rodgers-Johnson, the faculty at the UAB Department of Music has been key to his successful musical journey.
He recalls Cara Morantz, Ed.D., visiting his middle school district honor band when he was in eighth grade, which “put music as a career possibility in my mind,” Rodgers-Johnson said. Morantz maintained that relationship through regular visits to his high school during marching band season and during preparations for Music Performance Assessment.
“She has been a massive inspiration for why I decided to study music education here at UAB and has helped me since then, whether it was by reviewing my work or exposing me to different opportunities.”
Rodgers-Johnson says the UAB music program is not a huge one, but it comes with the perks that lend themselves to student success.
“Each student gets more individual time and attention to ensure they get what they are trying to get out of their music journey,” he said.
This has helped Rodgers-Johnson significantly polish his trumpet skills over the course of his time at UAB. He credits his success to the relationship with his mentor, James Zingara, DMA, associate professor of trumpet in the Department of Music, who has been instrumental in his growth.
“Dr. Z sees me at my best and my worst and has been my anchor all this time,” he said. “He treats his students like his children, takes the time to learn more about them as individuals, and gives them private music lessons every week. He is someone I can count on and ask questions about life beyond music. He gives us the tools to be successful in the real world.”
Rodgers-Johnson’s “An American Outcry” will be featured and performed at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April.
Post-graduation, he plans to attend graduate school for music composition in hopes of expanding and further sharing his love for music and advocacy.
Rodgers-Johnson advises future artists to be in touch with their emotions, be able to communicate them and embrace failure.
“If I could go back, I would tell myself to be comfortable with the idea of failure being a regular thing,” he said. “Music pushes you in ways that you don’t even know are possible, so don’t be afraid to dedicate more time to something that you love.”