Tom Merrill
Master of Ceremonies


With over 20 years of experience as a travel planner and festival organizer and 10 years as a high school music educator in Iowa and Colorado, Tom Merrill possesses a view of performance travel from multiple perspectives. While a band director, his ensembles performed in Washington, D.C. and the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando. He has planned travel for groups participating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Tournament of Roses Parade, numerous Bands of America championships, and performances at Carnegie Hall. He is currently a Travel Consultant for Bob Rogers Travel, and has previously held positions at Festivals of Music, Manhattan Concert Productions, and New Horizons Tour and Travel. He has a Masters in Conducting and Clarinet Performance from Illinois State University, and has remained an active musician throughout his adult life in church choirs and community wind ensembles. He is a contributing writer to both School Band & Orchestra and Choral Director magazines, as well as a live commentator for wind band webcasts on banddirector.com. He shares his insights on the life-changing effects of performance travel with college music education students several times per year.


Winds Evaluator


With a successful career in both music education and administration, Ms. Farris brings a wealth of experience and leadership to her new role as the President of VanderCook College of Music. As the former Director of Admissions for VanderCook, her leadership has shaped the college’s recruitment efforts and fostered strong connections within the music education community. Her innovative strategies and creative marketing for the college have not only expanded VanderCook’s reach but also strengthened its reputation as a premier institution in the field.

Prior to joining VanderCook, Ms. Farris served as the Director of Performing Arts at Roosevelt and Robert Morris Universities, where she administered all facets of a comprehensive arts program, including instrumental music, choir, and theater. Her responsibilities included overseeing all department operations and systems in the areas of curriculum, scheduling, finance and budgets, marketing, branding, and program promotion, as well as leading efforts in recruitment, admissions, and advising.

Ms. Farris has 30 years of public school teaching experience. While in Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills CCSD 181, IL, she taught beginning band students at The Lane and Elm elementary schools. At Wilmette District 39 and Avoca District 37 (IL), she was responsible for directing the concert and jazz bands at Wilmette Junior High School and Marie Murphy Middle School, as well as beginning and second-year band students at Avoca West Elementary School. Ms. Farris also taught at Glenn Westlake Middle School in Lombard, IL, and in New Lenox School District 122, where she was responsible for conducting band, jazz band, and marching band for all students in grades 5-8. In addition, Ms. Farris instructed the summer music program at Maine Township High School District 207 and taught flute methods at Northwestern University. Bands under her direction have received numerous awards at festivals across Illinois and the Midwest, including Division I Superior ratings at all Illinois Grade School Music Association (IGSMA) organization contests. The Glenn Westlake Middle School Band made numerous appearances at the University of Illinois Superstate Concert Band Festival, including selection as the Junior Division Honor Band. The band was also invited to serve as a clinic band for the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic.

In addition to her leadership roles in higher education, Ms. Farris currently serves as District 7 Chairperson and Executive Board member for the Illinois Grade School Music Association. This organization provides high-quality performance opportunities for students in vocal and instrumental music and offers professional support for directors in all areas of music education.

Ms. Farris is the recipient of numerous National Band Association Citations of Excellence, was awarded the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award, and was elected to the Phi Beta Mu National Band Directors’ Honorary Fraternity. She is a member of the Music Educators National Conference, the Illinois Music Educators Association, and the National Band Association.

Judith E. Grimes
Winds Evaluator


Professor Judith E. Grimes is presently an Emeritus Professor of Music at Elmhurst University in the Chicagoland area, where she still guest lectures and (before Covid) taught a J-Term course entitled, “Educational Experiences in Jamaica.” The Wind Ensemble, under her direction, performed several times in Orchestra Hall and at the Illinois Music Educators State Conference.

Professor Grimes is an active clinician, guest conductor, and adjudicator, conducting honor and clinic bands recently in Illinois, Indiana, California, Georgia, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona and South Carolina. Professor Grimes continues to conduct the Western Jamaica International Music Festival, and she headlines conducting and performance clinics in Jamaica each year.

Professor Grimes officially retired in 2016 after teaching full time for 47 years, publishing over 200 articles, and guest conducting in France, England, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Wales, Jamaica, Japan, Australia, Canada and 28 states. She is the past President of the Women Band Directors International and the Women Band Directors National Association, and the founder of several band programs in schools in Jamaica.

Judy is the recipient of the ”Chicagoland Music Educator of the Year Award,” presented by Quinlan and Fabish Music; “President’s Excellence in Teaching Award,” presented by Elmhurst University; “Distinguished Music Educator of the Year,” presented by the Illinois Music Educators Association; “The Golden Rose Award,” presented by Women Band Director’s International. Prior to Elmhurst University, Judy was a Professor of Music at Indiana State University, where she was awarded the prestigious “Caleb Mills Outstanding Teacher Award,” and the Rose Hulman University “Excellence in Teaching Award.” Most recently, Professor Grimes was inducted into her hometown Hall of Fame at Danville High School, Danville, Indiana. During 2018, she was also inducted into the Women Band Directors International HALL OF FAME.

A couple of Judy’s favorite honors are: the Keys to Montego Bay Jamaica, having a chair in the recital hall named in her honor at Indiana State University, May 9th is the official “Judy Grimes Day” in Elmhurst, Illinois, and the concert band commissioned work titled, “To Indomitable Spirit,” written by John Robert Matz and presented as a surprise during her final official concert.

Professor Grimes has two children: Gina (Director of Theater Overton High School) and Brandon (US Government). She also has five grandchildren: Sidney (guitar, vocals, song writer), Devin (trombone and business), Gill (tuba and electric bass), Gracie (jazz and classical piano), and Cash (piano, percussion, theater). Judy has two dogs, Rozie and Teddy (vocals).

Mike Miller
Winds Evaluator


Mike Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.M.E.) and Northwestern University (M.M.E.). Mr. Miller has taught every level of music student from 4th grade through college in his teaching career, most recently serving as Director of Bands at Field Middle School in Northbrook, Illinois. Under his direction the Field Wind Ensemble performed at the University of Illinois Superstate Festival each year from 2012-23, being selected as the Junior High Honors Band in 2018 and 2023. The Wind Ensemble was also awarded a Superior Rating with High Honors from the Illinois Grade School Music Association State Band Contest in 2018, 2022 and 2023.
Mr. Miller currently works at Northwestern University as a Student Teaching Supervisor in their Music Education program and is a member of the National Band Association, National Association for Music Education and the Illinois Music Educators’ Association.
He is a recipient of multiple Citations of Excellence awards from the National Band Association and enjoys serving as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator within the Chicagoland Area. When he is not making music he can be found on his bicycle or in his garden where he breeds ornamental plants, holding a patent for one of his hybrids with five others in trials in Europe and the USA.

Chip De Stefano
Winds Evaluator


Chip De Stefano received both his Bachelor of Music in Trombone Performance and Master of Music Education Degrees from Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, he studied conducting with John P. Paynter, Steve Peterson, and Don Owens, trombone with Frank Crisafulli and Art Linsner, and music education with Bennett Reimer, Donald Casey, Jim Kjelland, and Peter Webster. Mr. De Stefano was director of the Northwestern University Basketball Band (1994-1996) and the University Jazz Lab Band (1995-1996). In addition to these responsibilities, he assisted with all the office of band’s performing organizations and had conducting appearances with the wind ensemble, symphonic band, trombone ensemble, and marching band.

Mr. De Stefano became Director of Bands at McCracken Middle School in Skokie, Illinois in 1996. Under his direction, the McCracken Middle School Symphonic Band has received first division ratings at all district and state organization contests of the Illinois Grade School Music Association (IGSMA) and has made multiple appearances at the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) All-State Conference, University of Illinois Superstate Concert Band Festival, and NAfME North Central Division Conference. In 2006 and 2013 the Symphonic Band received an invitation to present at concert at the Midwest Clinic: An International Band and Orchestra Conference. In the Spring of 2007, the John Philip Sousa Foundation awarded the McCracken Symphonic Band the prestigious Sudler Silver Cup.

As a published arranger and composer, Mr. De Stefano has received commissions from the marching bands of Northwestern University, Samford University, the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, the University of Idaho and dozens of high schools from across the United States. His works have been performed on ABC’s 1996 Rose Bowl Halftime Show, Live! with Regis and Kathy Lee, and WBBM News Radio 780. Mr. De Stefano’s works are available from FJH Music, LudwigMasters Publications, Grand Mesa Music, Kagarice Brass Editions and DeStefanoMusic.com.

Mr. De Stefano’s professional affiliations include the Illinois Music Education Association, the National Band Association, Phi Beta Mu, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. In 2022 he was recently honored with membership in the American Bandmasters Association.

Mr. De Stefano is active nationally as a clinician, guest conductor, and adjudicator. He’s conducted honor bands, festivals and camps in Singapore, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan (scheduled), Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and throughout Illinois. In addition, he has presented conference sessions at the Midwest Clinic, ILMEA All-State Conference, Iowa Bandmasters Conference, Nebraska Music Educators Association State Conference, New England Band Director Instituted, Arkansas Tech University Band Director Workshop, NBA/IGSMA Band Director Workshop, Illinois State University Band Director Workshop and DuPage County Music Clinic. Mr. De Stefano is a recipient of twenty National Band Association Citations of Excellence. He was awarded the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award in 2001, the IGSMA Barbara Buehlmann Young Conductor Award in 2004, the IGSMA Cloyd Meyers Memorial Award in 2011, and the Skokie Award for Artistic Excellence in 2016.

Kevin Lepper
Percussion Evaluator


Kevin Lepper is Professor Emeritus for VanderCook College of Music, Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Lepper is an active free-lance percussionist/educator in the Chicago area. A wide range of experiences, including El Paso Symphony, Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, The Chautauqua Ensemble (world music), That Memorial Ragtime Marimba Band, and many commercial recording sessions, allow Mr. Lepper to be classified as a “total percussionist”. He is a member of Phi Mu Alpha fraternity and has numerous published works in the marching band medium. Through his company (Advantage Network) he has published a series of educationally-based percussion ensembles and three volumes of Boomwhackers ensembles written specifically for the junior high school and beginning high school performer. Kevin Lepper is a Yamaha Performing Artist.

Eric Morong
Percussion Evaluator


Eric Morong received his Bachelor’s Degree in music education from Elmhurst University, graduating Magna Cum Laude as an Honors Program Member. He earned his Master’s Degree in music education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, IL. Mr. Morong is in his 5th year teaching middle school band at Clarendon Hills Middle School in Community Consolidated School District 181. Prior to his position at CCSD181, he served as band director at Wood Dale School District 7 for 8 years. Mr. Morong also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Elmhurst University, where he directs the Varsity Band; an ensemble designed for music education majors to gain experience playing secondary instruments in a lab-setting. He holds memberships in the National Association of Music Education, the Illinois Music Education Association, and the Percussive Arts Society.

Under Mr. Morong’s direction, the Wood Dale Junior High School Symphonic Band and Jazz Bands have received first division ratings at all district and state organization contests of the Illinois Music Grade School Association. In 2017 and 2018, the Wood Dale JHS Symphonic Band was selected to perform at the University of Illinois SuperState Band Festival in Champaign-Urbana. In 2017 and 2018 the Wood Dale JHS Symphonic Band received High Honors awards at the IGSMA State Festivals (perfect scores from all 3 judges). The Wood Dals JHS Jazz Band performed at the Illinois Music Educators’ Conference in 2018; the only middle school jazz ensemble to perform at the state conference. Eric Morong was chosen by the IGSMA members to receive the Barbara Buehlman Young Conductor Award in 2017. In 2021, he was awarded the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award from Quinlan & Fabish.

Mr. Morong is a recipient of multiple Citations of Excellence awards from the National Band Association. He enjoys serving as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator within the Chicagoland Area.

Ben Wahlund
Percussion Evaluator


Ben Wahlund is a Grammy-nominated music educator, composer, and performer who serves as full-time percussion instructor at Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL) and the Director of Percussion at the College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn, IL) where he was awarded the College-Wide Outstanding Faculty Award.

Mr. Wahlund’s engaging teaching style has availed him of the opportunity to work for years with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra as percussion ensemble director, director of a number of high school regional camps and workshops, and university residencies across the country.

His music compositions have won numerous international awards and are performed by professionals around the world. His works are distributed by C. Alan, Musicon, Bachovich, and HoneyRock Publications.

Mr. Wahlund has performed a number of times at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, state music educator association conferences, and schools across the country. He has been awarded and served long-term artist residencies on the island of Key West, Florida, the Montello Foundation Residency in the desert of Nevada, and Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Ben Wahlund received his Masters of Music degree in music theory/composition and Performance Certificate in percussion from Northern Illinois University and Bachelor’s Degrees in Music Education and Music Performance with minors in math and philosophy/theology from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. Mr. Wahlund is a member of the Yamaha Performing Artist roster, the Zildjian Artist Program, and endorses Innovative Percussion Sticks and Mallets.