What Everybody Ought to Know About Band

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Today's guest post is by Mary Mackie. 

Back in the day—don't fall asleep!! It's not one of those kinds of stories!!—it used to be cool to say "I'm with the band," because for the most part, that meant you were a roadie or a groupie, or a friend of the band, hanging around to help out, move things, or provide all sorts of moral and immoral support.

But that's not the kind of band I want to talk about here. No, this band is the high school band; in the fall, it is the marching band, focus of half-time shows at football games, and the highlight of most parades (unless you happen to like the politicians or the screaming fire trucks, that is). In the spring it is the Concert Band and the Jazz Band. And for the longest time, it really wasn't "cool" to admit you were with that band (marching, concert, or jazz), and that's an unfortunate thing. You know (unless you were actually in the band) you thought of the band kids as "band geeks" and you tended, for the most part, to stay away from them, or made fun of them, or ignored them, choosing to get more junk food to eat during half time, or trying to see who you could chat up under the bleachers.

You know I'm right, so be ashamed. Yes, it's not nice to make fun of anyone, not just band students. But perhaps if people really thought about them, thought about what it was they did and how much time, effort, energy and sweat (not to mention money) they put into their music, marching, and entertainment for you, perhaps things might be a little bit different.

People need to really know and understand about BAND.

One of the most important things people need to realize about band is just how hard they work to do what they do. You hear tell of two-a-days that the football team goes through and you think how difficult that must be in the hot August sun; the band does that, too. They may not wear pads and helmets, but they wear heavy uniforms and most of them carry heavy instruments. They have to practice rigorously—their music has to be memorized perfectly, and each member of the band needs to know exactly where he/she is moving all over the field. This takes a while to learn and to perfect. During the early weeks of the school year, the band is out there first thing in the morning; some bands practice three and four evenings a week; some of them practice all day Saturday. And the band in this small town in which I live starts what they call "Early Week" two weeks before the start of school, some time at the end of July, during which they teach the new freshmen what band is about, and also during which they start learning their new half-time show for the up-coming season.

Band isn't something you roll out of bed and decide might be fun to do that day. It's something that a young person commits to, on a daily basis, often giving up lots of other fun things they could be doing, because they are part of something bigger than themselves: they are part of the band.

So there is learning an instrument and practicing that instrument, not just during band class or time on the field, but at home, practicing on a daily basis. Playing an instrument well is like anything else; it needs practice to make perfect, and practice takes time.

Rather than be dismissive of band students, thinking it's nothing to marching around with an instrument, think about the hours of sweat, and tears, and learning, and practice that each one of them puts into their art. They are just as dedicated as any athlete you see on any high school/college/university team. They are musician-athletes. It's not easy to do what they do.

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Each band student invests a significant amount of his/her time into learning the instrument, music practice, and in the fall, practicing the marching maneuvers that will ultimately be seen during the half-time show at football games. Some bands might be smaller than others, but each band member (no matter how large or small) gets up early in the morning and puts in many late nights all to perfect what you see on the field. That also involves giving up their own Friday nights, which if you remember back to high school, were just about the most important night of the week for being free and socializing. Band kids socialize, mostly with each other, but they don't have that Friday night freedom that so many high school students have. It's their choice, of course, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve respect for what they do.

Depending on where you live, most towns have at least two parades (no matter how small) each year. Sometimes the smaller the town, the more parades it has. A parade is boring without bands—and they are also very short, with not much to see in them. Here is another instance where a band student is giving up significant amounts of his/her time outside of school to represent their school and their town, by participating in parades. If a band looks and sounds good, it reflects well on the town, on the school, and on the band director, as well as on the students. This, too, is something that takes time, because the band kids can't lug around a large folder full of music as they march down the street—they have to have all the music memorized. More work, more time, more dedication.

Over the course of the past twenty or so years (and perhaps longer) as less and less money is appropriated for our public schools and the students those schools are trying to educate, too many times the programs that get short-shrift, being cut back or even eliminated entirely, have been arts and music. And music means band. It's an expensive proposition to have a good, sharp, together band. Look at the band picture above. Each of those students purchased gloves (four pair) and shoes (at least two pair) and they have white pants (home games) and black pants (away games) as well as the jackets, hats, plumes, and gauntlets. They each have an instrument. Some of them are rented from local music stores, some the students own themselves, some are old instruments the schools have had for a long time. The guard (the girls barely visible to the right in the picture) also have uniforms, including flags, sabres (sometimes), rifles (other times)—sometimes more than one flag for the half-time show, depending on who is choreographing their routine.

All of this costs money.

The band has trailers (some bands have 18-wheelers, the more affluent ones anyway) to carry around all their equipment to and from games, and parades, and contests. Those cost money, in addition to the money the parent who drives the truck that pulls the trailer. They are usually Band Booster Parents, who with no reimbursement, (or maybe a little for some gas) give up their time and spend their own money on the band to see that it gets to where it needs to be.

At games, parades, contests, the students need to be fed. Often it is the Band Booster Association that will step in to help; often it is with donations from places in the community (grocery stores, restaurants, banks) that allows the Band Boosters to take care of the feeding of the band.

All of this costs money.

Some high school bands are lucky and get some funding from their schools, but even getting a little from the school doesn't come close to covering the cost of everything band-related. Most high school bands—and I include the one in this small town in which I live—get nothing from the schools.

I think that bears repeating: most high school bands get zero monetary support from their schools.

Despite the fact that they are students too, who deserve to be supported just as much as any other group, be it an extracurricular group or any athletics team, despite this fact, and the amount of hard work, dedication, time, effort, energy, and money they put into their work, they get zero support from the school. They are largely ignored.

This is important for people to know. Nothing is handed to band kids. Booster Associations and the goodwill of community businesses as well as constant fund raising is what keeps a band together, not to mention what each students' family puts into the bands' efforts, because without parental support, too, it is difficult for students to stay with band—and let's face it, for the most part, students who start band in sixth, seventh grade tend to stay with band throughout both junior high and high school.

This is just what people need to understand about these hard-working students. Some of what I've been talking about might differ from town to town, city to city, but the fact that the arts keep getting funding cut  is something that everyone can agree on. It's the first to go, and that's just sad and wrong.

Which takes me to the last point I want to make here about understanding band. Often people who don't understand will say, "well, what's the point? Who cares about band? What is it good for in the future?"

And I'm so glad you asked.

Band kids learn so much more, beyond the right steps and the right notes, from their years in band. This is where life-long friendships begin. The bonds that hold band kids together is one of those ineffable things that is hard to describe to someone who hasn't seen or experienced it. Because of everything they go through together, they become a family. Families have crises and fights but the bottom line in most families is that each member will go to the mat for another one, no matter what.

Band is like that.

Band kids learn how to get along, especially with such a wide variety and assortment of people from all different backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities. They learn about compromise and about work ethic. They learn how to mourn defeat and celebrate victory. They learn how to work together, one unit, one team that cannot be broken.

Band is like that.

I don't want to get bogged down in statistics, but they are out there, and they show that students who play musical instruments often have higher GPAs, test grades, and are more likely to succeed in college because of their musical training, than other students who have not had the opportunities they have had. Being "musical" works that creative part of one's brain that sometimes doesn't get used as much as it should as we go through life. But these students have that; they dig deeper, strive harder, produce more and work better together in a wonderful experience that they miss once they graduate and go on to college or out into the work force. They've grown and learned together.

Band is like that. Band is just wonderful on so many different levels.

And people should know that. It really does take a village to raise a child, and it takes a lot of help to keep a band going. Everyone works hard, especially the students, and they should always be respected, and even in times of economic turmoil, they should always be helped, just as athletics always manages to be funded. The band should be part of that funding as well. Our band students deserve that. ALL our students deserve that.

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about band, but it's not even everything. It's just a start. If anything is obvious, it should be clear that I love band. I support band and appreciate everything that goes into making the band run smoothly.

I only wish everyone did.

Mary MackieMary Mackie is an Associate Professor of English in a small town in Northeastern Oklahoma. She's originally from Massachusetts and the rest of her family is still there. She is a writer of poetry, essays, short and long fiction and plays (four of which have been produced in the last four years). She played piano for 8 years and now her daughter is an alto sax with the band. She's been playing now for five years, one of which was playing bari sax. This post was originally published here. Photo credits: Mary Mackie.

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14 thoughts on “What Everybody Ought to Know About Band

  1. Mary,

    You hit the nail on the head with what you wrote. I started band in the 5th grade and stayed with it until I graduated high school. It was difficult at times to explain to my parents why I loved the marching band or even concert band when I would come home upset or in tears after a horrible practice or not winning a show. They were my family and no family is perfect.

    The paragraph you wrote about what the kids gain from this program really resonated with me. My high school marching band was my second family. I don’t make friends very easily and the lifelong friends that I did become friends with were almost always band people. I applaud any one who can keep in touch with non-band friends. It can very hard to keep non-band friends close during fall season because of Friday night football games, Saturday practices, and weekday practices and show days. They don’t always understand why you are so busy all the time.

    I have learned so many things from being in the musical program for 8-years of my life that I was saddened to part with it when it was time to move on towards college (my major has no relation towards music). But just because it’s no longer apart of my life doesn’t mean that I won’t forget about my time, I still carry around the lessons I’ve learned and I will always support my old high school program when ever I can because I want other kids to have the same opportunities that I had.

    1. You have captured the spirit of bands in your statement. Thank you! I was lucky, when I was in the band back in the 70s it was cool. Our band was large (people wanted to be part of it) and we also had a lot of athletes in the band which kind of added to its coolness. We did awesome things like play at pro football halftimes in a time when you actually saw the half-time show on TV. Yes, we were on national TV. The other cool thing was that in our city, there was not 1 successful high school band but two. Despite being school rivals we did a few combined routines. One of which was at a Pro football game… These band friendships still remain today. We were part of a wonderful extended family.

  2. This is a wonderful explanation of what some schools go through to put a band on the field whether it be 50 students or 400. I have seen both.
    I am originally from Massachuetts where I was a band and Drum Corps member many years ago. Moved to CA where my son was in a high school band with 350 members, and he marched drum corps.
    His daughter was in her high school band of 120 members and college band her freshman year but drum corps for the last 5 years. It totally amazes me that people think drum corps is just for fun and that those kids pay to spend their summer doing all that work. I now live in central Oklahoma and support our local band and attend every drum corps show I can, especially if my granddaughter happens to be in one. We also travel with them for a few days.
    Thank you for writing this article.

  3. I want to say I agree 100 percent with your opinion. I am a former high school band member having graduated in 1986. My son is a junior in high school and 2nd snare on the drumline. He found your writing and shared it on facebook the day after the band received a crushing blow by not advancing in state competition. Band is hard work. It is not easy. It takes dedication and a strong will to not only get to the line but to Cross the Line and be the absolute best you can be. It takes the hard work and dedication of the parents to work behind the scenes making sure the band gets where it needs to be, has everything needed and well fed so they have the energy to give it their all for nine and a half minutes. Thank you.

  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS ARTICLE! I am a former marching member from the 80’s no less and we were teased mercilessly at my school. ZERO Respect. Now my daughter is in band and on that front it’s much better, but the schools in Tennessee get absolutely NO dollars from the state so it’s up to us in the program to come up with all the money they need. And this particular season our kids were invited into the Macys Day parade. So very exciting for all the band members but the extra cost this year is staggering! This article hit home on every point and I pray everyone sees it. I, myself will repost it from my former band director (yep, after 30yrs, we are still friends along with a TON of my other band mates) to get the word out. Again, thank you so much. You…are….genius.

  5. I was a majoreet in H.S. then colorguard in college. My husband & I meet in the Tournament of Roses band in Pasadena, 36 years ago. Still married had 2 kids in band and we were the band booster parents. So much fun. My son went on to marry a band sweetheart too. Yes band does help kids through college & their careers. We have a HS English teacher & a mechanical engineer. So yes “GO BAND NERDS!!! UNITE!!!”. Well written article. It should be a mandatory read for all elementary band parents. Just think what our US Congress could do if they had been band students too.

  6. I was one of those kids that made fun of the so called band geeks. Then as fate would have it my son became one in the 7th grade. My wife and I supported him to the best of our ability and to the best of our bank account.
    I never regretted the long nights loading and unloading the 18 wheeler or driving across the country with a load of props and instruments to make sure that they could perform in Texas , Indiana, Arizona, or any other place that their relentless pursuit of perfection would take them.
    I will never forget the first big trip during my sons freshman year. They competed at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio Texas. I was so filled with pride the tears flowed down my cheeks. Picture that, a 220 pound construction worker crying like a baby watching a high school band competition.
    4 years later my son graduated high school with a better education than I did and I was please to be able to address his band mates after their last performance and thank them for letting me be apart of their world class marching band. I had more fun during their high school years than I did during mine.
    I will always remember his band instructor saying ” you child WILL be involved in something. If he /she is involved with the band, they will not have time to be involved with the stuff that get them into trouble.” Truer words have never been spoken. The hours are long and the work is hard, but the payoff is PRICELESS!
    Now my son is preparing to graduate college with an engineering degree. There is no doubt that his experience in the marching band has helped him push through those long hours of studying and complete his education.
    The term “Band Geek” should be worn like a badge of honor.

    1. Great article! Thanks for sharing your positive experience. As a music teacher in a public school, the administration doesn’t quite get how special it is to be a part of an ensemble (or organization) that is productive and creates music. Music is one of the very few subjects that allows you to use both sides of your brain AND coordinate large and small muscles to convey a message. Thanks for all the Band parents support, and keep on your administrators to see that Band is not taken away!

  7. You’ve hit the nail on it’s head. I was a music teacher for 31 years in public educatiion. It’s so unfortunate how the administrators proceed to always cut the arts, first. (Although they are usually former “jocks” who sit in those positions that do this) If athletics were shorted, or eliminated, youi can bet your last dollar that the parents would really raise 4377. Thank you for being totally honest.
    John C. Parcell

  8. Thank you! I’m a freshman band mom, and a roadie. My son (tuba player) and I both LOVE our first year in high school band. It is long hours, hard work, but worth every ounce of our time and energy

  9. Such a great article. My daughter is a freshman in her high school marching band. I have already seen a magnificent transformation in her attitude and dedication to school. She has found a home and a family that she loves. I also as a Band parent have found a group of parents that I love to be with and support. Our Band Boosters are an awesome hard working bunch. The only support we get from the schools is the salary of the Band Instructor, the other $60,000 or so is on us to raise. We do get great respect and moral support from our school leaders.

  10. Thanks for this wonderful article, Mary. I marched and instructed in drum & bugle corps for 18 years and that experience has helped me overcome many an obstacle and gave me some wonderful tools to handle life.

  11. My son was in band for 8 years. I know the dedication and patience it takes, as well as the cost. Thanks for letting others know “what everybody ought to…” It takes a love of music to be a great band director, as is Mr. Lloyd. Thanks to him and his wonderful support staff, who without such dedication and commitment, LHS’s band would not be where they are.

  12. You hit most of it right on! AND I enjoyed reading your article immensely. But, add the competitions they go to state, regional, national, that can up the costs. Then add the competition inside the band itself and among the parents… Band is not for the faint of heart. It is a full-contact sport!

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