Marching Band

WHY MUSIC? WHY BAND?

by Tim Lautzenheiser

Below is a chapter written for the Teaching Music Through Performance in Band series by Tim Lautzenheiser, published by GIA Publications. While it is directed (specifically) to the band idiom, the essence of the message is applicable for ALL music/arts areas.

Author’s note:

After three decades of traveling across this nation and around the world visiting music rehearsal rooms, speaking at music conventions, presenting in-service workshops to music teachers, and enjoying the chance to work with our finest public and private school students, it is clear today’s young musicians have a distinct advantage over non-music students as they enthusiastically complete their elementary, middle, and high school careers at the top of their class roster, then they predictably head full speed to their college-of-choice. They truly are destined to be “the leaders of tomorrow." WHY?

  • What gives these children an advantage?
  • What do they have the non-music students don’t have?
  • Why are music students recruited with such intensity by every profession?
  • Are they different or does learning music make them different?

We are on the cutting edge of breakthrough mind-research concerning “how the brain works." With the improvement of technology we can now watch the mind creating an endless (and infinite) network of dendrites (maps-of-learning) as the neurons continuously fire establishing an ever-growing structure supporting the learning process. It is believed music learning activates various areas of the brain and synchronizes the mind for learning at a fast pace while stretching the memory to a higher level of retention. Music enhances cognitive learning and facilitates growth in many areas of human development, i.e., motivation, social skills, time management, situational awareness, aesthetic appreciation, etc. As we learn more about the integration of emotional intelligence and cognitive learning patterns, it is ever apparent the study of music has a direct relationship to the measured success of the individual/student via reasoning, creative thinking, decision-making, and problem solving.
The following chapter is dedicated to the non-musical benefits of music study, however let me quickly add, the reason to LEARN MUSIC is to MAKE MUSIC. Music touches a part of our psyche that helps us regulate our lives. Music helps us understand and express our moods and attitudes. Music helps us reorganize our thoughts and feelings while keeping us on track. Music allows us to respond appropriately in social structure that is often confusing and complex. THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR MUSIC; MUSIC FOR THE SAKE OF MUSIC.
This essay does not suggest the reason for music education is to bolster math grades, or increase S.A.T. scores. However it is clear these are important educational benefits to parents who are making choices about their child’s participation in music. The following pages are designed so you can share this compelling information with parents and decision-makers. It will not make your band play better in tune or offer a suggested program of outstanding repertoire; however it will open many eyes to convincing data in support of music for every child (the “musicians of tomorrow") as you introduce them to art and the joy of music making today.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
- Pablo Picasso, 1881 - 1973

WHY MUSIC? WHY BAND?

“Music for the sake of music." Any responsible music educator will emphatically echo this important mantra; it is the keystone theme that serves as the foundation of music teaching, music learning, and music performance. There is no substitute or replacement for music making as it relates to the positive growth and development of the human mind, body, and spirit. Participation in band avails the musician to the infinite journey of creative expression connecting to a language (music) that is understood, communicated, and appreciated by all of mankind around the globe. More importantly, MUSIC IS A PLACE FOR EVERYONE.
Rightfully so, the emphasis of most music educators is the teaching-of-music. The young men and women who find their way to our rehearsal rooms are the focus of our daily teaching efforts and energies. The mission is to teach the mastery of musical skills so our students can access quality music and experience the joy of an ever-evolving sense of aesthetic expression. The intrinsic value of this musical blueprint is priceless, and every musician will attest to the immeasurable benefits of making music. The music culture adamantly agrees on the importance of music; it is a fundamental need of life.
Granted this philosophical perspective is very convincing, especially to those who have been involved in some aspect of music. In fact it is inconceivable to musicians that music education is not considered a core subject in every school curriculum, and for EVERY child. Unfortunately this is NOT the case, therefore if we want the students-of-today to become the music-makers of tomorrow; the responsibility of “sharing the good news about the importance of arts education in our schools" must be embraced with a serious commitment accompanied by a diligent follow-through. We no longer can teach only the “interested students;" we must plant the seeds-of-interest and personally escort the students to the gateway of their musical future.

WHO ARE THE STUDENTS WHO STUDY MUSIC?


  • We know the majority (over 85%) of music literates LEARN music in the school setting, whether through general music classes, choir, orchestra, and/or band. It is apparent if students are not part of the school music program, there is little (if any) chance they will seek to develop their musical skills outside the school setting.
  • Many traditional recruitment programs do not offer multiple opportunities to “join the band." Although most music educators are eager-and-willing to accommodate any student who demonstrates an interest in being a part of the ensemble, the bulk of the students come into the program during the “beginner sign-up" event. One out of six possible candidates opts to become involved in band, orchestra, or choir. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves, “What about the other five?"
  • Over half of the students who enroll in a beginning music program during the middle school (junior high) years do not participate during their high school careers. For various reasons, they opt to drop their study of music within the first two years. Why? Are the parents privy to the negative effects this choice will have on their child’s future?
  • Most parents have little if any knowledge about the POSITIVE BENEFITS OF MUSIC-LEARNING. The compelling research generated over the last two decades has not (for the most part) made its way to the general public. While the music advocacy data is powerfully convincing, it certainly is not common knowledge.

Suffice to say there are many potential music students who, for one reason or another, have inadvertently missed the window-of-opportunity, and therefore they will (most likely) never have the chance to participate in a music ensemble.
Unlike teachers of other academic subjects, music educators must recruit (and retain) their students/musicians. With the evolution of everything from extended sports teams to advanced placement classes, the growing list of before, after, and during school time commitments amplifies the importance of choosing which organization/s will become an integral part of the student’s school culture. Such a decision must be approached with the knowledge and awareness of the impact it will have on the creation and nurturing of personal success habits of the individual. What stands to be gained as a result of the investment of time and energy? WHY MUSIC? WHY BAND?
Do parents (and students) understand the “indirect" benefits of music learning? Do we highlight the potent character building disciplines as part of the reason to be involved in band? Shouldn’t we tout the fact there is more to this music making than the intrinsic musical rewards? Unquestionably, MUSIC FOR THE SAKE OF MUSIC is primary, but can we afford to stop there? Many argue we could dilute the value of music education by focusing on the by-product rewards stemming from the group activity perspective; teamwork skills, self-discipline, healthy self-esteem, personal confidence, learning to reach short and long term goals, etc. This is a valid consideration, particularly from the educated/literate musician’s standpoint. We know music itself is the driving force, the ultimate payoff; however does this mean we should ignore the obvious data that quickly gets the attention of the non-musician parent? We cannot “teach young people musical skills" if they aren’t in our rehearsal halls and music classrooms, therefore perhaps we will best serve ALL students by widening the spotlight of known life-advantages enjoyed by musicians.
Parents must know there’s far more to band than buying and instrument, taking private lessons, adding music class to the school schedule, and rehearsing for a concert. Being a musician maps the human mind for success; success in all avenues of life. The learned skills needed to excel in music are transferable to every academic subject. Playing a musical instrument creates a multi-dimensional template-of-quality adaptable (and applicable) to every personal and professional challenges.
Through music learning we teach:
  • An understanding of QUALITY as well as the rewards of QUANTITY.
  • Behavior based on ETHICS as well as the importance of obeying the RULES.
  • Respect for AUTHORITY as opposed to fear of DOMINATION.
  • A working WISDOM as well as a solid transcript of ACHIEVEMENT.
  • An ongoing development of INNER PEACE as well as a workable plan for personal SECURITY.

QUALITY – QUANTITY

Our educational system is heavily focused on assessment/testing. We measure the success and/or failure of the learning process through a series of evaluations. Clearly there has to be a scale to review, benchmark, and monitor the teaching process; it’s the way we determine LEARNING. All-too-often the numerical outcome becomes and end within itself and it tells us very little about the pragmatic value of the class material. Shouldn’t we be more concerned how this “subject matter" is relevant? We must ask, “Can the ‘quantitative results’ be integrated into the student’s lives to promote better living, learning, and being?"
Music, by nature, triggers both the cognitive and affective mind. Not only does the young artists experience the input of facts and figures, but he/she simultaneously develops an appreciation for art. We don’t make music to get to the end of the musical composition; we make music to make music. The personal reward is not the final evaluation (as in a quantity-driven curriculum), but rather the intrinsic satisfaction generated as a result of MUSIC-MAKING. Music teaches an appreciation for QUALITY as well as an understanding of QUANTITY.

ETHICS – RULES

For the survival of mankind and the perpetuation of our communal form of living we must have RULES to ensure the welfare of the community members. For the safety of the drivers on our highways, we have speed limit RULES, and if these restrictions are not properly observed a penalty is assigned to the violator. Society protects itself with guardians (law enforcement), spokespersons (attorneys), interpreters (judges, juries) to guarantee we live in harmony while still enjoying freedom-of-choice. Although it is altruistic, it is feasible there could be a society absent of rules if each individual believed, practiced, and lived an agreed code of ethics. In principle, the members of the group/community/BAND would be responsible for his/her behavior as it related to the welfare of the community/BAND; the responsibility for “harmony, balance, and blend" then falls on the shoulders of the individual rather than a policing agent. The choice for “doing what is right" is based on ethical understanding rather than the fear of admonishment.
The band culture (by design, by nature) requires each musician to behave in an ETHICAL fashion. While there are certainly rules-and-regulations, the very fundamental structure of program excellence is based on the individual self-discipline contributed to achieve the group’s goals. These are the character values we seek in every leadership role: BAND is shaping the lives of our “leaders of tomorrow" through the ethical habits they establish each day in the rehearsal setting.

AUTHORITY – DOMINATION

We often muse about “the podium" being one of the last bastions of a unilateral leadership position. Yet we know a social order cannot move forward without efficient and effective decision-making. Band members quickly learn to focus on the band director’s thoughts, instructions, and suggestions; the welfare/success of the band is (figuratively and literally) in the hands of the band director. Unlike many organizations where a committee reviews every choice, the band world (accustomed to a fast-paced schedule of practices and performances) requires a LEADER/DIRECTOR who will make-the-call and move forward accordingly. Band members do not have time to argue or discuss the band director’s choice/s. Quite the contrary, they have learned to embrace and support the power of the authority-figure and trust the director’s decisions will be in the best interest of the group. Healthy, happy societies are not solely based on the individual opinions of the members, but rather on the mutual understanding of the importance of UNITY and the willingness to make personal sacrifices and contributions (time, effort, energy) to the agreed mission. The power base of the leader (the authority, the band director) is supported by the cooperative contributions of the followers (the band members). When the “respect for AUTHORITY" overrides the “fear of DOMINATION," it establishes a positive atmosphere that opens the unlimited possibilities of the group’s synergistic potential; it is virtually unlimited.
Domination, by intent, discourages creative thinking. The emphasis is on obedience (often “blind obedience") that supports the choices of the leader. As opposed to encouraging “creative thinking," the environment of domination dictates “what to think" rather than “how to think." It rewards compliance (agreement and conformity) without the consideration for the welfare of the followers. Authority, on the other hand, encourages creative thinking while focusing on the importance of cooperation and the ability of the members to “agree to disagree" while still moving forward to sustain and promote the group’s agenda.

WIDSOM – ACHIEVEMENT

Our educational community continues to increase the testing component as an end-all for knowledge comprehension. The subtle implication is, “If it cannot be assessed, it not worthy of academic consideration." Of what value is all this rigorous data-exchange if it is not applicable to the individual’s life? Now there is research indicating we can only remember and access the information we reinforce in our daily habits. Content (information) without context (an understanding of the benefits) is a dead-end street. The value of learning is not WHAT we know, but WHAT WE CAN DO with what we know. Memorizing a long list of anything for the mere purpose of passing the test is an exercise in memorization, nothing more. Information recall is not the key to MASTERY; being able to see the RELEVANT-VALUE of the information is the key, AND it should be the focal point of the educational process. If we are only going to credit the value of higher test scores, we’re doomed to be a world of facts and figures. Certainly the quantitative aspect of LEARNING is crucial, however should we not be concerned about the qualitative value? Isn’t this the very reason we choose to learn in the first place?
Being in the band deals with both achievement (a measurable set of disciplines and guidelines) and wisdom (learning that will support a positive, purposeful lifestyle). Band is one of the few areas of the school day that supports expression as well as impression. Music learning embraces all forms of cognitive learning and goes a step further by integrating the data into the human soul: EMOTION. Music reinforces the principles and ideals that have a significant and lasting effect on the way we choose to live. It teaches the ability to work with others, nourishes the love of learning, encourages cultural awareness, promotes cooperative flexibility in a communal climate, develops self-discipline, extends understanding, etc. All the while it does have standards and it can be assessed; there ARE testing evaluations that measure ACHIEVEMENT, and there IS solid testimony that evidences the WISDOM gained impacts the welfare of the learner. Simply put: band makes better human beings and makes human beings better.

INNER PEACE – SECURITY

We humans continue along the pathway of SECURING various things to promote personal happiness. Whether it is a new car, a college education, a house, a boat, a job, a title, or any other extrinsic reward; the chase (and the race) for goal attainment is threaded into every aspect of the educational docket. When and where do we come to the point of personal satisfaction, the payoff, the joy of living life, and the very reason we choose to educate ourselves in the first place? Is success measured by what we have or who we are? Are we training students to “focus on high test scores," or teaching students to “enjoy a life filled with personal satisfaction?" These are serious questions, for they determine the learner’s mind-maps. Is the student connected to the product (the grade at the end of the semester) or the process (the holistic experience of blending intelligence, aesthetics, and emotion)? It’s not about “just knowing the right answers." It’s about “using the right answers" for what they can yield as a reference to meeting the challenges of daily living.
Every individual must determine his/her personal criteria for happiness. Nobody can (nor should) dictate what brings pleasure and joy to the human spirit. Whether dealing with short term goals or long term goals, we often become so goal-driven we ignore or simply don’t recognize the importance of enjoying the journey as we attain our given goals; the very reason for WHY WE EXIST. Band offers a new paradigm-of-learning. The music IS the reason, it IS the reward, it IS the substance, it IS the payoff. The means and the extremes are one-in-the-same. We do not play music to get to the end of it; we play it to make music. In fact if we are truly “connected to the process" we do not want the music to end, or the rehearsal to stop, or the concert to be finished. We acquire and develop a desire for expressing our inner thoughts and feelings through the music; we become artists and enjoy the highest form of personal satisfaction, CREATIVE EXPRESSION, the fundamental component of self-satisfaction.

WHY EDUCATION?

As the educational system continues to evolve we often become so focused on the HOW, it is easy to lose sight of the WHY. Let us stand back and take a careful look at the development of the entire school system to gain a clearer perspective of not only WHAT we are doing, but WHY we are doing it.
If the objective or purpose is to maximize the learning, we have to be boldly honest about what LEARNING has lasting value and what LEARNING is short-term and only for the sake of the test score. Are we more interested in producing students who are libraries of “commit-to-memory" information, or are we looking to develop well-adjusted students who are sensitive to those around them and interested in exploring their own human potential? Certainly there is a need for both these avenues of educational focus, however it seems we often sidestep the implementation of the learning in favor of MORE LEARNING. The value of knowledge is measured by the fulfillment it brings to the knower. Is it worthwhile? Is it “worth my while?"
We have many high achievers (straight-A students) in our schools who have missed-the-mark in correlating their KNOWLEDGE to personal happiness, social contributions, leadership skills, acceptance of others, desire to communicate with others, and the ability to adapt to all facets of society. Is this the goal? Shouldn’t our curriculums be designed help the students open their hearts and minds to a life of ongoing LEARNING while clearly demonstrating the benefits of critical thinking, integrity, dignity, compassion, honesty, ethics, responsibility, fairness, and creative expression?
If there is a shred of reasoning in the above thoughts, then the discourse (WHY BAND? WHY MUSIC?) takes on new meaning. We often tend to answer these questions from an artistic position:
* Music lifts our spirits. * Music helps us share our inner thoughts and feelings with a vocabulary beyond the common word. * Music avails us to emotions we otherwise will suppress or ignore. * Music is a universal language. * Music makes life worth living by bringing joy to our soul. These are all well and good and a resounding “AMEN!" is extended by this author, however it is often difficult to express the importance of music making to someone who has never made music. The only way one can explain music is with music; it is a language unto itself. If we are to convince non-music makers about the importance of music learning, we may have to step off our podiums and put the recruitment spotlight on the extended human needs and essential human qualities: *Music has a direct impact on academic achievement. * Music creates a forum for healthy human exchange. * Music enhances perceptual-motor skills. * Music supports the qualities needed to survive and thrive in the modern day society. Music is NOT a frill subject or a fringe activity, but music-study is a microcosm of society bringing the requisite disciplines of success to the ensemble experience. Music learning for the sake of music; and music learning for the sake of life. What better way to prepare for a successful future?

Who should study music? Who should be in band?

Music is a place for everyone. Our traditional music programs have inadvertently promoted a false concept of “music is for the musically talented students." This elitist view has found its way to more people than we might expect. The study of music actually breaks down societal barriers from race to socioeconomic strata. Music often “reaches" the students who are struggling with their other academic studies. Advanced brain research continues to verify and confirm all brains are “wired for music." Eric Jensen, research author on brain-based learning, writes,
“Music is part of our biological heritage and is hard-wired into our genes as a survival strategy." (Jensen, E. 2001, Arts with the Brain in Mind, p.15.)
Do parents, administrators, community leaders, and teachers of other disciplines understand (even know) this information? Are we (as music educators) sharing this extraordinary news with our educational partners? Music is NOT for the “chosen few," but music is for all those who want to pursue this exciting pathway of learning, and shouldn’t that be everyone?

Why the study of music if my child isn’t going to be a musician?

So many parents (at the point of registering a student for beginning band) do not understand the extended value of learning music. There’s far more to this than investing in an instrument, scheduling lessons, driving to-and-from rehearsals, and/or attending concerts. The discipline of music making is transferable to every learning situation in and outside the academic community. We have pointed to music students as “the smartest and most responsible students in the school." We now understand it is really the study of music that puts them in this favorable posture alongside their non-musical counterparts. We must be cautious not to suggest “music makes you smarter," but we certainly can point to the overall accomplishments of the students of music and find a similar high level of achievement in both academic and non-academic arenas; this is NOT an accident or a coincidence. Arguably no other discipline in school can better prepare the mind and spirit for the challenges of, medical study, law school, classes in engineering, education/teaching, business college, etc. Ultimately, don’t we want MUSIC to be a part of every person’s life? From singing in the church choir to playing in the community band, music should not be relegated to the school environment, but music becomes our trusted friend-of-expression forever.

Framing the message for the welfare of the child.

What is the most important priority for all parents? THE FUTURE HAPPINESS OF THEIR CHILD! Mothers and fathers around the world dedicate their lives to creating an even better life for their children. In a highly competitive society they want to see their sons and daughters have every possible advantage in their educational climate, their chosen profession, and their selected community-of-living where, once again, the cycle will repeat itself with-and-for the next generation. The complexity of society’s evolutionary standards (some favorable, some not) puts responsible parents “on alert" 24/7. What is the best use of their child’s time and energy, both in the classroom and outside the classroom? Might I suggest the study of music is a cultural imperative fulfilling all the wants, needs, and wishes of every caring-sharing parent.
Instead of being overly cautious about emphasizing the “off the podium" benefits of music learning and music making, we might consider SHOUTING this news to every accountable parent, and to every administrator who seeks a better school environment, and to every student who wants to enjoy a life of happiness and success. This is not to replace or overshadow “music for the sake of music," but to reach out to all students so they can avail themselves to the rewards of MUSIC. We know we have the most convincing recruitment information available to bring them to our rehearsal rooms: MUSIC CREATES SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE. The “learned outcome" of music study is a certain success blueprint. What parent could say NO once he/she understands the immeasurable value of music study?

WHY MUSIC? WHY BAND?

It might be more appropriate to ask: WHY NOT MUSIC? WHY NOT BAND? It is evident music education should be experienced by every student. We, as a culture, will be best served if the hearts and minds of our youth are filled with the knowledge and the understanding of MUSIC. The time has come, the time is now:

STRIKE UP THE BAND!

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18 Lessons Marching Band Teaches Our Kids from a Parent Perspective

My name is Penny Ray, and I'm a music parent. My husband and I have three teenagers: a sophomore who plays mellophone in her public high school marching band and French horn in the Wind Ensemble at school; an 8th grader who plays trumpet in the local homeschool concert band program; and an 8th grader on the autism spectrum who has not yet been introduced to a musical instrument.
My music experience is limited to the piano lessons that I begged for as a child (that proved piano was not my instrument) and to handbells at church beginning in my high school years. For most of my childhood, I attended a small, rural K-12 school with no band program.
That's why I'm so glad my kids have the opportunity to march. In this post I'll highlight 18 lessons that marching band teaches kids.
Music. Music affects the brain. Hearing it. Playing it. Especially playing it. The math involved in playing music keeps the brain active and growing. Music can uplift you when you're down or dragging.
Neurological multi-tasking. Marching and playing at the same time is challenging, and marching band members meet the challenge of marching at one tempo while playing at another. The neuronal connections grown in marching band will benefit the students throughout life, for multi-tasking through college and in the workplace, and for multi-tasking as a parent.
Discipline. Long rehearsals. Memorize drill. Memorize music. Early is on time; on time is late. The discipline you experience and practice is a foundation for discipline later, through college, in the workplace, as a parent. The discipline of being a part of a team like a marching band is experience that you'll take with you through life.
Teamwork. Every part of a team is important. Every part contributes. There is amazing satisfaction in coming together with a team, working hard alongside and with a team, to perform a show. And the teamwork is very different from that of a sports team, where the goal is to defeat opponents in games. In sports, teams try to go after an opponent's weakness and to shut down an opponent's strong scorer. The teamwork in marching band is about individual and group self-improvement, competing with self, comparing results with self over time.
Camaraderie. Shared experiences over time build relationships and friendships. A job transfer moved our family across the country as my sophomore was ending her 8th grade year. We moved in time for her to attend every practice with the marching band. She began her freshman year in a new school in her new state with a posse of friends from the marching band. Marching band was a wonderful bridge between two states
Time management. From July through November, a good chunk of time will be consumed by rehearsals, football games, and contests. You give up a lot of computer time, video game time, free time during those months. Time management experience will serve you well throughout life.
Sacrifice. Band members get an opportunity to see the benefits of sacrificing what you want to do (computer chats, shopping, goofing off) for the good of the team. There is personal satisfaction in knowing as you are walking off the field together that the group had a good show. Seeing your scores improve throughout the season or from year to year is rewarding. Awards, medals, trophies from festivals and competitions are sweet tangible payoffs to the sacrifices band members make throughout the season.
Resilience. Students mess up. They keep going. Judges make mistakes or make calls we don't agree with. The band members keep going. Students learn that a bobble or a fall during a competition is not the end of the world. Resilience is a hot topic in psychology today, and being able to bounce back after a mistake or setback is an important skill throughout life, a skill that develops by being practiced and experienced, and (fortunately or unfortunately), there are lots of opportunities to practice in marching band. We parents watched in dismay as our band experienced a tempo tear during prelims of a competition and yet the band recovered and finished strong. I was as proud of them for their collective resiliency as I was by the fact that we made finals that day.
Flexibility combined with creative problem solving. Our band staff embraces feedback from judges' commentaries. Instead of rigidly insisting that the show they put together at camp in July is perfect, they take constructive criticism seriously and make adjustments where needed. Our staff model flexibility and creative problem solving for the students; the students practice flexibility in tweaking the show until the show is the way the directors want it.
Manners and respect. Band members practice the habits of manners and respect. Students represent both school and community when at a performance or competition. Our band is expected to be respectful in all situations, from rehearsals to football games to competitions. While the parents are going nuts in the stands, the band members on the field remain perfectly still in situations where we all know they wanted to dance and scream.
Generosity. Our kids applaud other bands at competitions. Our parents applaud other bands at competitions. Applauding another band takes nothing away from our own band.
Education and history. The fine arts camp my daughter attended during two summer vacations names cabins after composers. Imagine our delight to make the connection that she stayed in the cabin named for Bizet and last year played a melody from Carmen with the marching band.
Proprioception. That body awareness thang. Marching backwards, marching sideways while facing straight ahead without checking your neighbors' locations requires you have a good sense of where you are in space and helps students experience and grow in this area.
Trust. When you're marching backwards, or sideways, you must trust that your bandmates are doing what they're supposed to do so that you don't crash into them on a trek across the football field during your precision marching.
Lots of practice hours. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that 10,000 hours of practice at anything = success. During marching season, marching band students get many more hours of playing music than most non-marching students.
Music programs give our students practice and experience in skills that reach far beyond musical notes and instruments. The kids don't realize that they are getting experience in so many non-musical life-skills that will have positive impacts as they become adults. Our band director often quotes the Harris Poll that found that 73% of CEOs from Fortune 1000 companies were involved in music programs in high school. When I think about the different areas of development that marching band reaches, I can see why. I am glad that my children have the opportunity that I did not have and watching them and their friends grow into adulthood will be a joy to watch from a front row seat as we parents and teachers see the ways in which marching impacts their lives over the years.
Married for 26 years, Penny Ray has three teenagers including a set of twins where one twin is on the autism spectrum and one twin developed typically. She is an accidental homeschooler of two children at the moment, with the other in public school. A United States Southerner by birth, she spent more than 20 years away from her beloved South before returning to it recently. Her interests include the things that her kids do: marching band, theater, baseball, baseball, baseball, figure skating, special needs cheerleading. She writes about autism and special needs at Homeschooling, Autism, & "Stuff"and at Homeschool Mosaics.
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Why Your Teen Should Join Marching Band

I never had any illusions that my kids were going to be “cool” or “popular;” I’ve met their parents, and… yeah, the deck was stacked against them from the beginning. Plus I’m a firm believer in the notion of doing what you love, surrounding yourself with a few trusted compadres, and not worrying about the rest of it. This means I shouldn’t have been surprised when marching band first took over our lives and brought along so many fantastic benefits, but I never claimed to be all that swift on the uptake.
If you’re hesitating—or if your teenager is hesitating—don’t. Trust me, marching band is not just the dorky kids in terrible uniforms. I mean, yes, it is dorky kids in terrible uniforms, but it is also so much more than that, and it’s wonderful. (Plus, hey, it turns out many of those dorky kids are hilarious, and/or brilliant, and/or they transform into self-assured young adults over time. And I am not just saying that because I adore my own geeklings; it’s totally true.) Let me take you through the magic that is high school marching band.
1) The uniforms are terrible. As already acknowledged, no one on the planet looks good in a marching uniform. This is not a bad thing. While the cheerleaders are making sure their high ponytails are just so, the girls in the band are simply stuffing their hair into their shakos (yes, the dorky hats have a special name) and forgetting about it. You know who looks stupid in a marching band uniform? That awkward, pimply kid who snorts when he laughs. You know who else looks stupid in a marching band uniform? The drum-playing Ashton Kutcher lookalike all the girls are giggling over. Everyone. Stupid uniforms are the great unifier. The playing field is completely level (pun intended) for the band kids on the fraught topic of looks, and this can be a real relief for kids who are constantly worrying if they measure up.
2) Those terrible uniforms are dry-clean only. In the recent past I’ve have two different friends with sports-playing teens send me pictures of giant mountains of laundry and encroaching piles of smelly pads and other equipment, lamenting the stench and work that is being a sports parent. We have none of that. The uniforms get sent out for cleaning, and for most of the season here in the south, the kids are wearing as little as possible under said uniforms, because it’s a bazillion degrees outside. No laundry monsters for us! (Just, uh, resist the urge to sniff their marching shoes. You’re welcome.Sprinkle some baking soda in them periodically and stay back.)
3) Marching band directors are saints among us. Any high school that has a marching band worth its salt is run by a band director anchored by four guiding principles:
A) A love of music.
B) A love of teenagers.
C) Expectation of complete dedication.
E) Zero tolerance for shenanigans.
I know this is true in our band, and in talking with other band families, we’ve all concluded it’s universally true, because there is no other way a high school music teacher can turn a hundred-odd hormone-addled adolescents into a well-oiled production machine. The marching band director will push your child to excellence in a way that settles for nothing less, but somehow he’ll do it in a way that your kid will love. (Don’t ask me how. I can’t even get this kid to pick up her socks off the floor, so clearly the band director possesses superpowers.) The work that gets done on the field is amazing enough, but it doesn’t end there—this extra set of watchful eyes brooks no transgressions elsewhere, either. There is a code of conduct and it is taken very seriously. Which leads us to…
4) … Band kids are the best kids, period. In a lifetime of observing different groups and activities where teens congregate, I can say without reservation that the marching band is absolutely the leasthomogenous, in the sense that there are kids from every part of the school and all different circumstances. Other activities tend to bring like kids together, and somehow band is different. This will put your kid with some kids they’d never meet, otherwise. But the way in which they’re all alike is that they’re all really good kids. They work hard in school, they work hard in band, and remember how the director doesn’t tolerate shenanigans? They meet that code of conduct or they disappear. That’s it. There’s no nudge-nudge-wink-wink or “I didn’t see that” in band culture the way there is in some team sports. The kids are expected to be awesome at all times. As a result, most of the kids are awesome at all times. No, they don’t stop being teenagers, but there is a family atmosphere and acceptance of all among the band kids that I’ve yet to see anywhere else. It’s a safe place, and I don’t know about yourteen, but for my teen, that’s been a godsend.
5) Musicians do better at everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but the benefits of music educationare well-documented. Being in marching band gives your teen everything from a leg up on the SATs to a decreased chance of using drugs. Trust me, band kids don’t have time for any of that, anyway. Ever heard the saying that a busy teenager is a happy teenager? Band kids are busy.
6) Marching band is great exercise for the exercise-averse. We’re not a family of obese couch potatoes, but neither are we particularly sporty and outdoorsy. I don’t know if you know this, but marching around in 100+ degree weather is really, really hard. It requires a great deal of physical stamina, and it’s often requiring it of kids who would rather chew off their own arms than run laps. Know what’s awesome? The fact that they’re concentrating on their music totally distracts those kids from the fact that they’re getting a workout.
7) The marching band usually gets to go on awesome trips. Sure, other teams get to travel, too, but our band has gone to some amazing places and events, and then they’re there with this take-no-crap band director and a group of good kids, which means peace of mind.
8) Two words: Band Camp. The greatness that is the periodic, dead-serious interjection of, “This one time? At Band Camp?” into everyday conversation cannot be overstated. Or maybe that’s just our family, but really, it never stops being funny.