Ah, yes, the wonderful world of high school music education, where we take young, budding musicians and transform them into fierce competitors. It's almost like we're training them for a Battle of the Bands rather than nurturing their love for music. Programs like the University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions and Bands of America (BOA) have truly mastered the art of turning high school bands into well-oiled, competitive machines.
For schools in a decent district where the term “family vacation” still holds meaning, parents can write a big fat check in addition to the band fees to support the program, making sure kids can ride in those comfortable tour buses. Otherwise, be prepared to send your kids out to solicit funds, all so they can participate in competitions far beyond the reach of their budget and league. Heck, ‘tis the asking-for-free-money era, thanks to the widespread misuse of GoFundMe.
Great way to educate our children.
Marching season kicks off as early as mid-July if you’re drumline parents, and August marks the start for the rest of the gang. This continues into the school year, where performing at EVERY SINGLE football game is mandatory, followed by preparations for Saturday competition. My personal record involves picking up my child at 2 AM after they returned from an away game, shuttling them back to the band hall at 5 AM for an early and distant competition. The runner-up scenario entails picking up at 12 AM and then dropping off again at 2 AM.
Kudos to all the young musicians, band directors, and devoted parents while UIL folks are snoring in their comfy beds until the rooster crows.
As a veteran band parent, I must emphasize how enjoyable it was to work alongside other band parents and volunteers. I frequently ponder how quickly a business could thrive and prosper if all its employees were either current or former band parents!
In this musical utopia, wave goodbye to the idea of tackling the sweet, soul-soothing sounds of a symphony or mastering intricate jazz ensemble melodies. No, no, no! It's all about rushing the concerts out the door. Consequently, students are handed music at such an absurd level that they can learn and master it in less time than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.
What about music that requires practice? Oh, yes, we’ve got you covered, says the band director. They’re diligently honing a challenging piece for the upcoming UIL solo or our TMEA submission. Oh, and did we mention that we will whisk your child away from school because the competitions seemingly last an eternity? And yes, we truly believe your child’s absence from Biology and US History is a small price to pay for spending 6 to 8 hours waiting to perform three measures of music for one judge who sits behind the creepy curtain, casting judgment if they’re good, great, or might as well find another hobby. What time should you pick them up, you say? Hmm, great question. Let’s say anywhere between 10 PM and 1 AM should suffice.
Can someone enlighten me? I'm wondering which part of these events, as quoted on the UIL website, truly aims “to enrich [students’] education and expand their horizons”? It's perplexing to see that some schools, under whatever pressure they may feel to win, have band directors who go as far as prohibiting students from participating in activities other than marching band. It seems to contradict the stated goals, doesn't it?
But should we place the blame on UIL? Or is it the school district's failure to strategize the program and determine their response to competitive results? For instance, if districts evaluate the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) based on wins, do they not realize that they are impeding and depriving students of the proper education they should have and deserve?
For two years, I served on the scholarship committee, where the Band Boosters allocated a certain amount of money to students in need. My heart ached as I read through every single submission, with each student expressing their joy upon winning. However, not a single submission, not one in two years, was about how music, let alone changed their lives, but inspired them.
Oh, I can't help but wonder about that one magical year, a year of miracles and wonders, where, lo and behold, there's no competition on the horizon. Absolutely nada! Can you picture it? Will 80% of these directors be as bewildered as teenagers whose iPhones have been mysteriously confiscated? Will they stare into the abyss of their existence, desperately searching for meaning in their band-directing careers?
I said 80% because I am aware that at least 20% of them are true educators who despise these competitions as much as I do. Some of them recognize when to say, “that’s enough,” and couldn’t care less about winning a trophy.
Next, calling out parents.
Ah, yes, to be fair, there are parents who feed right into this distortion. When they start talking about their kid's involvement in the school band, it's never as simple as saying, "Oh, our child plays an instrument." No, no, no! It's more like, "Behold, we are the proud caretakers of the illustrious 5A championship band legacy," complete with a confetti cannon and a marching band playing "Eye of the Tiger" in the background.
It's almost as if they’re introducing their child through a megaphone, proclaiming, "Meet our offspring, the Honor Roll prodigy, the undefeated solo champion, the five-time straight-A wonder, Jake!" One can only hope they’ve fundraised enough for Jake’s therapy sessions when he turns 30.
My child was fortunate during his final year of high school as we transferred to a school where he genuinely experienced a year of top-notch music education. I knew he was in the hands of true music educators because they made the decision to depart from the circus shortly after and pursue opportunities aligned with their personal values.
I've patiently held onto this pent-up rant for what feels like an eternity, strategically waiting until my child's graduation from college to unleash it, all in the spirit of avoiding any potential retaliation from this ever-so-pleasant program. Because, you know, that's totally a thing in this not-at-all-toxic environment.
I can't help but dream of a UIL contest that champions inspiring students, goes above and beyond to safeguard music education, and offers guidance through music education for at-risk students – categories that should be the gold standards for band directors.
Seriously, isn’t it time to bid adieu to the outdated mindsets and create a glorious space for genuine education to flourish?