Monday, November 7, 2011

Dedicating The Field...But Where Are The Musicians?

I wrote, not long ago, about returning to my hometown because the school district had just completed renovating the football stadium.  Sheppard-Myers Field is a 'landmark' in the town and where there have been many football games and band competitions.  While most schools have their field near, or next to, the high school, this is actually at the opposite end of town in a residential neighborhood.  It isn't ideal, parking is difficult, but it's worked.  They've taken a facility that was used for many years and upgraded it...without making it too extravagant.  To say that, you have to understand - I'm not saying they "cut corners," or didn't provide an upscale facility.  They did.  The re-dedication took place this past Friday evening and, as is typical, I got there early.  I happened to arrive at the stadium as the maintenance crew was leaving.  Fortunately, one of said crew is a high-school classmate and someone I haven't seen in about a year.  Though he wanted to get home, he took the time to give me the "five-cent tour."  We saw the locker rooms, the rest rooms, the newer ticket booth, as well as the field house beyond the far end-zone that houses the maintenance equipment and a weight room for the players.  The track has been resurfaced and there are now areas for handicapped patrons, too.  All in all, they did a nice job and should be proud of the accomplishments. 

For the dedication ceremony, they asked alumni to return to march in the parade and play the alma mater before the game.  We'd leave one of the elementary schools, march about two miles to the stadium, then take the field as we'd done more than 30 years ago.  Surprisingly (maybe not), we had almost 50 alumni show up to participate in the festivities.  They represented classes from the 60's until present day, and they could still play - quite well, actually.  For the parade, we were asked to join the current high school band.  That's when, as a former member of a band that garnered quite a few honors, reality set in...along with the heartbreak.  You see, when we were in school (hard to believe I am about to launch in to a "good old days" segment), we invested quite a bit into that band.  We spent two weeks at the end of every summer at camp.  Camp was held at the high school and we were there for at least eight hours a day.  It was tedious but it was the investment of time that we knew would pay dividends.  It did.  As I mentioned previously, more than a few competitions were won, two state championships, and 2nd place in our division and 5th overall at the National Championships.  We were very good...and took a great amount of pride in what we did.  The sports teams were good, however the band gained most of the notoriety.  Most of that had to do with the fact that, in a school with a total enrollment of less than 800 for grades 9-12, there were almost 150 of us involved in the marching band. 

Back to the "heartbreak."  When we lined up, I was looking for the current band.  They were there, however the number, I am saddened to say, was incredibly low - less than 20 members, I believe.  I was shocked.  The picture at the left, you see, was taken in Whitewater, WI just after our preliminary competition.  That's our group.  Hard to look at it, even today, and not feel a certain amount of pride in what we'd accomplished.  For the life of me, however, I could not understand why there were no marching band members in the current band.  School enrollment in the district is down, certainly, and I understand it's a matter of sheer numbers.  A bigger issue, it seems, is the fact that they just don't make the music program a priority.  Let's be honest - it is a documented fact that children exposed to the arts do better academically.  They are more well-rounded.  Trust me, too - they learn more than just music.  We were taught, in no small way, how to manage our peers, how to affect change, and how to grow as people.  We were taught those "old school" values, too - take responsibility, work hard, treat each other the right way.  I said before that it was due to our role models - the teachers and the parents.  They were all involved and, even if they might have had something better to do, spent time with their kids.  They gave us direction and taught us purpose.  Mr Brodie, Mr Shreffler, the Parents Group - each and every one of them gave of themselves for us.  It was a different time and, sadly, it shows in the current group.  I've been told that the current director doesn't want to do marching band.  Wait.....what now?  Doesn't want to do it so there's no band?  Several people asked, just Friday night, how they can become involved in helping resurrect the program.  They prefaced it with, "I don't have kids in the program yet, but..."  They, they people paying the taxes and the salaries, want the program.  How does a teacher get to make the call of whether there will be a marching band or not?  I'm....well, confused.  Ironically, one of our former members from "back in the day," that is still involved with the competitive marching association has even volunteered to help get the program back to where it once was.  He's been told, basically, "Thanks, but no thanks."  If this is how our teachers view their positions in this day and age, I imagine my questions about education and it's downturn have been answered.  Why are we just shuttling kids through school?  It appears that, finally, the generation of entitlement and selfishness has reached a certain age...and they are now the adults charged with teaching our youth.

The group to the right shows some, but not all, of the alumni that attended Friday's ceremony.  Many could not make it to our "after party," however they were there in spirit.  Our former leader could not make it either, however sent a donation to help defray the cost of our evening.  How many times do you think that happens?  This is a person that certainly spent much time with us years ago and to this day remembers us as we remember him.  For him to do that was certainly unnecessary, yet much appreciated.  I wonder how many other educators have that kind of relationship with their former students.  How many of them would take the time to acknowledge this type of get-together, much less see that we had a good time.  Those days are gone, I fear.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it doesn't happen.  I'm sure some educators do, however we were very fortunate.  I think it says a lot that, of the people shown above, only a small number were from the years other than the classes of 1975-1982 when we were riding the "wave" of success.  So here's to hoping that someone reads this and thinks they might want to change what is currently happening.  here's to someone reading this that can affect change.  Here's to someone reading this that might, in some small way, want to make a difference.

Until next time.............


  1. Hi, Dave. Nice to run into you, via your blog at least! Hope you are well. Enjoyed your previous post about your high school band days.

    Gotta admit, however, I was a bit disappointed in this post. Not in your frustration, which is understandable, but in the fact that were you obviously given some impressions that were not accurate.

    The current director has been involved in successful marching band programs, and did not "decide" the fate of the current status. Outside help was not turned away. Unfortunately, those at other levels of power have made decisions that ignore the concerns and needs expressed by staff, parents and students.

    It's unfortunate that you were given such an interpretation; always more than one side to a story, and the truth is rarely easily gleaned from a quick glance!

    Looking forward to future posts. Be well!
    Andy Smith

  2. I loved your post, especially concerning the fate of band and music programs in general. Being a parent of a student in another district, we are also noticing decline within the band program. Too tough for kids these days? Too many parents not willing to take the time out of their own busy schedules to make sure kids get to practice? You are exposed to the music program (band and marching band) are very dedicated individuals. They learn time management, team building (every one plays...NO ONE SITS ON THE BENCH), and so much more. I wish that more could be done to get the interest of your Alma Mater back into music programs.