Image by joebiologyuni via Flickr
Football season is here. The fans are starting to wager on the winners and losers. The players are strapping on their pads. The fields are freshly lined. The rock music is being prepared to blast through the speakers. Suddenly the music is silenced and the crowd in the stands hear “Ladies & Gentleman, please welcome the Dusty High School Marching Dirt Devils. Under the field direction of ….”
Yip, it is MARCHING SEASON. One of my favorite cartoons in high school was Funky Winkerbean. Mr. Dinkel was the band director who declared “Football fields are for marching bands”. The band geek in me is willing to share the field with the team. As a member of the Eureka High School Marching Band I attended many a football game. As a student at the University of Kansas, I was never able to king’s x the space for marching band, but I can guarantee I went to the game to see the band not the football team. (KU wasn’t winning many games in those days.) Marrying a high school band director, I have chaperoned my fair share of home and away football band trips and marching festival (which are held in football stadiums). Now I attend Hays High games to cheer on my daughter and the other members of the marching band. And, I also cheer on the Fort Hays Tiger Marching Band as my husband assists with that group.
I enjoy marching season. Still, I have heard band directors told to stay off a field so the band doesn’t mess it up. Really? Who is going to mess it up more – someone marching or someone tackling? Football fields are for marching bands, too!
From this perspective, on and off the field, let me share a few thoughts about marching bands. (These thoughts are mine and may or may not reflect the thoughts of band directors, marching band members, the band supporters, or various education institutions.)
Marching band is a lot of work mentally and physically. Remembering drill, proper technique for moving AND playing, playing musically, adjusting to the movement of those around you while following the person on the podium takes a few brain cells. Getting air through a horn or carrying percussion equipment while marching a 7-9 minute show is a workout. It takes hours of practice to do this. It takes dedication to do it well.
Marching bands deserve a little recognition. Think about it, there are multiple high school pep assemblies to talk about the players and the upcoming game. But, when was there last a pep rally for the band going to festival, or the debate team heading to a competition, or the theatre department putting on a play? And, how many times have you seen the band as a back drop for the homecoming festivities? Or, how many times have you seen the teams come onto the field to warm up as the band completes the half-time performance? What would happen if the band warmed up on the field while the game was in progress? These students are in a credited class that meets during the day and required to attend an extra-curricular events. Outside of other performing arts courses, how many courses extra-curricular events? I was impressed last year to see the Hays High student body sit down to watch the band at half-time instead of running to the concession stands. (HHS students, you ROCK!) Take away: Consider watching and listening to the band as it performs – both at half time and at a concert.
Marching band season is the warm-up for the band. Once the players hang up the cleats, the band goes on to concert season. (Or if they are lucky, they are doing concert music during the football season.) This is where quality music making occurs, technique is honed, passion exists. Yes, it is a high hearing stands full of people yell when you complete a show, but for me that pales next to the highs of creating music that moves me as a player or as a listener. The take away – Don’t be upset when I don’t worry if the football team makes it to state playoffs. I’m thinking about festivals and concerts.
There is rarely a payback for the band. I mean this in several ways.
- While band is a class, the members are required to attend an extra-curricular event. I have yet to hear of a football team required to dress appropriately and attend a concert to hear the band.
- Educational institutions rarely staff a band like a football team. In Kansas many high school bands have a director maybe two. The high school football teams often have a head coach, and assistants for the offensive team and the defensive team plus several other trainers. (In their defense, our local athletic boosters foot the bill for some of the assistant coaches. ) Yet can you imagine what it would be like to have add coaches for percussion, brass, and woodwind? That rarely happens in a rural Kansas high school.
- It costs to have marching band. Music isn’t cheap. (The average piece of marching music is around $50 these days. So multiply that by the number of songs you hear the band play at a game in the stands and on the field.) Drill writing takes time of the director or money for a drill designer. The big thing is budget. The Hays High band music and equipment budget for the year is $650. The money is already spent. Band boosters will be fund-raising for concert music and instrument repairs for the remainder of the year. And, remember, marching season is just the warm up, so the band costs continue.
- The take away: If your football team makes a profit from the gate, consider sharing those funds with the band to cover those expenses. If a band member asks your financial support, please consider giving it if you are able. Every dollar helps.
Don’t get me wrong, I think our community is supportive of the band programs. I want people to know what they are supporting. I have met a lot of people through my marching experiences. I have had a lot of fun with the marching band. So, let’s keep the music going on and off the field.