July 31, 2016
An open letter to band students and their parents.
I sit down to write this letter at the end of July during the middle of our summer marching band season. I am overcome with thoughts of what I can do to get more dedication and devotion out of my students. Not all of my students mind you, but the ones that are lukewarm about band. You know the ones that said they want to do marching band, but everything else in life is more important. Like my friend Scott Lang, I think every kid should be in band, so it’s not that I don’t want them, but why are they really here? Why would you commit to one of the hardest activities and then just show up occasionally? Is marching band really easy enough that you can just come and go and still be good at it? I don’t think so. I think what really happens is that you come and go and the rest of the band suffers because of it.
If you are on the football team (or any other sport) and you don’t go to practice it’s easy, you don’t play in the games. If you are on the drill team and you don’t go to practice you don’t dance in all the dances. If you are in the school play and you miss practice you are replaced. Yet in band we don’t want to lose anyone so there is no individual consequence to the student who doesn’t give 100 percent. The consequence comes to the whole group. If you miss a lot of practice the group suffers. Think about it: We talk about striving for perfection in our show – can we ever even come close if a few kids can’t play their part, or march in time, or march with good posture?
I know that things come up in the summer like various camps, family trips, and such. These are not the absences I’m talking about. And to be perfectly honest I think a lot of what is bothering me is the parent’s fault. So I’m pleading with parents and students alike. Please do everything in your power to be at practice every time. Do whatever it takes to be early and ready to go. Learn your part at home. Practice the things we teach at home. Perfect your part and your fundamentals on your own time. Then at rehearsals we can put it all together and come closer to the lofty goal of perfection.
Let me share some numbers with you. This year our marching band will have rehearsed for 160 hrs before school starts for the fall. The football team about 200 hrs, the drill team about 220 hrs, and the average American worker will work 480 hours in the same time frame. Once school starts the drill team averages 3-4 hrs a day and the football team is about the same. The marching band practices for an hour a day. After the 160 days of summer practice the band will have 9 hrs of rehearsal prior to the fall preview. They will then have 16 hrs before their first competition. The longest practice block between competitions will be 5 hours. The shortest is 1 hr. In total the marching band will have about 50 hours of practice once school starts prior to the state championships. That is a grand total of 210 hours of practice for the season. That is still 10 hours less than the drill team does in just the summer. The students I’m concerned about right now have already missed on average 48 hours of our summer practices. Now ask yourself this question: How on earth can those students even hope to keep up with the rest of the band. One last statistic: The average World Class Drum Corps practices over 1,000 hours during their season. So why are they so good? It’s because they are older, right?
I have a life outside of band. I have a family that wants to spend time with me. They want to have summer family vacations. They want me to be around during the summer to do things with them. I want a summer vacation like “normal teachers” get. But I spend at least 40 hours a week outside of rehearsals in the summer working on band stuff. My family resents it sometimes, but it is my job. For the band students who want to be in the marching band, it should be somewhat your job as well. For all the work I do, I’m not the one on the field performing. I sit in the stands and cheer, just like everyone else. You, the students, are the ones who perform the show. My time means nothing to the judges, or the audience. Do you want the judges and the audience to appreciate what you’re doing? Then make sure you do it well.
Let’s think about the number of hours I ask of you. It is far fewer than other activities at the school. It is far fewer than most bands in the state ask. You all think that I ask an outrageous amount in fees, but again it is less than the Drill Team or Cheerleaders pay. Also, it is a lot less than the average marching band fee in the state. In reality, I don’t ask very much of you. What I do ask is that when we have a rehearsal scheduled that you come, early, and participate fully. Is that really an unreasonable request to ask the kids who are going to be in front of the judges and audience?
My last argument for “stepping up” is the fact that you all marked a box on the registration form stating that you know my expectations and that you will abide by them. The very end of the contract says this:
In short here is what we expect:
1. We take responsibility and are accountable for our belongings, our actions, and ourselves.
2. Good Choices equal good consequences. Poor choices equal negative consequences.
3. We admire traits such as: Punctuality, dependability, honesty, integrity, and a strong work ethic. We communicate openly, are friendly, and loyal to all.
4. We are positive people and give our BEST at every practice and performance.
5. We enjoy the journey.
6. We talk the talk, and walk the walk of TRUE CHAMPIONS!
Band Moto: BE YOUR BEST
Are you as an individual living up to these expectations? If not, when are you going to start?
Students: I expect you to make every effort to not miss practice. Not to be late, not to leave early, and not to be halfhearted. It is time to re-commit to the excellence that I know you can bring.
Parents: I beg of you, please do your best to arrange your schedule to allow the students to live up to the commitment they made. Help them to get to rehearsal early and ready to go. Strive to make doctor, dentist, orthodontist, and other appointments at a time that does not conflict with rehearsal. Please don’t ask your kids to do things at the last minute that will take them away from rehearsal. I know that emergencies come up. I know that not every conflict can be avoided. However, I know from personal experience that it is possible to work around most of what life brings. I’m trying very hard to teach your kids a lesson about responsibility and dedication. Please don’t tell them it’s ok to miss rehearsal for something that can be avoided. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use missing band rehearsal as a punishment for something. I promise they will be worked harder at my rehearsal than they will sitting at home. Finally, encourage them to practice at home. They all need it, no matter how good they think they are.
I hope I have not offended anyone with my thoughts. That was not my intention. I just really want to help everyone understand why we do what we do, and how important it is to not miss. By then end of this week every student should have all the music/work learned and memorized. They should be able to march and play at the same time. They should be so good at the fundamentals that they don’t need to be reminded anymore about what they should be doing. They should march (or walk) in time to every song they ever hear, sing, play, or think about. After this week we start learning and cleaning the show. With only 50 hrs of practice once school starts we don’t have time to rehash the beginning stuff anymore. If you measure the season by hours together we are 75% of the way done with the season today. Some of our kids have missed 75% of that 75%. They are paying for less than half a season. Why?
My final thought is this: Don’t be lukewarm about band. If you are going to put yourself out there in front of an audience, you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. In the words of the Nike commercial, “Just Do It.”
This open letter may be reproduced as long as it is done so in it’s entirety and without modification. All rights reserved.