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Marching Band vs. Indentured Servitude

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One mom questions the level of commitment families are asked to make to the local high school marching band.

Marching band

Homeschool Mom: I haven't been involved with a local public high school since I graduated, well, let's just say a few decades ago, and now that we are looking to hook my 14-year-old up with a regular, good old American-style public high school experience, I have to admit I'm rather amazed at the machinations within which I have become a tiny cog. He plays drums, and they have a first-rate champion marching band and really top-notch music department at his new school, so my husband and I thought it would be great to get him involved. He has already started practicing a couple times a week since before school even let out. Little did we know what marching bands, at least champion marching bands, require from students and parents. Let's just say if Betsy Booster Club wrote a perky memo asking for my kidney, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised.

First of all, it costs something over $1,000 for a semester, and it is not clear how much "something over" is at this point. We have to agree to do hours and hours and hours of fund-raising to just get the "something over $1,000" price. It's called "Your Fair Share," which I fear is some kind of Orwellian Band Speech. I am having trouble understanding how a public school can charge this much for band, because isn't it free and equal education for the masses? How is a single mother making a little over minimum wage going to have her kid in marching band? So marching band then becomes elitist instead of being something to enrich the lives of the children at the high school.

The next thing I was floored by was the amount of hours my son is required to put in. He will be at school until 6:00 PM four days out of the school week, and then on Saturdays for four hours as well. (But we were told not to pick him up until 6:30. So doesn't that mean practice goes until 6:30? More Orwellian Band Speech, I fear.) During the weekdays, that puts his time commitment for school at almost 11 hours a day, and that does not include homework. Betsy Booster Club says that it teaches him time management. Well, I suppose that would be true if it actually left him any time to manage.

I'm having trouble understanding how this type of schedule is in the best interest of the kid. I understand it is great for the prestige of the school to win every band competition they enter. The thing is, aren't you kind of stacking the decks? I mean, if I worked out five hours every day and I didn't have an incredible body, something would be strange. By the same token, if the kids are marched like it's a reenactment of the Bataan Death March, aren't they pretty much guaranteed to be good? It's a bit of an overkill. How about let the other school have a chance for goodness' sake and respect the child labor laws?

Needless to say, our first foray back into the traditional school system has been a bit of a shock. At least I can say "No thank-you" to Betsy and the band, but I am apprehensive, wondering if I will be able to politely decline other things that I find objectionable.

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Band Geek July 27, 2009, 8:43 AM

Ha…you have no idea what you are in for. I marched High school band, Drum Corp, and got my Masters in Music Theory. High school bands are a cult! I love band, made it my life…let me re-state that “I LOVE BAND”…However, most parents need to understand, that their child must Eat, Sleep and live band…as do (unfortunatly) the parents.
Actually, you son’s practice schedule is some what light compared to others. Don’t for get Football games on friday nights, competitions on saturdays, parades on sundays, special appearences and so on.
Now…having said that…85% of Band students go on to recieve major College Scholorships, mostly to private Liberal Arts Universities, so many feel the end certainly justifies the mean.

EMME July 27, 2009, 12:40 PM

My son was in marching band in high school and let me tell you he almost quit the first week of band camp. He stuck it out and it turned out to be his favorite and most rewarding part of high school and he also was a peer counselor, a student mentor was editor of the yearbook and on the honor roll. He went on to USC on a scolarship and was in one of the best marching bands in the world. It takes hard work and determination to be good and it is definately worth it! Besides it is only 3 1/2 months, and let me tell you it DOES build character and teaches time management and disipline! Being busy and focused keeps children off the street and out of trouble.

Steve-a-rino July 27, 2009, 1:37 PM

What’s worse is that the band leader gets (and takes) all the credit! Another swell side of “band” is that the band leader decides he wants to go to New York or Orlando and YOU have to pay for it! These people have convinced themselves that band is all that matters and everyone has to bow down to the band leader no matter what he wants. One thing is true: Band members have the best grades, are in less trouble and get more awards than any other group in school. But, there’s a HIGH price to pay. Get in and stay in or get out!

dean July 27, 2009, 4:44 PM

High school band is such a cult! Those kids are expected to put in sooooo much time for it and many I have known have had low grades as a result. However that is true of most students who put more time into something else besides school.

Caroline July 27, 2009, 6:32 PM

I have a slightly different perspective. I’m not musical, but the kids and hubby are all heavily dedicated to this passion!

Painfully true per the astronomical cost involved (add DCI and Dallas Youth Orchestra, private lessons x 2 kids for us!). Subsidies exist almost soley for athletics, at least here in TX. *But* we have never had to remind our kids to do their homework or to practice their instrument. Playing at world class venues, doin what they love, with the added benefit of scholarship potential are all reasons to offer support.

Our girls play 5 different instruments, and both have “A” averages. Their marching and concert band experience has taught them discipline and respect, as well as how to fail AND succeed. Perhaps they are the exception, and I would certainly not be working so hard to pay for it all if they didn’t enjoy it.

High School Band is not for everyone. It really isn’t. Furthermore, the leadership has a huge bearing on the kids’ experiences, not to mention the parent’s. But without music filling their lives, our kids would be so lost. Even at Church, this is how they “Plug In.”

I love it, and will miss these days so much when they are gone!

Kristen July 27, 2009, 7:39 PM

This article along with the comments makes me sad. One I’m sad for the time lost on being a kid, I could understand this dedication from a homeschooled child who has more free time on there hands than most but kids who go to school and do this, WOW, talk about a cause for an emotional breakdown early if they can’t handle it. Secondly I’m sad because as the article points out, the band thing really does seem to be for mostly affluent people who can spare there time and money. You may not have to be super rich but you at least have to have A LOT of time for fundraisers and travelling and those are both things single or poor parents don’t have.

Anonymous July 28, 2009, 11:38 AM

One time at band camp…..

krystal July 28, 2009, 2:25 PM

Honestly, you have so many ways of paying for band that it shouldn’t be a big deal, they do countless fundraisers that aren’t as big a pain as you want to make them seem and many businesses will sponsor your kid. If it’s something he enjoys doing, making friends and playing his instrument (he’ll probably learn the full percussion range) it’s worth it. Band kids are typically the ones with good grades, good friends, good leadership discipline and life skills and are the ones getting top notch scholarships right along with the less academically qualified sports players. Marching band to many kids IS a sport and is more than just a casual thing, it involves almost daily hours-long practice sessions along with countless performances. My band did parades, competitions, movies and so much more and we always had time for schoolwork and hanging out and a lot of us never payed much out of pocket. Try getting to know the parents, getting involved in the meetings and coming up with fundraising ideas rather than refusing to understand and allow your son to try a really great opportunity, you won’t regret it once he’s on his way to a good school with amazing memories.

J Norman July 28, 2010, 8:50 PM

You are such an overprotective whiner. To begin with, the marching band is completely optional, you are not in any way forced to do it. Second of all, the bill covers teachers, equipment, uniforms, travel, food, and other things. There is no fat guy with a cigar in a penthouse collecting money for his own good. If the school district were to cover this, they would be near bankruptcy. Lastly, your son is in one of the best and most competitive marching bands in the country. Accomplishment that high isn’t reached with a laid back and passive approach, ask anyone who has ever achieved anything.

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