I haven’t done a lot of marching band, so my opinions about it are tempered somewhat by my lack of experiences in this area. Personally, I was always more interested in making music for listening purposes, rather than in conjunction with something that looks cool on the field. Also, I have to admit I’m not much of a football fan, so I never really was interested in going to a lot of games. At the high school and university I went to for my undergraduate degree there wasn’t even a marching band to participate in, we just did pep band and played in the stands.
But I do know a lot of musicians who had very positive experiences in marching bands and drum and bugle corps, so I understand the appeal. And I’m trying to learn more about this in order to be able to be more versatile as a teacher.
Recently NPR broadcast an editorial about marching bands and sports, which I found very interesting and have some agreement with. Frank Deford mentions his surprise in learning that many schools offer scholarships for students to play in the marching band. I have no problem with this, many schools offer financial incentives to students to play in a particular ensemble for both music majors and music minors. One of Deford’s other points I’m in full agreement with.
Lisa Chismire, the parent of a student in the Unionville-Chadds Ford District in Pennsylvania, discovered that it was district policy — as it is elsewhere — to force serious music students to attend band camp in the summer and then march in the band at football games. If music students who had no interest in the marching band did not go along and assist the football program, the young musicians would not be allowed to play in the concert band, the symphonic band, the jazz band or the orchestra.
Chismire, who is a retired lawyer, was appalled. She called this “extortion” and “institutional bullying” — coercing students in one discipline to serve as spear carriers for those in another.
In my experience, if the marching band is run well by the directors you typically don’t need to spend a lot of time recruiting your band students to participate in it. They will want to because it’s enjoyable. If anything, I feel that the concert band is the ensemble that needs to be the core group of a high school band program and this is the ensemble that should be required for participation in the marching band. It’s in the concert band where the director can most effectively teach essential musical skills that will translate to a good sounding marching band, where the marching band has too many other activities involved to really focus on making music well.
But there is some controversy about these different priorities. Many high schools really focus their band program on the marching band. It is the most visible group of the entire music program and is how many school band programs are judged by the general public.
The comments in the NPR article are also interesting to read, with good points being made by both sides of this issue. What do you think? Should marching band be the core ensemble of a high school band program or is this putting the cart before the horse? Does the real answer to this question lie somewhere in the middle?