I want a second chance to be a band geek

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

May 9, 2013

Wanted: a second chance to be a band geek

The story was all over my social media feeds last week. The principal of a low-performing school in Roxbury, Mass., let his security staff go to help pay for more arts teachers. It was another of those stories I ignored at the time, knowing that if I found I was interested in reading it later, then it would be there; stories have a way of circling around and coming back to us. And this one did just that as I sat in the audience twice in the past week for my sons’ band concerts at White Station Middle and High Schools. It’s the type of setting where a story on the importance of funding arts programs in schools might be set to the music of Gershwin.

If you’ve never been to a concert at that level, it is nothing less than extraordinary. I wasn’t in the band in high school. Band geeks, that’s who was in the band. It turns out there is no shame in that. Just the opposite: It’s a moniker worn with pride. There may be no other instance of students working so closely together with their teachers than in a school auditorium as they give a performance everything they’ve got. They all have a stake in it. They’re all trying to make this thing — this arrangement — sound as whole and as perfect as possible. To do such a thing takes more than mere talent: It takes teamwork.

Many of the professional musicians I know all came to their instruments through their secondary schools’ band programs. How many adults today do you know who can show a direct line from middle school to their careers? The conductors on stage this past week — Mr. Wright, Mr. Guinn and Mr. Scott — are the Pied Pipers of our children, leading them into something that, even if they don’t make a job of it, they will use in some way or other their entire lives.

In a recent conversation, Dru Davison, performing arts coordinator with Memphis City Schools, hit on the ability of music to facilitate all learning when he spoke of the many jazz ensembles in the schools and the art of improvisation.

“You can recite someone else’s piece of music, or you can take everything you know about music and create your own, and that kind of creativity and innovation is really what employers are looking for,” Davison told me. “It’s about being college- and career-ready, and if you have kids in a jazz band, you know that they’re showing up on time for every rehearsal or else they can’t perform.”

That school in Roxbury, Orchard Gardens Elementary, has shown a vast improvement in its test scores, in its morale and in its security issues even without the aid of a police force. They’re working as a team now — students, teachers, administration — to make their arrangement the best that it can be.

If I had it all to do over again, would I be a band geek? You bet I would. I would be awful, mind you, but I would try my hand at the saxophone or the clarinet or maybe even the tuba. In lieu of talent, I sit in the audience as a music lover.

I’m a proud parent of public schoolchildren, and I’m with the band.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal