Some larger competitions can involve dozens of bands with thousands of students with nothing resembling the level of supervision in a high school before or after school or as classes change. For the most part, band parents and the directors are the only ones with direct oversight….. and after a performance, most students are free to congregate back at the stadium to watch the other bands as they mix and mingle.
In uniform, before a performance, you’ll see focused faces as students prepare to do what they are there to do. You might see them move quietly and in formation from the bus area to visual and musical warmup and then to the stadium.
Band students learn dedication, commitment and that striving for excellence is a worthy goal.
Most marching band operations are very structured with responsibility and accountability. There are seniors, section leaders, drum majors, staff, directors (where do I put parents in this list) all with authority over the band student. Participants appreciate compliance and cooperation.
Band students learn the value of, and respect for chain of command.
Unlike a basketball team with its starting five, there is no bench in marching band. Everybody is in. Everybody is a starter. Few other types of groups will involve people from varied backgrounds. There are children of doctors and lawyers marching with children of single-parents working multiple jobs or utilizing government help. There are the students who have their own cars and those who need rides, those with the iPhones and the free phones or no phone. You will find students in most bands from every church in the community and others who have never been inside a church. And yet, with all these differences, when they put that uniform on (actually, even before they dress)…..they are all on the same team, all equal. A good result requires the best from everyone. Students learn teamwork and cooperate with those outside their friend circle.
Band students learn to cooperate and collaborate with those from different backgrounds and capabilities.
You will see students cheer and applaud for good performances of other groups, including those with whom they compete. You’ll see them wishing each other good luck, especially when a band is transiting through the pre-show stages and passing others who have either already performed or have a while yet to go. In a recent competition, I saw a band applauding the same-county rival band and the new band that their previous director had transferred to. When our band was relaxing and enjoying a band-parent-provided soup & chili bar supper following a recent performance, a competitor band passed by, still in uniform, returning from the field following their performance. Our students applauded their rival until the last one had passed. One of their directors found me to tell me that, “Your students are a class act.” That is sportsmanship….or should I call it bandsmanship?
Band students learn good sportsmanship.
Marching band is a time-consuming extreme weather sport. Summer rehearsals are in extreme heat and often go 8+hours a day for multiple weeks before school starting in the fall. Think about the temperatures in September and then imagine putting on a winter coat, hat and gloves and running around a football field at a fast pace. But then, by the time mid-October comes, it gets cold enough that students are wearing under armor and other garments under the uniform to try to stay warm. Then, add periodic rain. Sometimes they have to move rehearsals in and outside to avoid it and other times they get wet. When school starts, add 8-10 extra rehearsals Mon-Thur, 4-5 hrs for a Friday football game, then 12-14 hours on Saturday for a rehearsal, travel and competition — sometimes two.
Band students learn to commit, persevere and endure.
You’ll see both excited and disappointed students as the results are announced, but they will display professionalism many adults would be good to observe and learn from.
Band students learn that there are no shortcuts to success.
Many students, seemingly for the first time in any significant way, are given tasks and responsibilities and held accountable for them. The band student is responsible for loading and unloading his/her equipment; instrument, gloves, show shirt, correct socks and marching shoes. Some students have “section leader” responsibilities, which for most is a first time they’ve had management and oversight responsibilities for others. They have to learn leadership and people skills. Often, at the end of a 4-5yr career, graduating seniors will talk about how band “taught them” responsibility and accountability.
Band students learn that they are individually important.
There is nowhere to hide in a marching band. All students are active participants. In a typical Indiana marching competition, there are six judges watching and listening; four in the press box and two walking around the field going eyeball to eyeball with performers. Band students understand that a trained judge’s eye automatically goes to what is different; someone out of step, out of line, out of tune, and that an individual performance reflects on the total ensemble score. Seniors and section leaders learn how to balance their role as a mentor and teacher/trainer for the newbie members, while also ensuring that even the newbies get up to speed in time for performance.
Students are trying to follow the ‘dots’ from their chart/dot books that tell them where they are going. It is difficult to see the big picture from that spot on the field, so there are directors or instructors watching from farther back (and sometimes higher up) who will adjust a form or shape. Or perhaps it is to point out that an individual is playing too loudly and needs to balance and blend better with others around them. This is contrary to much contemporary educational philosophy which emphasizes only the heaping of praise on what students are attempting to do. Band students know better, and expect to hear how to improve individual performance. Achievement through excellence enhances self-esteem . The challenge for the individual is to “not take it personally”. I describe to students regularly that I highly value them individually, but that when we are trying to improve a marching performance, that they are but one small moving part of a larger machine and that my job (as a director) is to fix the part to improve the machine….no matter who the part is. Nothing personal.
Band students learn to accept criticism, and that self-esteem is raised through the achievement of excellence.
With the extreme time commitment a marching band requires, students must learn to prioritize their time and use it efficiently, especially when it comes to getting homework done.
Band students learn time management skills.
When you ask people who were in a marching band years ago, they may remember how their overall band performed or competed, but probably not likely that weekly score or placing that seemed so important at the time. But they will remember the values they learned, which is why former band students encourage their children to participate in band as well. This is not the article to argue that band utilizes academics, multiple arts and significant athleticism….. but they get all that as well.
- BY JOHN GARNER