Narrative/Thoughts Final Draft
Marching Band: Seven Lessons and more
Marching band—to some a joke—but to others, such as myself, a part of life. During the marching season, I eat, sleep, and breathe the music and melodies. No matter what you think or say about it, won't change the way I view it. I know that in the future, when I graduate from high school and college, I won't remember the classes I took, or the things I did; I'll remember the memories I made. When I graduate with the class of 2012, I will be able to keep my high school marching band memories close. I know that when I leave, nothing else will matter, except the memories I take away, and the impression I leave behind.
The dictionary definition of a marching band is "a group of instrumental musicians, who generally perform outdoors, with movement such as marching, put to their music." In all honesty, it's so much more; if you think about it, it's really a group of 'friends' or peers who work together to achieve a common goal over a period of time. During the season we have our ups and downs, and we see each other at our best and worst. Of course, like in every other activity, we get sick of each other, and sick of the program, but we learn to push through and by the end we're glad we did. You're happy because you know it's worth it, you're happy because you love the thrill of the performance, and you're happy because you love doing it.
Marching band is much like other sports teams and clubs, in the sense that it's physical activity and effort is required. The one thing that makes band so different from these other activities is the combination of both a sport, and the arts. It's a sport because of the marching, and an art because of the musical composition and emotion each individual puts in.
As a group of peer, that's how we all start at least, we learn to work together. By working together, we build trust in one another, and ideally we become 'friends.' Soon after that, we learn to love and care for each other so much that we become family in our sections. Being close is only the first step though. As individual sections within the band, we must learn to depend on other sections, and work as one band. Depending on each other for help and support, we learn to push one another to improve. We've seen each other at our best and worst; we've picked each other up when we're down, and we've helped each other learn and grow.
Throughout my soon to be four years of marching band, I've learned that there are so many lessons that you're taught; both by others and you yourself. I've gone through a list and have narrowed it down to a select few. I've compiled seven of the most important lessons that I've been taught, and that I have taught; respect, dedication, goal, family, tolerance, leadership, and confidence.
"Respect: esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability."
By far, the most important lesson that can be taught by any program is respect. A seven letter word, that teaches you to appreciate and love what you're able to do. Marching band teaches you to respect others, yourself, and everything you do. As an incoming member of any marching band, respect is one lesson that must be learned. In giving respect to others, we receive respect from them. To succeed in a marching band, every member must learn to respect their instructors and teachers, their leaders, their teammates, and themselves. Once these three components of respect are learned, moving forward in marching band is easy.
Throughout my few years of marching band, I've learned to love and respect the band, and its participants. I also learned to respect myself, and to be proud of what I can do and what I'm good at. This 'value' didn't just come to me when I joined band; I was taught respect from one important person. His name's Russell Reuter, our visual director at the time. He taught me to respect what I do and love it; he inspired me to always want to be better than what I am, and to always strive for my goals. My freshman year I was despised because I showed no respect for anyone or myself, but throughout the year and the following marching season, I began to take a liking to Russell and his long winded inspiring speeches about life values and importance.
"Dedication: wholly committed to something, as to an ideal, political cause, or personal goal"
A requirement for any marching band member is commitment and dedication. In band, the word dedication can be associated with two things: time and effort. Any member of any activity must be willing to enough to put in as much time as necessary to better themselves at it. Countless hours of summer rehearsals and Monday night's, are usually a common time frames to be associated with the West De Pere High School Band. To be able to dedicate yourself to an activity that is so, for lack of a better word, needy, is incredibly hard. With time alone, success won't come. It's essential to put in effort as well, meaning the time will be used as wisely as possible. If there is no effort, no desire to learn, you cannot teach. You cannot teach someone who is resentful towards what your teaching, otherwise it's not called learning. When both time and effort are put into a marching band, there is dedication. There is an improvement shown, and meaning put behind everything you do.
"Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end."
To be one marching band, everyone must work together to achieve one common goal. In the beginning of the season, simple goals are set, such as learn to march, or learn to play my instrument. As the season progresses, each member begins to set individual goals that apply to their part in the show. By achieving those individual goals, members are doing their job in developing the band. Once a marching band has reached this point, they begin to perfect and strive for bigger and more difficult goals. Without goals, life wouldn't be very structured; without goals a marching band would crumble.
"Family: a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together"
"Friend: a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter"
Working as one is different than being one. Being one band, isn't the easiest thing to do, because there will always be diverse people in the program. In a marching band, it's important that band mates know one another on a level of friendship. The best thing about a marching band is its element of family and belonging. Families stick together no matter what, through thick and thin, ups and downs. When part of a marching band, there's no such thing as out of place; everyone fits in somewhere. Having such a diverse amount of individuals, is quite an amazing thing if everyone learns to love one another like family. Working, living, and being one band, is a lot easier if people are close.
This past season, it took all five months of band, for our marching band to become an 'actual' family. At our last completion in Minnesota, we all realized that our hard work and dedication paid off, when we made it to finals. After we performed for the last time that night, we all felt so close and everything was fitting into place. That moment it didn't matter to us weather we won or lost, we were one for the first time in a long time.
Later on that night, when we headed out to put our uniforms away, Russell was giving one of his speeches, but this one was different. It didn't occur to me why everyone was crying, until I noticed that, Russell was leaving. He'd been with us so long, and now he was leaving. I wasn't sure how to react, and I started to cry along with everyone else. We were all holding one another trying to comfort our 'family' members. He had taught us all so much, and now he was leaving. It just didn't feel right, but it was true. He kept telling us, "You all have to be brave and put one foot in front of the other and move on." Those words settled into my mind, and still stick to this day.
That night, I realized how much I took that one moment of becoming one, that one performance, for granted. Being a family with everyone around me just felt so natural, and now one of our family members was leaving. I learned how quickly a family, like a marching band, can become one. I learned that being a family isn't easy, but no matter what happens you all have to muster up the courage to push through together. That night will remain as an important memory for me and for everyone else standing there in that circle. I [we] will never forget Russell Reuter, for he's taught me [us] so much about life and the importance you play in it.
"Tolerance: a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own."
This lesson may seem out of the ordinary, but it's quite important. During the summer camps, there are all kinds of incoming member, and to perform at a level of excellence, we must teach them what we know. Every year, it's a new band, new members, new music, new show; it changes. For a band to start off, tolerance is needed by every member. Older members must be tolerant, and take the time to teach and develop the skills of the new members, and the new members must be tolerant, and take the time to learn and develop their skills. Although tolerance seems like a simple concept, it's one of the hardest lessons for any member of a marching band to learn.
"Leadership:an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction"
In a marching band, it is so vital that you have leaders. Out of all the members in a section, one section leader is chosen. It is that person's job to lead their section and make sure that they develop and grow as they should throughout the season. Out of all the members in one section, the section leader is 'in charge', but that doesn't stop other members from becoming leaders and taking on the responsibilities. A leader is anyone out of everyone who can guide, or teach, or show that they aren't afraid to do anything. Their confident in what they do and how they do it. From watching and admiring leaders of the past, new members step forward and show that they can lead to. Without leadership, without leaders, you have no marching band.
"Confidence: full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing"
Confidence is fundamental when it comes to marching band. When a band is out on a field and they perform, people can usually tell if they know what they're doing, based upon their sense of confidence. Any band member must show confidence even if they're not, even if they have no idea what they're music is, they must show it. With confidence, comes assurance within the band, and within yourself. Self-confidence is the greatest factor in performing a show. If a band can present their show in a way that awes an audience, a judge, or a director, it means that there is confidence building. Once each member of the marching band has found their self-confidence, then the whole band can move forward towards perfection.
Ever since I was a freshman, I have been told, "When you make a mistake make it loud and noticeable, otherwise it's not fixable." Since then I've come along way, I'm no longer afraid to be wrong, or make a mistake, because I know I have others to help point out and teach me how to correct it. Even if I have no idea, what I'm doing, I've learned to look as though I do with confidence. Through gaining confidence and learning from my mistakes, I also learned to lead.
My sophomore year, I always looked up to my section leader, Dillon Grabski, a past graduate of West De Pere High School. He was so musically gifted, and I admired it. His talents amazed me and inspired me to set a goal I still look up to. I want to be able to live up to Dillon and his talents. I want to be a section leader just like him.
Leadership is something that, I believe, every band member should strive for, and desire. With leadership, you're able to stand up for what you know, say, and what you stand for. Like Dwight Eisenhower once said, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."
Russell played a part in teaching me the importance of a leader. You must stand up and in a sense 'show off,' or, gain credibility so that you gain respect. You need to be able to have a say, and not be afraid of your own voice. I believe that leaders aren't born, for the reason that anyone can become one. Everyone at one point in their life has at least a moment of leadership, but it's those who strive and work towards that moment again, that become leaders.
Marching band is not only these seven 'values,' it's so much more. It's a way of life and most importantly a teacher. When put together, all these 'values' add up to one thing, growth. Growth, in marching band, means shown improvement. It's a simple way to show people that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. It's a way to show how far you've come, and what new goals you want to achieve. Marching band is simply growth, in your skill, your life, and your memories.
In this program, I've learned so much. I've grown and grown, and I still have goals I haven't accomplished. Every year, I set new standards and I try to live up to them. I never know what to expect, and I don't know who I'm going to meet along my way; for me, band is life. It's a journey in its self that I have yet to finish. It's a journey that will end with tears, it's a journey that will end with love, and it's a journey that will last forever in my memories.
Student leadership in the band is the backbone of the program. This is especially true for the high school and college programs but student leadership can also benefit middle school music organizations. During my high school career, I noticed good and not so good student leadership. The best type of leaders had a vested interest the band program. That vested interest starts with educating the potential leaders about leadership and habits of successful people.
Why is Student Leadership Essential?
Student leadership is important because no successful band director can do it all by him or herself. If the band director attempts to perform all of the tasks that are necessary for the program, the likelihood that he or she will “burn out,” especially if they don’t have an assistant band director, is greatly increased. In addition, students will have missed an opportunity to have responsibilities for logical tasks that will help them in their personal and professional growth. The fact is that there is just too much to be done! Training student leaders can not only make a band director’s job easier, and greatly reduce stress, it’s better for everyone involved.
Successfully managing logistical tasks such as the maintaining the classroom environment can have a tremendous effect on the band program. At the 2015 Midwest Clinic, I gave presentation on teaching techniques in Title I schools. In my presentation I described how Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point,” suggests that small things lead to big things. I believe that training section leaders how to maintain a clean and structured band room can result in not only in a better learning environment for students, but also a more disciplined band. Why? Because student leaders will begin to take a vested interest, first in maintaining the band room, and eventually in the program overall.
In the process, the student leaders will also influence other band students to maintain a structured room, further encouraging these students to also have increased pride in the organization. Training student leaders to do a small thing in maintaining the band room leads to a big thing in providing a structured learning environment and more pride in the organization. This kind of pride really contributes to making teaching more fulfilling and rewarding.
Year-Round Leadership Auditions
In my high school band program, I informed all potential leaders that their audition begins on the first day of school. Which means auditioning for leadership is year-round. I learned this lesson the hard way when auditioning student leadership during my early band directing days. My high school band included drum majors, dance/guard captains, section leaders. Two weeks before the leadership audition, I held two weeks of leadership training. The leadership candidates were required to fill out an application that included things like:
- Their current G.P.A.,
- Recommendations from four teacher and two administrators,
- A list of the ensembles they had performed in (including those outside of school), and
- An essay that featured questions such as “Why do you want to become a section leader/drum major?”
Then the leadership went through an interview process with the band staff. After the two weeks, the leaders performed a playing/dance audition, and the drum majors demonstrated training learned during the training. At the audition, two outside expert observers along with the band staff were called to judge leadership candidates.
After this lengthy process I announced the new drum majors. Within an hour of my announcement, I heard a student shout; “Mr. Arnold, Johnny’s mother is waiting for you at your car in the parking lot!” Of course, Johnny was a candidate who was not selected that year. From all appearances, Johnny’s mother was about to have it out with me because her child did not make drum major. While she eventually left, she did email the principal stating that I was “the worst person on earth,” and the audition was unfair to her child.
Years later, I can look back at this story with amusement, but it was not funny at the time.
One of Johnny’s issues was he decided to start showing leadership skills two weeks before the audition, not during the year. The whole experience taught me the importance of making leadership selection a year-round audition process.
I believe band directors should identify candidates early in the year and notate grades, good habits, demonstrations of leadership, and behaviors that need improvement. Then periodically during the year meet with the candidates and discuss what you have learned. I also took the next step and had the candidates and parents sign the meeting document. Not only does this help determine potential leaders but helps the student improve as leaders. Now, by the time the two-week leadership camp begins, both students and parents are fully aware of each student’s leadership status in the program.
How to Train Leaders
One resource I have found to be invaluable in working with prospective student leaders is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey. It’s vital that students learn how health/unhealthy habits influence human behavior. Reviewing this book with students not only helps me get to know band student leadership better but also helps the student in their personal lives. I have always believed that the place for successful music teachers to begin is with learning about each student. By doing so, the window of learning and growing becomes indefinite.
The concepts in this article were conceived to stress the importance of student leaders and their value to the band program. Student leaderships can assist the band director with administrative tasks, help reinforce rules, and promote pride in the band program. Additionally, selection of leadership should involve a yearlong process of candidate evaluations and conferences. By applying the concepts discussed, the band director will promote a more mature and prideful band organization.
Gabriel Arnold received the B.M.E. and the M.M.E. from Florida State University. Before receiving his undergraduate degree, he served four years in the United States Marine Corps, where he played tuba with the Marine Band. In December 2015 he presented an in-service “Effective Band Director Techniques for Teaching in Title I Schools” for the Midwest Clinic.
Mr. Arnold is in his final year as a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University.