Historically, the band/wind medium has served more duality of purpose than perhaps
any other means of music-making. We herald kings and football games (not to be
confused with each other) and are capable of, and often held responsible for, the
openings of freeways, shopping centers, and the inauguration of presidents of all kinds. In
other words, we are exceedingly functional and mobile. We are worthy and needed in
these efforts. Events of these kinds are “just not the same” without the band. Ask any
school principal or community leader in our country.
So why is it that when it comes to curriculum priorities and budget cuts we are being
seriously considered for the proverbial ax? The answer lies somewhere in the confused
definition of a band versus arts education.
As the pendulum of educational priorities again swings away from humanities, in general,
we need to stand up and say that we believe in the concept of balancing our nation’s youth with a proper mix of science and the arts!…. or do we? Do we not truly know that
our educational administrators understand this concept and have done for centuries?
Let us ponder what happens when someone or a group of someones “make music.” On
its highest and most profound level; with excellence of performance; excellence of
repertoire; and the most sincere human effort possible, music serves the function of the
stimulation of our minds, hearts, and souls on their highest levels. This rather amazing
phenomenon happens through time, like no other art form, and the necessary effort on
the part of the musicians demands the utmost of their minds, hearts, and souls. This is
the true giving of the human spirit, a rare event among today’s youth, and one that is
difficult to achieve. The worthiness of it defines it as its place in education provided that
we believe that our ultimate purpose is to raise our students to a new level of
achievement and experience.
These concepts can obviously be explained but must be experienced to be understood.
Now comes the moment of truth for us as conductors/teachers of music. We must ask
ourselves if we are indeed. . . making music.
It is difficult to pinpoint which events and examples over a period of time have caused
us to be so misperceived by so many. The issues of indoor vs. outdoor performance, the
public relations value of our medium, the “team spirit” inherent in much of what we do,
and the willingness of us to do it has not only been discussed and debated in great
detail but have, perhaps, confused even us. The fact is that bands do serve all of these
kinds of functions and that in the process in many cases, the performing musicians are
serving a purpose other than that of making music.
It is equally necessary then, to examine the actual teaching process. Unfortunately,
many band directors view learning to play an instrument as a mechanical exercise (not
unlike learning to march) that is not related to human expression. The motor skills
required are often mistaken for development of the intellect, the excitement felt from a
mechanical performance as the development of musical expression, and a lifeless
performance of a good piece of music as art.
It seems that the aesthetic value of music is either a low or lost priority and worse if you
are in the band, your purpose is somehow different from other performing musicians.
Out students need to learn that making music can be done with a trumpet, violin, voice,
guitar, synthesizer, or harmonica and that in the grand purpose of music it matters not
what instrument they are playing. (The instrument is a means to an end-not the end
itself.) They need to learn that an aesthetic experience is non-competitive with anything
else of value in living life and that the process involved in becoming a musician (not a
mechanic) requires discipline of the mind so that the heart and soul may be expressed.
They need to develop a formidable respect for the art and learn to associate it to its
companions; literature, art, nature, and goodness.
These concepts are inherent in every level of our medium in varying degrees from
marching band to concert band and everything in between. Our students need to learn
to discriminate the value of the medium and the quality of the music used to represent it;
that some kinds of music are less important than others; and that their total experience
in music is of value to their development in different ways that are related to the art itself
in degrees. We should serve our communities and schools with us as the delineators of
how much is too much in relation to the ultimate goal.
The inherent political battles that each of us fights are a necessary part of public (and
private) education. Playing music and playing politics are in no way related. Difficult
though it may be, let us resolve to keep the two separate so that when we stand before
a group of students, their well-being through music is our primary goal. When we fight,
we direct this energy towards places and people who can support and cause change for
us. (When we party, we can tell each other how great we are–see you at Mid-West.)
Were all of this to happen we would see over time, a revitalization of our medium of
music-making. We would have those people with and for whom we work understanding
more about what we do. Understanding leads to support. Support leads to progress.
Progress leads to growth. and the positive result of our work leads to peace of mind.
People “burn out” when the workload overwhelms the level of satisfaction achieved.
Sweeping idealistically and waxing philosophically are easy. Producing a quality musical
product requires that the parties involved do both; after all, we are dealing with entities
that are rather mystical and very wonderful – music and human beings. Perhaps this fall
while sweating or freezing, conducting, studying, or meeting, we could all uplift our gaze
for a moment to remember why we do what we do.