Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rich Band, Poor Band

My son is a member of the local high school's marching band.

They had their first competition Saturday and nearly swept the awards.

In marching band competitions at the high school level, bands compete against other bands from similar sized schools in five divisions, the smallest schools being in the 1A division, the largest in 5A. We're a 2A school.

In each division, seven awards are given--four specific and 3 overall.

Specific awards include:
Music--how does the band sound?
Drum Line--how awesome is the percussion section?
Color Guard--you know those chicks with the flags that dance around?
Appearance--how precise are their drills, spiffy their uniforms, etc.

Then your typical overalls:
Third place
Second place
First place

Our little band (49 members) won drum line, color guard, tied for appearance and took first place overall in our division.

Pretty cool, eh?

But here's the behind the scenes look at this great band.

There were a lot of bands there. Five in our division. More in some of the other divisions. Bands ranged in size from around 40 kids, to over 100. Some of the bigger bands had funding out the earlobes, stands full of enthusiastic supporters, band-supporter t-shirts, gleaming instruments, polished shoes, new uniforms, etc. etc. etc.

Other bands looked somewhat thrown together. Our band looks a little more on the thrown together side. Our band IS a little thrown together.

My son's tenor sax (a school rental) lost a pad just before a review a few days before. He was able to get it to stick back on with some help from his teacher, but the instrument is pretty beat up. It simply doesn't play the highest or lowest notes. When the band arrived at the competition, they found that one of the tuba's had cracked. The timpanies are badly in need of repair. All the instruments could use maintenance. We get the kids there in a school bus, while a parent in his pickup hauls a small trailer for the percussion 'pit' equipment, the kids rent many-times-reused uniforms from the school. Many, probably most of the kids in the band come from middle to low income families. They can't afford to buy their own instruments. Despite a bunch of dedicated kids and a great track record for winning competitions, the school provides a pittance of funding. Many of the other schools at that competition seemed to be working in similar cicumstances.

Contrast that with some of the other schools in attendance, who rode in on chartered buses, had their equipment hauled in with semi trucks, wore sparkly uniforms, played new sparkly instruments.

I'm not disparaging those schools their good fortune. Truth be told, all that shiny stuff didn't win anyone any awards. It came down to hard work, dedication, skill, perseverence.

I only wish the kids in our band felt like their efforts were worth something--to their community, to their school. Sure, they have trophies, but trophies aren't going to buy a new tuba.

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