Ma, Where's my trumpet?


         A Story


Matt has gone home to visit his parents one early fall weekend. A little bit about Matt.....Matt is 25 now. In high school, Matt had played trumpet in the band, really loved being a part of the band and his senior year he had even moved up to section leader. Though not planning a career in music, when he first started college he auditioned and made it into the university band. He only stayed in the program a semester, however, as it seemed there were just too many other things to do. Subsequently, Matt graduated from college, landed a good job, moved to a new town and started making his way in the world. Late in the summer, Matt had been riding his bicycle in the town park, when he heard the sounds of a band. His interest piqued, he rode over and saw a group of adults, obviously having a great time, performing a concert for a large crowd sitting on lawn chairs and blankets. He listened to the remainder of the program, hearing some music he had played in high school, and reminded of how much he had always enjoyed band. After the concert was over, Matt went up to the conductor and asked about the group. The conductor said it was the town's community band, and if he was interested, they would love to have him join. Hence, when Matt went home on this particular weekend he asked, "Ma, where's my trumpet?"


         The Question


What about Matt's high school band experience struck the "resonant chord" and caused him to want to continue playing his trumpet? Why did Matt make the decision to join the community band when so many do not take advantage of this opportunity?


         The Issue


Even today, when arts programs in general and music in particular are short-staffed and short-funded: even today, when block scheduling poises a threat to many programs: even today, in the face of a plethora of extra and co-curricular school offerings: even today, when the work schedules of students may necessitate understanding and flexibility - high school band programs continue to thrive. Hundreds of thousands of students actively participate in concert, jazz and marching bands across the country. Yet we have to acknowledge that less than 5% of students graduating from the average program continue to participate in a college or university band and less than 1% will continue to play their instrument in adult life.


         The Problem


Many will cite the demands of adult life as a stumbling block to participation in a community band. No time, too many other obligations, the hectic pace which modern living seems to dictate - these are the oft-heard reasons why a person will choose not to be involved. A major part of the problem, however, might have to do with the very nature of the band programs which we as educators design and promote.


To move closer to the core of this issue, we must examine the very fiber of the band programs in which we take such great pride. We work long hours to develop band programs which are of benefit to band members and our school communities. We have to act with the ardent fervor of a revivalist preacher to convince students of the great import of band participation. Yet the unspoken rule, in too many cases is that.....yes band should be the most important activity in your life.....until you are eighteen.


Where might we be running amuck in our band programs? I submit the following for consideration.


Participation in music is a performance based activity. Essentially we pay the bills by the very nature and quality of our collective performances. The problem is, however, that we sometimes begin to treat band as an "ordinary experience" a "means to an end" only. Work lots, practice lots, sweat lots for the sake of the program, possibly the glory of our trophy case, and for some, the edification of the director. This, too often seems to be the agenda.


         The Answer


Of course we must always "tend shop" and strive for quality and excellence with our band programs and the performances of band members. We must, however, also strive for "aesthetic experiences" in our programs. We must foster the desire in band members to play, and continue to play, "just because" they love music and their lives would be less engaged, less fulfilled without music.


         The Goal


The primary goal of any program should be to strike a special, resonant chord in each individual: instill in each band member a true, genuine love of music-making. Through varied literature, varied performance venues, varied program emphases, we as band directors must shape experiences which bring a broad-based understanding of "band" to our students. We must not only develop the specialized skills and abilities which are necessary in a band member, but we must also foster appreciations and initiatives which will lead the student to be a life-long producer and consumer of music.


One of the greatest assets which we have in arts programs in general and music programs in particular is this possibility for life-time participation. Few other curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular classes or activities in which a student might be involved in the average high school have this great potential. We must constantly stress this facet of life-time band participation and strive to develop in students an understanding that high school or college band participation is, can be, or should be only an early step in their musical lives. As true educators, we must encourage our students to play in the local community band, the 4-H band, or their local church and we must inform them of these ensembles and the plethora of other playing opportunities which will be available to them throughout their lives.


We must judge program strength not only in the pounds of trophies won, not only in the number of grade VI selections which we perform, not only in the number of our students which make "All-State", but also in the number of hearts, souls, minds and lives which have been struck by the resonant chord of music. In many ways, the best and final accounting of our programs is the number of band members in which we have instilled a lifetime desire to be actively involved in music-making. Like Matt, we hope they go home some weekend and say,

"Ma, where's my trumpet"?