Ma, I'm Gonna Go Work At Wendy's


         A Story

Jake was in his third year of teaching at Mechanicsburg South High School. He was the Band Director at MSHS, a nice, smallish high school in the southeastern portion of the state. It was early April, his Spring Break - and he had decided to run home for a few days and visit his mother. When he arrived home, he settled in his favorite place - the large rocking chair in the kitchen - where he could have a nice chat with his mother while she was cooking all of his favorites. As always, she asked about school, his band and recent concerts [having been a band booster for seven years while Jake and his brothers all got through high school, she had a pretty good "handle" on this band business]. Jake replied that all had been going pretty well - but then got unusually serious...


"You know I am very grateful I got the band job at MSHS, you know I love my band kids - but I guess I should tell you now - Ma, I'm gonna go work at Wendy's."


Jake's mother instantly drops her cooking spoon, walks over and pulls one of the old kitchen chairs up in front of him. "You are going to do what - Jacob" she asks in disbelief? And Jake says again, "Ma, I'm gonna go work at Wendy's." His mother looks at him shaking her head, and starts in "But you have always loved your music." "You have always been so good with kids." "You have always enjoyed playing your saxophone." Jake knew this was going to be difficult, and he had been dreading this conversation the entire drive home - but he had made up his mind, and had resolved to stand fast. So he looked squarely at his mother - and said "Yes, you are right - I do love my saxophone, I do love the kids - they are great, but you just don't understand - and I'm telling you again - I have made up my mind and at the end of the school year - Ma, I'm gonna go work at Wendy's."


         Jake's Dilemma

Jake had been mulling over this decision for months. He knew his mother was right, his whole life had pretty much been preparing him to be a band director. He had been a leader in his high school band - always played in the local 4-H band, community band and a few times - had even played his saxophone at church. He had gotten a good scholarship at the local university, and during college had been selected to participate in the state All-Collegiate Band and had even served as Student Conductor for his Wind Ensemble. He had worked countless band camps, taught many lessons, and was not just a fine player, but also an excellent student. Jake simply had always planned and dreamed about being a high school band director.


Recently, however, Jake had been thinking a great deal about the "business." He, like any good band director, worked endless hours for the growth of his band members and the success of his band program. This spring - in the couple of months prior to Spring Break - he had prepared many of his students for the regional Solo and Ensemble contest, immediately followed by taking his concert band to District Festival. He then had directed the pit band for his school's Spring Musical - and also he had organized a small ensemble to play for the dedication of the new church in town.


One night - when he had again gotten back to his apartment after 11:00 PM - he decided to figure up how many hours a week he was working - and how much he was making an hour. Jake was not a whiner or complainer, but that day he had talked to one of his old college buddies, who was telling him about his job - bragging about how much he made an hour - and all of the things he did on his "free time." Jake started realizing that he did not even know what "free time" was. Driven by his curiosity that evening, Jake figured that as he was working nearly twelve months a year - generally seven days a week - seldom less than twelve hours a day, that his salary would be approximately eighty-six cents an hour.


Jake had also been sensing - and had started noticing during football season - that there appeared to be no such thing as an "old" band director. At his county music meetings, at the annual state music in-service conference, at band contests and festivals - he never seemingly saw many - if any - high school band directors in their forties and fifties - and Jake wondered where they went - what happened to them. This coupled with the fact that Jake truly "did not have a life" and he knew he was actually making less than a dollar an hour, had fueled his decision for a career change. On his drive to and from school each day, Jake passed a Wendy's, and recently had noticed on their sign - that they were looking for Assistant Managers starting at $15.95 an hour. Jake figured for only forty hours a week, for that kind of money - he could do anything. He additionally surmised that all "old" band directors must now be working at Wendy's and it was time he started!


         The Issue

What causes this almost rampant migration from our "business?" What fuels this almost abnormal attrition rate with young band directors - the brightest and the best? What leads fine folks like Jake - who for their entire young lives, had planned to be nothing other than a band director - to "bolt?"


         The Situation

Is the crux of the problem pay? Well, early in life we do "develop the desire to eat," however, these days and times, most teacher salaries are "competitive" - so I say not. Is the bottom-line issue the very nature of our business itself - too many performance obligations, too great of responsibility for the students, too great of time commitment with band boosters, too many contests or festivals, a general lack of administrative support? Maybe, but we go into the profession with our eyes pretty much open about these - so again, I say not. Is this "flight" driven by the lack of positive modeling from "older" ladies and gents in the profession? Perhaps, however, I view this to be a part of the same paradigm that is leading "our Jake" to his current professional dilemma.


         The Problem

I submit for consideration, that the problem is we "forget" why we went into the business at the outset. In the most sophomoric terms - we perhaps forget the "goose bumps" that we probably started getting early in life as we were involved in positive musical experiences. In terms of academe - we perhaps forget our personal philosophy of music education - that we have developed throughout our own "journey" in music and music-making. To paraphrase Robert Shaw, we must remember that we "make music not because we want to - but rather because we have to".


         The Solution

Each of us probably "scuffled" through "philosophy of music education" courses - whether we studied at a liberal arts college, at a regional-state institution or at a mega-research university. Many times we were asked to "write our personal philosophy of music education" - and trying to throw in some quality Pierce or James or Dewey or Langer - we "ginned up" something to please the professor. But this is not enough. We must make this "philosophy" real - and daily re-kindle our commitment to these lofty goals and ideals.


Charles Leonhard [much-respected by the entire music education profession and dearly-loved and sorely-missed by those of us who had the great opportunity to study with him] used to "preach" - that it was not nearly enough to have a philosophy of music education - but rather we must know, and never forget "why" - this philosophy was all-important to our work as music teachers.


Leonhard espoused that a well-founded philosophy of music education is essential and will[i]...


1) guide and direct

our daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities with and about music and music education


2) clarify and explain

the "business" to each of us daily - and enable us to communicate our goals with others


3) inspire and enlighten

our efforts - and enable us to remember the sheer " joy" of music-making and music-teaching


Is this simply some sort of ivory-tower hoo-haw? Absolutely not! It is these understandings that get us out of our warm beds in the morning. Is this some type of academic pandering? Definitely not! When the days are very long and the nights - very short, it is mind-sets of this type that keep us going. Should the last time our synapses deal with Leonhard or Reimer or Hoffer be in an undergraduate or graduate music education course? Emphatically not! It is this ownership and internalization of a well-founded philosophy of music education that keeps joy in our hearts when patience lapses - when frustrations are high and rewards are low.


As Rilke says in Letter Three[ii]...


There is here no measuring with time,

no year matters, and ten years are nothing.

Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting,

but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident

in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. 

It does come.  But it comes only to the patient,

who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. 

I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful:

patience is everything!


         The Goal

We must remember - and never forget - our feelings of childhood - when music was a joyous and wondrous thing. We must remember - and never forget - our growth as young musicians - and the sense of accomplishment we achieved as we developed and matured. We must remember - and never forget - the learnings of our college years - and the core knowledge that started us upon our professional pathways. We must remember - and never forget - those glorious days in our early teaching careers - when we first brought musical experiences to young people with whom we were entrusted.


More importantly, we must reflect upon our personal philosophy of music education - revisiting, revising, and renewing it daily. Those of us just getting started in the business need to hold fast to these understandings - as they will surely provide daily sustenance. Those of us who have been in the business for a bit - need to not only remind ourselves of these all-important issues - but must also positively model and provide support, assistance and encouragement for our younger colleagues.


Perhaps when this comes to pass, we will see more and more folks of a "certain age" in the business. Maybe we will indeed be able to attract and retain the young - the brightest and the best. And hopefully, we shan't ever have to hear Jake say, "Ma, I'm gonna go work at Wendy's."



[i] Leonhard, Charles and Robert House. (1972). Foundations and principles of music education. 2nd Edition. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing.


[ii] Rilke, Rainer Maria. (1903). Letters to a young poet. Transcribed by M. D. Herter Norton. (1993). New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.