“Ma … A Crowded Stage”
● A Story

            Julien is a sophomore at South Blue Creek High School. He plays trombone and loves his high school band. The SBCHS Rocket Band is getting ready for its first concert of the year. Mr. Craig, his band director, has selected music for the concert which is both challenging and enjoyable and the entire band is very excited about the play list. For the last week or two, however, Julien has noticed Mr. Craig repeating the same phrase over and over which he has found a bit confusing. The Rocket Band has about 64 members, down a bit from last year, but still a very strong ensemble. They always perform their concerts in the old junior high auditorium which is very nice and has a large stage. This makes Mr. Craig’s phrase even more confounding.
            On this particular day, Julien gets home from school, toting his books and his trombone and goes to his room. After a bit, he hears his mother calling him down for supper. He finishes texting a few of his band buddies and heads towards the kitchen. Upon arrival, his mother asks him the usual questions … how was his day, how did he do on that geometry test, is he about finished with the English paper that is coming due, how did the band sound today. After providing the obligatory, mumbled responses as only a 15-year old, boy-child can, Julien asks his mother about Mr. Craig’s continuing, confusing comments. “Mother, you have been to a lot of my concerts.” She replies distractedly … “uh-huh”. “You know the stage in the old junior high is pretty big.” She says … “indeed”. “You know that since the seniors graduated and the freshman class is not as large, the band is smaller this year.” She has not a clue what her son is talking about, but dutifully says … “yes”. At that moment Julien rather unexpectedly blurts out … “then Ma, why is it going to be a crowded stage”?

The Concept

            What Mr. Craig has been “preaching” to Julien and the other members of the Rocket Band is the crowded stage concept. Mr. Craig believes it is of extreme importance for each of them to understand that although there might only be 64 band members physically sitting on the stage for the concert, that there are actually hundreds and hundreds of other folks present with them always, making it definitely a crowded stage.

            The parents who have taken their daughters and sons to about a zillion band rehearsals … they are on that stage. The grandparents who helped pitch in to buy a new horn for their grandson or granddaughter … they are on that stage. The members of the local Chamber of Commerce who helped buy the new band uniforms … they are on that stage. The Band Boosters who work year in and year out to raise money for the program … they are on that stage. The staff, faculty and administrators of the school district who support the band … they are on that stage. These folks and many, many more are with Julien and his fellow band members on that stage, making it very crowded indeed.

● Point of Departure – Community

            These days and times, perhaps more than ever before, I believe our souls clamor for a sense of community. Is not ensemble music-making one of the greatest possible collaborative efforts? By its very nature, does not ensemble music-making foster a sense of community? Do we not oft-times literally justify our music programs with largely extrinsic outcomes such as teamwork, esprit de corps, sublimating the individual for the good of the whole, et al?
            Yes and Yes, technology seemingly rules ... we are facebooked, linkedin, twittered … I could go on and on. Community yes, but community at arm’s length. At a definitional level, are our ensembles not a great bastion for “We-Us-Ours” and against the seemingly pervasive “I-Me-Mine”? Is our work with music-making not truly an expression of community at its finest?
            The very paradigm of traditional education is changing and changing rapidly. Be it Pre-K through 12th grade, be it in undergraduate or graduate degree programs – institutional education of the future likely will look very differently from that of today. Limitless access to information; ease of local, statewide, regional and even global connectivity; programs, tools and “apps” that my paternal grandmother could scarcely have dreamed possible as she taught her students, in a one-room schoolhouse, from the classic McGuffey readers. These innovations and more are changing the face of education and changing it quickly.
            But although change always seems to generate a bit of angst, these changes in education hold a wonderful gift for us who are in the business of ensemble music-making and music education! This 21st century, with all of its technological possibilities and wonders, again, tends to connect folks always at arm’s length, in a sometimes almost impersonal way. What we do in our band rooms, in our choir rooms, in our orchestra rooms does indeed represent collaborative effort and community at its finest and we never want to forget to cherish and celebrate this simple, yet important fact.

By Extension – The Crowded Stage

            So for me, the crowded-stage concept is a simple and natural extension of the importance of community to our ensembles, our programs, our music-making. We move a bit from the totally tangible … musicians working together to express the most-noble thoughts and ideals through music … to a broader canvas, one of perhaps greater depth and breadth … as we reflect upon and consider how many folks have influenced and positively impacted each of us, how crowded our stages actually are.

● My Stage – Very Crowded

            Perhaps like me, you have been fortunate enough to have mentors and teachers who believed in you, when you did not believe in yourself? Perhaps also like me, you have great life-friends and colleagues who have, do, and will always provide professional and personal encouragement and support? Perhaps even moreso, you like me, have been privileged to work always with great students, great fellow music-makers who both challenge and enrich every aspect of life? My stage is so very, very, very crowded – I am constantly humbled by the thought, which is possibly why I am such an adherent to the concept!

● It Is Pretty Simple

            Am I saying or suggesting anything new or earth shattering? Nope! Am I making mention of a concept about which you have not probably previously thought? Unlikely! Am I at any level taking credit for this important ideal? Definitely not! I am actually not that bright, just an old farm-boy who has been lucky as heck [if you view life from a more secular perspective] or blessed more than I deserve [if you view life from a more sacred perspective].
            So it is pretty simple … as you step upon the podium before your students and fellow music-makers perhaps remain ever-mindful of the crowded stage concept. Be an advocate for this great ideal and preach it ad nauseum. We know a seeming truth of modern life is that if we have a message, stay on message and repeat that message over and over and over it becomes perceived as a fact. I encourage you to add “the crowded stage” to the list of important “sermon topics” that you share daily with everyone and all.

● Positive Implications

            In this world where the right notes at the right time are necessarily important … at a time when music programs, [arts education in general] are yet again under siege … during these days when we are all seemingly just trying to hang-on … the crowded stage concept can be a balm to our souls and an asset to our ensembles. But you logically say “I have about a zillion nuts and bolts details about which I must be concerned and deal with daily – I do not have time for fluff such as this.” I do not discount the sentiment – but urge you to consider the possible benefits … a more selfless approach to music-making, a greater sense of the broader community in our music-making, an enhanced breadth of experiences that is a resultant of this approach to music-making. Trust me, give it a try!
● Conclusion

            Perhaps as the folks with whom we are physically making-music are the warp of any ensemble, maybe the crowded stage is the weft … both are arguably necessary to complete this figurative fabric of our efforts. Perhaps as we seek the breadth and depth of true community with our programs, a nod towards the crowded stage is important. Perhaps as we each personally reflect upon and acknowledge those who have had such a positive impact upon our own lives, we may model this understanding for our students and fellow music-makers.

            As we bring passion to our teaching and music-making, as we take justifiable pride in our programs and what they mean to our communities … I proffer that with a commitment to the crowded stage concept – you and I may bring an even greater depth and breadth to our music-making … truly creating memories that all shall cherish for a lifetime.

            Perhaps our commitment to this very important concept will always help Julien to know just how crowded his stage actually is!

History of the Ma Article Series
“Ma … A Crowded Stage” is the fourth in a series of five “Ma” articles by Peter LaRue. Ma I … “Ma, Where's My Trumpet” [published in the Bluegrass Music News, Volume 48, No. 2, December 1996]; Ma II … “Ma, We Got a II at Contest” [originally published in the Bluegrass Music News, Volume 51, No. 2, December 1999 – subsequently reprinted in the MENC (NAfME) publication “Spotlight on Teaching Band” [2001] and the NFIMA Journal, Volume 18, No. 1, 2001]; Ma III … “Ma, I'm Gonna Go Work at Wendy's” [published in the Bluegrass Music News, Volume 54, No. 1, October 2002]; Ma V is currently on the drawing board.

Peter LaRue
Peter LaRue holds a BM degree from the Capital University Conservatory of Music and MS and Ed.D degrees from the University of Illinois. Prior to coming to Kentucky he served as a high school band director in Ohio, and college band director in North Carolina. In addition to numerous awards, honors and recognitions as a teacher, musician and conductor, in 2005 he received the Cawthorne Award, the highest award that may be achieved by a faculty member at Georgetown College. Since 1993, LaRue has served as Director of the Tiger Bands at Georgetown College, and since 1994, as the Music Director and Conductor of the Central Kentucky Concert Band. Starting in 1995 and continuing today, LaRue also serves in an administrative capacity as Executive Director of the extensive Summer Programs & Camps offerings at Georgetown College.