Total clusterfudge of a morning. I had to be at the office for an 8:30 appointment. No appointment, going on 9- and dumdum forgot the phone, which these days is the only place I keep frivolous things like client phone numbers. So I bailed moments before 9 to head home to get the phone- and the client naturally walked in at 8:57. No harm, no foul; but I did get one benefit out of the detour, which was listening to a Morning Edition piece I otherwise would've missed....
about high school marching bands, of all things:
Lisa Chismire, the parent of a student in the Unionville-Chadds Ford District in Pennsylvania, discovered that it was district policy — as it is elsewhere — to force serious music students to attend band camp in the summer and then march in the band at football games. If music students who had no interest in the marching band did not go along and assist the football program, the young musicians would not be allowed to play in the concert band, the symphonic band, the jazz band or the orchestra.
Chismire, who is a retired lawyer, was appalled. She called this "extortion" and "institutional bullying" — coercing students in one discipline to serve as spear carriers for those in another.
In response to her charges of discrimination, there were protests that if music students who didn't want to march in the band were excused, then those who did would be disappointed because the band would be smaller and make less of an impression at halftimes. Chismire was called "threatening, aggressive, unkind and disrespectful" by one school board member.
But she obviously had the law on her side and was able, ultimately, to cause reform of the program in the whole school district. But, although the numbers aren't known, policies of this sort do exist in school districts throughout the country.
It certainly existed when I was in high school band. We weren't sent off to band camp, but during the school year there was no choice in the matter if you wanted to be in wind ensemble, concert band, or anything not exclusively choral or string: six Saturdays a year and Thanksgiving, plus Memorial Day for a parade, we were crammed into tin cans and spats- whether we wanted to or not.
It didn't help that the football team sucked. (Or maybe it did- it made it easier to sit in our sideline corral and make fun of them. I even wrote a full spoof of the team fight song, renaming "Onward East Meadow" to "Downward East Meadow.") Nor was there any of the sense of pride in musicianship that was very much part of the rest of the program; we were doing the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-hit-and-close equivalent of meatball surgery out there, and wanted no more than to get the hell out as soon as we could, preferably without it raining.
We got the full-on sense of our place as the Untouchables caste of the school cool ladder. The jocks were doing their thing on the field; not well, but they could certainly beat us up, so everybody cheered for them. On the sidelines, the cheerleaders, and the even cooler group of Heathers known as the Rockettes were doing their routines- Title IX was in its infancy in the mid 1970s and this was as close to actual athletics as most of them could get at that point. In the stands, the student council types led the rah-rahs, ensuring that they'd be running class reunions for the next 50 years (and now, seven five-year reunions later, they still are).
Leaving us. The Band Fags. The only ones who didn't want to be there. On Fridays before games, the football players, cheerleaders and Rockettes wore their uniforms to class. At least we weren't subjected to that indignity; probably it was for the sake of the structural integrity of the stairwells, given how many of us would have been pushed down them with our hats and spats limiting our ranges of vision and motion.
And yet, in all those years, it never occurred to me to complain. It didn't bother me all that much, nor did it deter many from partcipating. Our high school graduated a number of folks in and near my class year who have gone on to careers, or at least avocations, in performance, teaching and composition. Many of them were in those same muddy trenches that I was.
Still, it's good to see that someone has spoken up about the unfairness of it- even if she has had it turned on her for her effort on kids' behalf. I'd like to think, or at least hope, that kids in music programs today are treated better, respected more, and pressured less when it comes to such things. At least there's a generation of Band Camp riffs in popular culture to make them maybe a little cooler.
But still, I suspect (and as DeFord's article confirms), it's still inflicted on at least part of this now second, even third, generation of musician. And for me, that's certainly not (D.C. al) Fine.
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