I spent last Saturday, as I have most weekends the last three autumns, watching a cavalcade of bands competition.
It got me thinking about the role music played in my life, as well as the kid’s, and how lucky we both have been to have it.
For some, music is just something they did back in school. For me, it was, and is, a part of my life. From that moment in third grade when I first picked up a trumpet, and before that, to be honest, music has been a companion, an escape, a challenge and an opportunity.
I play to this day. Some of my closest friends through the years are people I met in bands. Music has helped me meet people all over the world and experience things I never could have imagined.
When the kid pursued music, I had the opportunity to relive all of that through her. I watched her grow, make memories of her own, pick up new instruments, put herself out there, challenged herself, learned leadership and excelled.
She’s a joy to watch, she truly has a talent that I did not — what was work for me comes much easier for her. I have no doubt, like me, whatever she chooses to do, music will always be a part of her life.
There are a lot of people who go into making that happen, starting with supportive parents, but much of it falls on the teachers she has had along the way. Her school district is blessed with talented and caring music teachers, and is well supported. The result is the music program is something the students want to be a part of.
Obviously, schools face a lot of challenges these days. Scheduling trends have taken a toll. Cheerleader and sports programs vie for students’ time. Sometimes, it is just a matter of the quality of the teacher. Looking at some of the competitions we go to, some schools are lucky to field 20 students, and it often isn’t a matter of the size of the district.
I’m always surprised, for example, when I go back to the high school I attended — it used to have a band of over 100 people. Granted, we didn’t have football when I was a student, but many of us also took part in other activities. Today, that band is a fraction of the size it used to be. At the district honor band concert I attended last year, my high school wasn’t represented. In my day, we could send five to ten students. True, it has been nearly 30 years, but the difference is shocking.
It’s the same at the college level. When Shippensburg University put on an exhibition at one of the competitions earlier this year, the band it fielded was 170-strong, all volunteering for the love of it. Shippensburg does not have a music major. The flip side? In my time, my college band probably had about 50 — not huge, but substantial. When I was at homecoming this year, I counted 13. Thirteen.
I cannot understate the importance music has played in my life, both in my youth and to this day. The same goes for the kid. Many find it easy to dismiss music from the curriculum, or from our futures, because “you can’t make a living doing that.” That’s wrong minded.
There are many applications for music as a profession that are not limited to teaching or performing, but as important, school is as much about the experience as it is about what is in the books. All those things I mentioned music has given to me it gives to all who take it seriously, and we are better people for it.
My plea for parents and educators — support your music programs. If you have a good one, be thankful and reward those teachers. If your music department is wanting, give it the resources it needs to succeed. The return on that investment lasts a lifetime.