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Is Marching Band Doomed to Extinction?

Heather is a former high school “bandie”, that became an elementary band director.

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When I was in high school, more years ago than I’d like to mention, I was in marching band. It was a large, competitive group. Our band wore the traditional military, itchy, woolen uniform, and big hat topped with the perfectly preserved plume. Those were some of the best years of my life, but certainly not because of the uniform. Most of us were, in a way the “misfits”. Coming out of middle school, my self esteem was at an all time low. Looking back, I think the real problem was that I was extremely sensitive and not quite as socially mature as my peers. The summer before entering high school I had my first experience of band through “band camp” practices. Everyone was nice and easy to get along with. I finally felt like I fit in somewhere. We practically lived together from August until the end of the season in November with weekday practices, Friday night football games, and Saturday band competitions. I eagerly joined all four years I was there. The camaraderie was probably the number one reason I continued, but the excitement of our show was a close second. Our band director always picked exciting songs, upbeat and inspiring not only for competitions, but also for all who attended the football games. Our show was a highlight of the game.



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Now fast forward to present day. To my delight, my son joined marching band. Socially, like me, it gave him confidence and a place to fit in. I looked forward to watching his first performance. I attended the first home football game and was sitting in the crowded stands of the stadium when I heard the familiar drum cadence. As the band marched on the field, I was shocked and saddened by how few kids were in the band. Even worse, the show consisted of all slow paced, broadway show tunes. Frankly, the field show was boring. The marching steps were so slow the marchers couldn’t get very far. Hardly anyone in the stands was paying attention to the band on the field. The band completed their performance, then took their place in the stadium stands. After they were situated, they began playing the stand songs, which were lively, upbeat, and fun. They sounded amazing, and people in the stadium began to take notice. Kids were dancing and singing along with the band. This experience gave me something to think about.

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The next night, the band participated in a “showcase”. A showcase is where all of the non competitive bands in our area come together and perform their shows for each other. The stands were filled with parents waiting to cheer for their kids. As the first band marched on the field to the familiar drum cadence, I noticed the small size. This was a theme, all of the bands were extremely small. To my shock, this band played slow paced broadway songs! This turned out to be a common theme as well. A vast majority of the bands played broadway songs. Perhaps the band directors hands were tied and they had to use these songs. I don’t know how songs are chosen.

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I’ve been speculating over the past few weeks about why there aren’t more kids in the marching band. In my opinion, the music is the number one reason. Although broadway tunes have their place, I doubt if there are many kids who have it on their playlists. I don’t imagine many kids listening to the marching band songs and thinking, “Wow! I wish I was a part of that!” Maybe it’s time to try something new, like having a theme each year like superhero music, or hip hop music, or 80’s music. The uniforms could be costumes to go with the theme. I know the next thing someone reading this might say is, “Where is the money for this coming from?” I already have to buy my son the expensive shoes that go with the military uniform, so instead of buying expensive shoes, I would buy a simple, comfortable costume of the band director’s choosing. This idea breaks with tradition, but who says we have to do everything the same way from now to eternity? I think to appeal to more kids and have the program grow we need to change something.

Enjoying music!

Enjoying music!

My experience was limited to my small community, so I hope there are other marching bands that are doing it right, specifically high school bands. Are there any marching bands wearing uniforms other than military out there? Are there any large bands left, and if so, what do you do to recruit kids and keep them interested? I’d love to hear some success stories.

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© 2021 HeatherH104

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