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A cheer for the kids in the band

by Hilda Russell
from an essay in the Grand Rapids Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

High school participants work hard, and deserve a lot more recognition.

I could hear my son and his 170-some classmates playing their marching music almost every morning while I got ready for work.

I was able to hear them working and practicing from July through October. Every morning the band and the color guard were out on the marching field going over their drills and movements. Every evening all or part of the band was out there working to perfect their program.

Every home football game they played for the crowd and presented their fall marching program at half-time. Almost every Saturday from September through October they competed against other bands for a coveted spot at the finals in the Pontiac Silverdome.

Only the top 10 bands in each of four classes, or flights, as they are called, make it to the finals. It is an honor to earn enough points during the competition season to qualify for a spot at the Michigan Competing Bands Association Finals. All students know that they must give 100 percent all the time to perfect their program and convince the judges that they deserve first place.

Largest Team Sport

This is truly the largest team sport that I can think of, yet sadly it is barely mentioned in the media.

No one sits on the sidelines when marching. No one can take someone else's place or relieve them at any time. All must give their best in order to make the band work well as a unit. It is virtually all or nothing. yet for all their work and effort, they are hardly acknowledged by anyone other than their instructors and families.

Pages of sports coverage are given day after day in newspapers and magazines, yet barely a paragraph manages to get fit in on the back page of the local newspapers. parents and band boosters get so excited when their kids do well at a show, and then there's nothing at all on the television news or in the papers. Why is this? What is this obsession that the media has with sports? Music and the arts have always been low-key news items and its about time we rectified this inequity.

Most football teams have less than one hundred members, yet they have their triumphs and defeats plastered all over the sports section.

This recognition of their hard work and dedication is fully deserved.

But band members work hard too. Most band have from 50 to more than 200 members. Many of their families want to see their accomplishments recognized as well. Why have these groups of hard-working, dedicated youths been virtually ignored by the media? (Or is that totally ignored?)

One of the ways parents can help these youngsters is by volunteering.

Marching programs cost thousands of dollars, and they get no funding from the state. All their funds are earned through their own fund-raising efforts.

Where credit is due

The kids need all the support they can get. By working with them closely and volunteering your time you can help show your support and get to know many really neat young people.

Then go watch them perform and watch the other band so you can compare observations with your youngster.

Take some time to get to know their instructors. You will not find a harder working, more dedicated group of leaders than these fine folk, who have almost no life of their own during marching season. They willingly coach, cajole, encourage, and praise these kids because they see a potential in them that many do not realize they have.

I see band directors as the ultimate in the coaching profession. It's not easy to take a large group of teen-agers and form them into a cohesive unit. Yet week after week there are more teens of various temperaments and backgrounds out there performing their hearts out.

They play for the crowd. They play for their families and their instructors. And they play for the sheer enjoyment of music. They love performing for the audience. they love seeing how excited the crowd gets when they take the field and start their show. They would also love to be recognized more than they are. We need to let these kids know that what they do is important. Their talents are important to us as parents and as a community.

Band programs also have the marvelous ability to turn whole groups of kids with various backgrounds into good friends.

It doesn't seem to matter if they are freshmen or seniors. They know they are all in it together. They are able to recognize that they have a common love for music, and they strive to help and encourage each other to perfect their playing.

It's wonderful for parents to see their kids form bonds of respect and friendship with their classmates and leaders. The pride we feel for our son and his co-marchers in the Northview band is alomst indescribable at times. (Please forgive a mother's pride.) There is nothing more thrilling than watching your son or daugher perform a show well.

Opportunity and responsibility

The media have a real opportunity and a real responsibility to recognize all these kids for their hard work. Posting the highlights of the week's games on the evening news doesn't take much time, and neither could just a few minutes of recognition for that week's band competitions.

The photographers for the Press and other local papers are at the games. Why not take a few pictures of the bands at halftime? After all, they only have 15 minutes to perform, and it doesen't take that long to take a few shots.

Why not go to a few competitions? Most of them are on Saturdays. A few lines or a few pictures in Sunday's paper about the previous evening's competition results won't make the paper weigh any more than it already does. It will however, do a lot to bring much deserved recognition to a wonderful group of kids.

Parents, you too need to get involved. It means so much to the kids. The shows are varied and interesting, with everything from Broadway shows wto Western shows to our own "music Heard Around the World" from Northview.

Schools with a competing band can give information on times and places of that week's show. The concession stands are always open and the coffee is always hot. Bring blankets and mittens (just like a football game) and money for food. The kids are always hungry after a performance.

Unfortunately, when I was in school band kids were considered nerds. If you were not in sports, you weren't really all that important. Music and the arts were considered the alternative to being in sports or some popular clup.

We have come a long way since then, but we have a long way to go. Music is the universal language, and everyone can enjoy it. You don't have to be a music major or a former band student to enjoy today's shows.

I would like to challenge the local media to take some time and go watch a band competition. Talk to the judges and find out exactly what is expected of these kids. Talk to some of the area band directors and find out what is involved in putting a program together. Find out why they think their band is different or special in some way.

Walk through the loading and set-up areas to get an idea of how much effort and cooperation is needed just to get these groups ready to compete.

I also would like to challenge the community to watch some of the exciting performances. It will prove to be an interesting and entertaining evening.