A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure to hear my local elementary/middle school band play. Two back-to-back concerts were performed: the beginner band and the intermediate band. It was a fine show.
The beginner band performed first. They did a good job, typical of a beginner band, with clarinet squeaks and off-beat percussion and blaring brass overshadowing the flutes, followed by the older and more experienced musicians who, as expected, had honed their craft a bit more. It was not a concert to be attended by the critics, or by anyone who is looking to get their ears massaged. It was like so many similar performances that happen every year all across the United States. The place was packed with proud (and tired and spaced out and other varieties of) parents, and a passel of school kids did their best and had fun.
I was struck by the timelessness and the typicallness of it. We were assembled in the gymnasium, seated in folding chairs in rows. Students played on risers as well as on the stage at the side of the room. They played under the basketball hoops. There was a state flag and a national flag on the wall. Four students started us off with the national anthem. Gym mats were folded in the corner. How many people have witnessed this same scene?
This was exactly what I did in elementary and middle school. Lots of kids played instruments and we managed to honk out some tunes as a band. Some or these young musicians will stick with it, but most will leave their instruments behind and some day say that they once played the saxophone or the bass drum, just like in my generation. I imagine many of those parents and grandparents attending this time were in that boat. This pageant has been repeated many times in many places. It is a shared experience.
What if we could tap into that shared experience? If we all could know how many others have felt pride at hitting the right notes, or embarrassment at missing them, wouldn’t we be in a better place? I certainly felt pride in my own child for performing, and I am confident I was not alone. Math may not be taught the same way as when these students’ parents went to school, and Chromebooks were not available to the previous generation. Schools and public education have changed in many ways, but band is similar. The clarinets and french horns and cymbals sound the same and work the same way. I think there is something to be celebrated in that.
Music (and other art) programs get cut at many schools. They are not valued as much as things that are typically measured on standardized tests. I think that is a mistake. There is much to be learned by playing music. If you have had any experience playing music, even as an elementary school band member, you know what I mean. And the continuity of it is powerful as well. There are few things that really are the same about school from the last generations to this one. I think we should hang on to some of them.