Given today’s stressful life for typical high school students, band directors must take into consideration the rigor of academic demands and jam‐packed extracurricular schedules that students have to juggle (and still be able to have a life!). This can be a tremendous challenge for adolescents. In today’s society, high school diplomas are no longer sufficient, and students understand that a college degree is of the utmost importance. Therefore, getting into college becomes the priority.
The “school schedule revolves around the band” mentality is long gone. Expectations at the high school level and college level have increased, and the global competition has not made it any easier. Balancing the curricular demands and extracurricular activities has never been easy. It can take a toll on the young students both physically and mentally, not to mention the self‐imposed pressures teens are under. And although many would challenge the thought of calling band programs extracurricular, the marching band program, indeed, is definitely beyond the scope of all other music programs and involves many extracurricular activities. If the band is involved in marching competitions, the many hours of preparation that it takes in order to have an effective performance can take its toll on the students (and the parents!).
The stress level and balancing act can also be said of the directors themselves. The current economic climate is making things worse as arts programs continue to face cuts, and band directors are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities. Recently, many school districts have taken away the marching band supplement, violating contractual agreements between school districts and teachers’ unions.
Some thoughts on how to ease the situation:
1) We must keep in mind that it is all about the teaching and learning of music. If some students become professional musicians or end up working in the music industry, that is great! However, we should strive to make them good consumers of music.
2) Students have to realize that they cannot participate in everything. On the other hand, with some flexibility and planning, they may be given an alternate schedule that allows them to participate in various activities, including music learning.
3) Students are being stretched from all angles; consequently, long, prolonged rehearsals are tiresome, and after the attention span wears out, band directors find themselves kicking a dead horse. Short and focused rehearsals will do the trick. The more rested the students are, the better they will perform.
4) Schools must coordinate the amount of home learning with other activities at the school. Assigning three to four hours of homework on back‐to‐school nights is not good planning.
5) Based on the school/district calendar, school site administrators and band directors should agree on an adequate number of performance events for the entire school calendar year. Why? You may ask, because it is all about the teaching and learning of music. Recently, due to reduced school budgets, transportation to football games and other community activities have been drastically reduced. Consequently, many band directors see this as an opportunity to enhance the competitive mode of their program. That has translated to participating in fewer school‐sponsored activities and partaking in more marching band competitions. This often is not beneficial to the program as it adds more stress to student participants, making it tougher to get the community to sponsor a band that they never see.
In conclusion, most band directors know that the better the band becomes, the more demand for performances. The more performances, the more stress for students and the director. We all know that the marching band has educational values, which make it highly worthwhile. Additionally, we also know that there are many non‐musical benefits of competitive marching bands (Rogers, 1982). This article is not about doing away with competitions but rather focuses on the number of competitions and activities, and the well being of students, which should be a priority for all educators.
Stress is high no matter where you look – if you add performance to the mix, it easily doubles. Why aren’t we stepping outside the box and encorporating other tools? Meditation and/or mental training. Just a couple of minutes is enough to learn and use such techniques, to re-energise, relax, up the concentration and even work on topics such as being a part of the team. Sit them down to catch their breath whilst they mentally retrace their steps, envisioning perfect execution – what the mind can perceive the body can perform.
This is not only beneficial within the band, but also an important tool for everyday life and thus building a future.
Thank you hpols, these techniques are important things to consider.