This week I had the priverledge of help out with a ‘Recruitment Night’ at Eltham High School. These nights open for all year 7 students who have just enrolled in the school to come and try out all the different instruments to see which, if any they would like to learn. I was there helping out with Tenor saxophone, thats right, they have so many students wanting to be part of the music program that they need one person doing tenor saxophone and one person doing alto saxophone just to keep the que moving along so that we could get finished in under 2.5 hours. It is insane. What I wouldn’t give to have almost every year 7 student turn up to try out the instruments and end up building a year 7 band of over 100 students because they wanted to be part of it. If I ran a recruitment night I would have to have 1 flute teacher, 1 violinist and 10 piano teachers, but who am I kidding, we would have 5 kids if a ran it at 7pm, 8 if it was at 4pm and parents didn’t have to come back to school and probably 1 kid if it was during class because the parents wouldn’t let the other kids miss a second of their precious maths class, so why bother. Anyway thats my problem not yours.
The other thing that I loved about the night was hearing the Eltham High School band play, these guys have only been together for about 4 rehearsals (and to be honest, it showed) but it was possibly the sweetest sound I have heard in a long time…a Balanced Band. Where there are the same number of flutes and clarinets, where the shrill sharp sound of a piccolo and Eb clarinet can be heard grinding against the tuning of the band, and oboe solomly haunting away, and brass…Oh my goodness, what a sound for sore ears a brass section is to me. Percussion that is more than one student playing clave, a tuba, a double bass, a bassoon, saxophones in tune. I almost broke down and cried at the sound, I would give my right arm and conduct left handed just to have a balanced band. Again, thats my problem not yours.
Teaching students to play an instrument, what a job, it bores your brains out after the first day (and I mean bores, as in a drill going through your skull) but what a joy when you see a student make that first sound, see them beam when it doesn’t squeak, go red in the face because they forget to breathe because they don’t want to lose that note. The look on the face of a student as they create harmony in a band. That is why I got into teaching, that is why I do what I do.
I am more and more convinced that bands are dying, schools just can’t do it anymore, it is in decline. Once they pick up that guitar or piano, thats it they are lost to pop music, once their parent puts a violin in their hand at age 3, thats it musicality is gone. How to you keep students wanting to be something more than Jack Johnson, Taylor Swift or One Direction. Its not cool to play a band instrument and that joy is lost. No student has that look on their face as they strum a guitar, its not an achievement, you run your hand down.
How I love my job, but is there a place for band music in schools anymore? or is it just on the scrapheap?
Just a thought.