Who Likes Band Music?

Smiling politely through yet another performance by my son's school band tonight, I wondered: why do school bands play music so different from what the kids, or even their parents, choose in their free time?  Music at parties, movies, etc. is pretty different.  The novels kids read in English class differ from the novels they or their parents read in their free time, but most people accept that school novels are deeper, subtler, etc., so that kids learn more by studying them.  But do most people really accept a similar claim about band music?  What gives?

Added: There are lots of high quality thoughtful comments here.  So is there a disagreement here, or do you guys pretty much agree?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Aaron Luchko

    I can think of three factors.

    1) Band music is non-controversial and somewhat enjoyed by all (I find some music other people like highly uninteresting and vice-versa).

    2) There’s a status game, to be a real school band you play real school band music. Also I think popular music is too variable to last long enough to supplant the current band music.

    3) It’s a non-trivial matter arranging and all the compositions and expertise are for traditional band music.

    Of course I don’t even play an instrument so don’t rely on my expertise.

  • http://satisfiction.wordpress.com Lindsay

    I don’t think anyone likes band music. I was in school bands until I was 16 years old (18 now) and I have no idea why. As far as I can tell, listening to band music gets you nowhere, and being in bands only makes you good at being in bands. Or not even. In those 9 years of school band magic, I never learned to read music. Probably why I was in percussion the whole time.

  • richard

    Band teachers?

  • David C. Brayton

    When I was in band, there were probably 60 students in each class. So, the music needed to accommodate all of the students. Each and every song needed parts for saxophones, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, percussion and flutes. And each part must have the difficulty level appropriate for the age/skill level. And each part must be active for most of the song.

    That is a tall order. Most pop music rarely has more than four parts and each part can differ substantially in difficulty.

    Once the students reach high school, the better schools offer a wider selection, such as jazz band. There, the focus is quality music rather than teaching young kids with short attention spans and widely different interest levels.

  • http://www.craniumcreek.blogspot.com mikesdak

    I agree with Aaron about the arrangement problem. Popular music isn’t composed for school bands, and most of it wouldn’t translate well to that instrumentation even if someone wanted to try. Mind you,this isn’t all bad; would you want to hear a school band version of a U2 or Beyonce song?

  • mtc

    I think on the elementary and middle school level, the purpose of the band is to give students an opportunity to play in a group setting, which is important to developing the skill of playing their instrument (it’s not critical for everyone, but the ability to play along with other’s turns out be pretty important for most musicians). Since you usually have lots of kids and and only a few music teachers, you need to put them all in one big band. And band music is just the sort of music you can get a bunch of relatively inexperienced kids to play passably well together. Which perhaps explains why it is never very good. At high school and beyond, where the students tend to be more seriously committed, you get more specialized sorts of bands, jazz band / marching band / etc, where the group size gets smaller and the song’s generally less awful.

    And I also think there’s argument to be made that band music is similar to what you get in English class where the reading is actually more sophisticated then what most people read otherwise. While the individual parts are pretty simple, there’s often some *fairly* complex harmonies (just by the sheer force of how many instruments there are) and more time changes than you would hear in typical pop music.

    Though I think the real heart of Robin’s question is why are so many kids learning to play instruments that have nothing to do with the style of music they or their parents listen too. The best I can do is go back to my first explanation, which is most pop music doesn’t lend itself very well to large numbers of performers, so if you have a bunch of kids playing drums and electric guitars, or whatever it is you make hip hop out of, you’re not really gonna be able to give performances. And if you can’t give performances to all the adoring parents, whose gonna keep the board of ed from cutting the music department right of out of the budget? Something like that.

  • Caliban Darklock

    When I was in school, the band did at one point learn a contemporary song: the theme to the movie “Fame”.

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that I can still play it.

  • Greg Johnson

    Increasingly many schools support rock, jazz, hip hop, etc. Alas, not mine. Maybe not yours.

    Some typical assertions: (a) Beginners need simplification. (b) The classics systematically prepare the student in fundamentals. (c) Practice and problem-solving build meta-skills: organization, perseverance, collaboration, innovation, discernment. (d) Much of what is popular now may be irrelevant in a few years. What will be needed can’t be reliably predicted. (e) Music, other materials, and lesson prep all cost. Schools can’t afford the freshest materials.

    The same concerns apply broadly. In what ways does high school mathematics resemble the mathematics one will subsequently do? And how about those science fair projects?

  • Chris B.

    In addition to what Aaron said:

    Pretty much any music you (or your kids) choose to listen to in your spare time is, at a minimum, played on an instrument (or, more often, some combination of instruments) chosen to be idiomatic for the musical content of what you are listening to. More importantly, a professional level of instrumental performance skill is virtually always available for commercially recorded music, whether it’s jazz, commercial pop, classical, or what have you.

    Now say you’re a composer, and take away both of those factors: you have to use every member of the standard band (= “wind ensemble” = nothing but woodwinds, brass, and percussion, except for professional-level wind ensemble music, which most people have never heard any of at all) for every piece, and you can’t assume a level of instrumental performing ability that’s too high for the grade level you’re composing for.

    The style you identify as “band music,” which has elements of various styles, including classical (in its traditional use of tonality), military band, and “Americana” for lack of a better term, fits these constraints pretty well. It’s designed for the instrumental forces available. And in terms of difficulty, it scales well — you can write band music without sacrificing too much stylistic integrity at difficulty levels from beginner to professional.

    If you want to adopt other styles within those two binding constraints, weird things happen — basically, what you might call the bastardization of style. Most classical repertoire needs to be presented in radically dumbed-down/”beginnerized” format so that it’s not too difficult. Most popular styles will suffer from the same problem — particularly insofar as popular music abounds with rhythmic subtleties that are difficult to present in musical notation at a level that an average school band can handle. Furthermore, where various popular styles are concerned, the constraint of using the entire band for every piece becomes pretty much crippling — how could rock ‘n’ roll, for example, really sound “right” played by a 50-piece wind ensemble? Not that such arrangements don’t exist, but they turn rock into band music.

    Robin’s analogy (English-class literature : for-fun literature :: band music : for-fun music) is incorrect. Not all schools offer a music appreciation class, but that would be the correct equivalent to “English class” in the analogy. Analogies between art forms are usually doomed where music is concerned, but instead you should think of the kind of prose composition that’s taught in writing-based English classes. It bears resemblances, especially structural resemblance, to the real-world object (any kind of writing a normal person might have to do in the course of business or whatever) but superficially is pretty different. Likewise band music and “normal-person music.”

  • Chris B.

    Well, in addition to what lots of people said. That took a while to type out.

  • Doug S.

    I was in a high school band for four years, so I have some insight to the extent that my school is representative.

    In my school, band music was selected by the band director. He did have to work within several constraints, but he mostly selected songs he was interested in.

    First, bands can only play music that has been arranged for band. Often, arrangements of current pop hits for a large band simply don’t exist – and what does exist is often expensive. There’s plenty of classical music, marches, and Broadway standards available, and sometimes you can find popular songs from the 1970s or soundtracks to famous movies. Publishers send out catalogs with sample CDs, and band directors are basically stuck listening to stuff and trying to find something good.

    Second, the choice of music was constrained by the venue and the theme of the performances. My high school band would play at the football games, at three school concerts, and during the graduation ceremony. Much of the repertoire performed during the football games would consist of “traditional” fight songs and other high-energy songs such as this one – stuff to get the crowd (and players) fired up.

    The first concert of the year was the “holiday” concert, so we were stuck playing mostly Christmas music. The second was a “pops” concert; we would often play medleys of Broadway songs, pieces from famous movie soundtracks (pieces by John Williams are common), and anything else that catches the band director’s attention. One year, my band director discovered contemporary composer Robert W. Smith and his song “Into the Storm” (which everybody liked). The final concert consists of whatever the band director likes to put on, but because we would attempt to play in a competition, we had to include at least one “concert march” because the rules of the competition said that you had to play one.

    So, well, if you didn’t like the music at the concert, ask the band director about why he picked the songs he did.

  • rand

    Band music can be amazing! Most school bands suck.

    We played an arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th (used to great effect in The Fall trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1YwOybwTrc). You can listen to the whole thing here: http://www.archive.org/details/BBCSymphony7Beethoven (skip to 15:30 for the start of the second movement, and crank it loud).

    If you’re really interested, I’m sure you can dig up the transitions from orchestra to band over the years. Band has its roots in classical music, and must be arranged for many more voices (instruments) than your typical pop / rock songs.

    My favorite composer is Holst, most know for The Planets – I’m sure everyone here would recognize Mars instantly. His Second Suite in F is amazing, and very fun to play. This last bit is also key – it’s one thing to make a great sounding piece, it’s something else completely to make it fun to play. Normal symphony music you hear on movie soundtracks has individual instruments sitting around doing nothing for large swaths of time — gotta keep the kids engaged (not that I didn’t do my fair share of counting in the back row with the other low brass).

    Compare the instrument list (bottom) here with your typical rock band with its guitar, bass, drums and vocals:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Suite_in_E-Flat

    Here’s a decent recording on youtube (of the second suite):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x38Z-YM4wjU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAGoI_E-sVc

    Or play it in DDR!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzKiyTIxXUA

    Most schools seem to engender a culture of “Band is an easy A”, however, you’ll find the schools with top bands have managed to creature a culture where only the best and brightest make it into band and top grades are difficult to obtain – with a direct correlation to doing well in other courses (particularly math). Band quality is proportional to the instructors’ drive. Unfortunately, typical public school systems cannot afford to keep great talent, so they wind up teaching at the college level instead.

    One neat thing that I’ve seen bands start doing more (particularly marching bands) is arranging video game music to play. Again, it takes an extra motivated instructor to put that kind of work into their profession, and sadly most places simply cannot support those talents.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QNI3W8UB-s

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Size of band is approximately equal to size of class? So everybody plays a part?

    Or did the show feature smaller ensembles too?

  • John Maxwell IV

    Here’s another question. Why do people listen to live music at all?

    In high school, I was in the school choir. One of the songs we had to learn was called “Blue Christmas”, or some-such. A few days before the performance, our director realized that we just weren’t going to be able to sing the song very well. So what did he do? He told us to all bring sunglasses, and on the day of the performance we put on our sunglasses for Blue Christmas while he played the song through a hidden boom box. The audience loved it.

  • http://blog.efnx.com Schell

    @John Maxwell 4

    You listen to live music so you can hear your friends new songs before their record comes out! Haha. Other than that, shows are nice community events. I take it there aren’t many musicians in your family?

  • mtc

    John Maxwell IV–

    As someone who on occasion performs live music, the optimist in me has all sorts of lovely reasons people like live music, put the pessimist suspects its the same people watch NASCAR–the possibility that someone might badly f***-up.

  • ShardPhoenix

    “Here’s another question. Why do people listen to live music at all?”

    Several reasons, which vary in their applicability depending on the type of music and the person in question, but here are a few:

    1. Any kind of amplified music is going to be very much louder live than what you can probably reproduce at home.
    2. You can see the band up close.
    3. Social aspects, such as meeting other fans of the band and various types of dancing.
    4. A non-orchestral band will often play their songs somewhat differently and occasionally better live than they do on the album.

  • http://blog.greenideas.com botogol

    (lost) so what sort of music do american high school bands play?

  • http://thomblake.com Thom Blake

    It should be noted that there are some regions, like the American midwest, where people actually do enjoy band music. It’s like, bigger than football, and football is very big.

  • frelkins

    I strongly suggest that is another case of signaling. When we gather at school, the performance is to reify an experience of “how our children become nice middle-class citizens.” High school band music is largely light classical and patriotic marches. The light classical signifies middle-class “good taste” and the marches “good citizens.”

    Parents are supposed to be reassured that their children are learning and demonstrating “the arts” in a “decent” and “clean” way, which will help distinguish them on their college applications.

  • Kat

    Hm, most of what I came into this thread ready to say has already been said, especially by Chris B., Doug, and rand.

    I note that much “school band” music is even described as teaching pieces (“this is a fun piece for intermediate players that will develop rhythmic and part independence…”) more than for whatever artistic merits it may have.

    Also, it tends to be more enjoyable to play than to listen to. I can play technically-challenging drivel and not be bored out of my mind because I’m occupied by trying to play it well, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it. At the school band level even those pieces you’re hearing may be challenging to the players.

    (And as far as I can tell from glances at the audience, the answer to “who likes band music” is “retired people, band teachers, family and friends of the players, and weirdos.”)

  • Cobblestone

    One thing that has not been addressed much is the cost of arrangements and getting rights to perform things still under copywrite – which is why some bands play the same thing year after year. Without financial support for the arts in school the Christmas concert will always be the same 5 songs that got purchased in 1993.

    I loved being part of the band, I helped make huge lovely music {in high school and huge / clumsy music before then}.

  • Michael E Sullivan

    I listen to live music regularly because it’s simply impossible to reproduce the sound quality of a live performance on a home stereo, and the subtle interaction between peformer and audience is completely lost.

    The most striking example I can think of is my disappointment at hearing “Koyunbaba” by Carlo Domeniconi played on CD by William Kanengiser after hearing WK perform it live. The piece had been written quite recently at the time and I doubt anyone in the audience had heard it. It was also a guitar society concert so the audience was small and mostly professional and amateur musicians or guitar aficionados.

    Kanengiser’s playing was excellent and his interpretation quite striking. One feature of the piece is a very soft entrance with a long crescendo on a repeated theme, mirrored by a long descrescendo on the same theme at the end of the piece. It evoked for me the idea of a caravan heard far off in the desert, approaching, then arriving to much ado, and finally leaving. At the end of the piece, the silence in the auditorium was palpable. I could have heard a leaf falling, and the applause waited for a full 15-20 seconds after the final sound to appreciate it.

    On the CD, the piece is arguably “better” in that any occasional mis-steps have been edited out, and one does not have to strain to hear the softest playing (unamplified classical guitar is quite low volume), but the piece ends, and within 5 seconds another piece of music is running. There is no way to have the same experience as live.

    In a good performance, the audience is breathing with the performer and the performer is reacting to the audience. It’s like sex. I’m not so virtuosic that I nail pieces to that level of standard all the time, but even my amateur self has had the experience from stage-side, and there is just nothing like it.

    On the original topic, most of what I’d have to say has been said. There is exciting and interesting band music, and I’ve been to a couple of fantastic concerts that I enjoyed even though the style isn’t normally my thing (the coast guard marching band puts on a great show). But that’s not the sort of band music, or quality of performance that you’d hear in elementary and middle school.

    The quality of playing is more important than you might think. There are a lot of classical and big band pieces that can sound spectacular played skillfully or ludicrously banal when played by typical middle schoolers.

  • Joe Burke

    however, you’ll find the schools with top bands have managed to creature a culture where only the best and brightest make it into band and top grades are difficult to obtain – with a direct correlation to doing well in other courses . . .

    Is this really true? I know some regions or even specific schools have very accomplished, competitive band programs, but are there actually places where it’s hard to get an A in band?

    Anyway, to answer the original question, I honestly do like band music, provided it’s performed well — which it seldom is.

  • Jadagul

    ShardPhoenix: A fifth reason, touched on by Michael E Sullivan, is that recorded music is necessarily compressed and distorted. The conversion from analog to digital loses information, and virtually all home speaker systems are incapable of reproducing completely the sound of, say, a full orchestra. (even worse, a lot of recorded music uses techniques like brickwall limiting that further reduce the fidelity of the recording). You get a much fuller and more detailed sound in a live performance.

    Of course, this has nothing to do with why parents go to their kids’ band recitals. Which is of course signaling, but of an extraordinarily transparent sort: it’s a way of signaling to your kid that you’re proud of him and he’s doing a good job. I think most parents are quite open about the fact that they wouldn’t enjoy watching somebody else’s Little Johnny struggle through Minuet in G as much as they enjoy watching their own (cf. the ending of The Music Man).

    And as a few commenters have pointed out, band music is chosen not because people want to listen to it but because it’s better for learning to play. How many people read compilations of five-paragraph essays titled “What I Did on Summer Vacation”?

  • Kat

    Cobblestone: I don’t think copyright has anything to do with it, for school bands. Assuming the directors/asministrators know copyright to begin with, most of this is either being performed under one of the public performance exceptions to copyright in 17 USC 110 (live, not broadcast, no commercial purpose, etc.) — or if money is made that doesn’t go directly toward school purposes or costs, they fly so far under the radar that no one cares. (Though I will not say how many illegally photocopied parts I played from in various ensembles because players in previous years lost parts or because our instrumentation differed from standard.) Copyright is more of a problem for non-school bands.

    Michael: agreed, about the huge rush of interacting with an audience.

    Joe: a few — and there is often pressure from the administration not to give kids lower grades in band.

    Band may also be one of the few high school classes where the students are constantly doing something, not just sitting back listening to a teacher (some math classes or science lab classes also, but not all of them) — I can see how a lot of students would be drawn to that (yes, myself included) even if the music isn’t always what they would want to listen to.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    http://nancylebov.livejournal.com/329196.html

    I’ve linked to this discussion, and gotten some more comments about why band music is what it is and the range of quality of school bands.

  • josh

    What kind of music was popular when school bands first came into existence? Sousa? Maybe, if the music man is anything to go by. Is this the same music that is played today?

  • http://ynglingasaga.wordpress.com Rolf Andreassen

    Band camp is not about music.

  • Doug

    Cost. What’s popular now may not be next year and band scores aren’t always cheap. A good pop band can live on a few copies of a page out of a fake book (or a few copies of the same fake book , to stay legal.) A school band needs 50-100 scores, and they’re not all the same. Maybe you need 2 1st flute scores and 2 seconds,4 1st clarinet scores, 6 2nd clarinet scores, 10 3rds, etc. There are pop scores published this way, but while the Beyonce number might be a has-been in six months, we’ve been recycling Holst for a hundred years.

  • rand

    > but are there actually places where it’s hard to get an A in band?

    This was certainly the case where I when to school. I learned later that this was not normal, but I have a hard time believing it’s an especially rare case. As I recall, you didn’t get As unless you were going to solo competitions, etc. (though I may have confused causation with correlation there).

    The other important aspect is that you don’t attend a high school band concert to listen to the great music (though it’s much nicer in those rare cases you can). Instead, the whole point is to put on a public concert in the first place to give concrete reason and motivation for practicing in the first place. School concerts are for the players, not the audience. The same reason we have recitals in other areas (e.g. ballet). You may care how cute or well your own kid does, and knowing that other people will see them, but most people couldn’t give a crap about anyone else in the show. There’s an amazing gulf between the desire to show pictures of your new baby, and the appreciation others have for your enthusiasm.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Cobb Cobb

    My kid’s band plays a mix of songs which I think are fairly well balanced. Occasionally they will play an arrangement of a popular song, but I think there are also ‘band standards’, which are like fight songs just something that comes with the territory. It’s not such a bad state of affairs.

    My observation is that, especially with marching band competitions, most people don’t have any idea what’s going on. Specifically, they don’t know what the judges are looking for. I attended one such competition and made a rather stereotypical complaint that our band seemed to lack spirit in that they weren’t playing as loudly as the others. My son countered saying that loud playing, especially with certain instruments is something of a cheat that weaker bands use to mask their playing ability. The same goes for very syncopated drumming throughout. Making formations on the field is a great deal more difficult through softer passages of music without drums. Judges know this, crowds do not.

    A good music director will therefore need to choose music that meets all of the above stated criteria, and then consider how its judged in marching band competitions – obviously most high schools don’t have enough kids to have separate marching bands and concert bands.

  • http://lptf.blogspot.com matt

    I detest that music and left the band immediately after I discovered that we were going to play one good Bach piece and then loads and loads of educational stuff. Fortunately I was only renting the oboe.

    I had a similar experience with piano teachers. My first teacher, from when I was 5-10 wrote out music for me on a staff, by hand. He would would write simplified versions of popular tunes from sound tracks, famous classical pieces, etc.. My family moved and the new piano teacher they found for me had me playing educational pieces. I quit, and took up the oboe.

  • Douglas Knight

    I think that the rough consensus (and definitely my opinion) is that it is popular music from a time when popular music was for bands; and we have school bands to accommodate lots of students.

    But there are some venues still producing band music. Caliban Darklock mentions movie music and one of Nancy’s commenters mentions musicals.

  • Milan Starling

    There has been a complete break in the traditions that govern the music that we listen to in social settings (accompaniment to dramatic performances, for example) but there has not been as much of a break in pedagogy. In music pedagogy, the institution is in control; but we use music outside institutions, too, and after several generations the music that is preserved inside the pedagogical institution sounds like flies buzzing in amber.

    But I wonder why nobody mentions the kinds of music called “classical,” which are universally avoided and yet accorded prestige. Nobody runs and puts Robert Jaeger’s “Third Suite” (a cute piece of music that decent high school bands can play) on the box and dances to it. But people wouldn’t necessarily run out of the room if you did put it on, whereas they would run screaming out of the room if you put on any academically respectable composer of the last century-plus. (There is a bit of overstatement in that last sentence, but I only have to apologize to about four people for the overstatement, which sort of proves my point.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/SoullessAutomaton a soulless automaton

    “Classical” isn’t universally avoided. Individual pieces, in fact, are often quite popular–how many people couldn’t hum fragments from Beethoven’s Fifth or Ninth, or the leitmotif from Ride of the Valkyries? There’s plenty of dull, ponderous material as well, of course, and the people who “enjoy” classical music because of its prestige don’t really promote the more accessible pieces (as it’s not in their interests to let regular people actually enjoy classical).

    Also, I happily listen to plenty of music that would send most people screaming out of the room (and, in fact, has). It’s more in the vein of “Japanese noise rock” than anything academically respectable, though.

  • http://reloadsanear.com andrea

    Overcoming bias, indeed. So many people from the outside looking in. Who are the professional musicians here? Who are the music educators here? Any kids from drum corps? Do we overcome bias best through observation or through direct participation? If band is so irrelevant, why do artists like Outkast and Kanye West work with them? If no one likes band music, are millions of people being duped every day by evil conductors into pretending that they like the music they are playing in their college music major classes? Or did they actually choose that major because of their positive band experiences?

    Some thoughts:

    There is a whole music publishing industry (see Mel Bay, Hal Leonard, Kjos) that pays people to arrange the hits of today for marching band, for concert band, for string orchestra, for choir and so on. No one has to worry about copyright; all of that is taken care of by the publishers. When I was in junior high in 1986, we played a rather nice arrangement of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” a song that had very recently tore up the charts. A friend of mine from college told me how his marching band in high school (in Myrtle Beach, SC) played “Doin’ the Butt” for their field show, complete with the entire band turning their backs to the stands and shaking their behinds at the audience. People do play brand-spanking-new music from a variety of styles in school music-making settings.

    When I taught elementary band, the high school band director and I made an all-city band for the sixth graders to prepare them for junior high school. We played an original rock-inspired tune that I thought was okay, but I felt I could do better, so I wrote something myself. The problem with rock is that the rhythms are often rather complicated (lots of things happen between the beats). It’s not so hard to imitate them, say vocally, but when you’re trying to teach music literacy, you’ve got to build up to rhythms like that and that takes a few years. Since these were all second year students, they had enough reading experience under their belts that I could push them a little. I was able to use some simpler, but “real” rock/pop type rhythms. It was hard, but they did it. And the kids honestly liked it. No one twisted their arm to make them say that to me. I had one second-year band with six students. I wasn’t going to be able to find too many commercial charts that would make them sound good (too much would be missing), so again, I arranged some simple stuff. We did some rounds. One kid really, really wanted to play “The Chicken Dance,” so heck, we did it. In a performance at the mall, no less. Theoretically, someone could have come after me for arranging “Wipeout” for this same group. The chances are pretty darn slim.

    Yes there are less-than-stellar band directors out there, but there are less than stellar other teachers, too. Ultimately, you are the one responsible for your own education. Even when you have the world’s best teacher, you are still teaching yourself: you are the one absorbing and processing the concepts and skills.

    “The novels kids read in English class differ from the novels they or their parents read in their free time, but most people accept that school novels are deeper, subtler, etc., so that kids learn more by studying them.  But do most people really accept a similar claim about band music?”

    Part of the purpose of education is to expand one’s sphere of knowledge and experience. Are we not supposed to teach algebra because most kids’ parents don’t use it in their free time? I know I felt that way back when I was taking algebra, but there are reasons we don’t leave educational-decision making to the wisdom of thirteen-year-olds. As far as novels taught in school being deeper and subtler, “The Swiss Family Robinson” failed on both of those counts as required reading in my 8th-grade English class — and we were supposedly the advanced kids. The music I was making in band was far more deep, subtle, and left a more permanent mark. Just as there are good and bad books on the required reading list, there are good and bad pieces in the band repertoire. Hopefully, part of your child’s music education will be learning to discern quality, too. But there’s a difference between quality and taste. I don’t particularly care for Mahler, for example, but I know he’s a quality composer. I just don’t share his musical values. Frelkins touches upon this when he talks about signaling. Musicologist Christopher Small talks about similar ideas in his books (“Musicking,” “Music of the Common Tongue,” and “Music/Society/Education”). Here’s an appropriate quote from a talk he gave at Chamber Music America called, “Why doesn’t the whole world love chamber music?”: I find it interesting that when we ask, “Why doesn’t the whole world love chamber music?” it doesn’t seem to occur to us to ask, “Why doesn’t the whole world love heavy metal music?” Or “Why doesn’t the whole world love hip-hop?” Or “Why doesn’t the whole world love rock ‘n’ roll, or sacred harp singing, or country-and-western music?”… There’s no reason in the wide world why the whole world should love any specific way of musicking. All ways of musicking, and all individual performances, are to be judged, if judged at all, on their efficacy in articulating, in exploring, affirming, and celebrating their participants’ sense of ideal relationships, their sense of who they are. We may not like who they are, we may perceive who they are as antipathetic or even threatening, but that has nothing to do with the matter. And conversely, when we maintain… that our way of musicking is the best, that it is the one that can give most satisfaction to those who practice it and to those who listen, that it is the most educative and formative of solidarity and discipline of character, of respect for others and the satisfaction of forming part of a collective enterprise, and so on, it only serves to reveal how little we know of how musicking operates outside our own social group.

  • kaylen

    Whenever I’m presented with the question, what kind of ________ do you like?, I hesitate to answer at all. I like music that starts simply and builds in complexity. I like food in small portions with powerful flavor. I like writing with poetic phrasing and revolutionary insights. Subtleties like these are bound to be present within any genre of creative production.

    As many have said above, it’s entirely possible that your particular band director is making choices that aren’t musically interesting, historically relevant, or emotionally moving. Still, that doesn’t mean that “band music” doesn’t have anything to offer… it just means that in order to find its value, you’ll have to do some exploring, expose yourself to lots of examples, and do some intentional listening. Hopefully your child’s music education will be a chance for you to do that. That’s actually kind of exciting, right?

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    I love band music. I had a roommate who didn’t like anything but band music. His opinion was that any music that couldn’t inspire people to charge into a hail of bullets wasn’t worth playing.

    Band and orchestra overlap, but are different. The school orchestra plays classical music, and hopefully I don’t have to defend that. The band is made of instruments that are chosen for their loudness, shininess, and for being able to be played while marching.

    Lindsay – What do you call someone who spends all his time with musicians? A drummer. 🙂

  • http://reloadsanear.com andrea

    Oh, but you do have to defend that, Phil.

    The school band plays classical music, too: Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughn Williams, John Philip Sousa, Samuel Adler, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber (speaking of music to inspire people to charge into a hail of bullets), William Schuman, Percy Grainger, Karel Husa, Tania León, David Maslanka, John Corigliano, Richard Strauss, Malcolm Arnold, Henry Cowell, Charles Gounod, Vincent Persichetti, Warren Benson, Daniel Bukvich, Chen Yi, Michael Colgrass, Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, Ingolf Dahl….

    And that’s just the repertoire from composers over 50 or no longer with us. There’s still plenty of new blood coming in and the chances of becoming part of the “canon” are rather good, because college bands are much more emotionally invested in new music than orchestras are.

    A lot of classical composers these days like working with college bands because their pieces actually get more than four rehearsals before the concert, which is par for the course for professional orchestras. Then other college groups program the piece, so the piece gets more exposure, too, than the average new work for orchestra.

    Mr. Hanson, I don’t know how old your child is, but if s/he actually sticks with band, and does some serious practicing, s/he’s bound to encounter some fantastic music written for band (and yes some incredible schlock, too, but it’s not like that doesn’t exist in orchestral repertoire…). Now whether you like that music or not is a different matter entirely. I hope your child has the tenacity to stick to their musical guns when they realize that your tastes don’t match up. I remember well the disappointment I felt when I realized that my parents weren’t interested in moving beyond Stravinsky or swing in their classical and jazz tastes, and that the day would come when they would not really be interested in the kind of music I was making. Don’t forget to be supportive (thankfully, my parents did not forget, either, but I know not to expect enthusiasm for the actual sounds…).

  • Jazz

    Band music stimulates the mind and helps in math, foreign language, and reading…but that is only if u can read music. But i love band music to be honest and that’s why i play clarinet and etc. instuments in my school band. But yes band is a good thing because it is good to play classical music as a baby sleeps to stimulate brain functions and spark creativity, and you can’t get that from listening to that soulja boy mess…SO in mine and many other’s opinions i love band music.

    This is also cool b/c u can go to any country in the world and not speak a word of their language, but u can play with them in a band and feel the passion they have for music…[and i’m only in 9th grade; i just ove music] most people are just ignorant about music and will never understand unless u’ve been taught otherwise. And look at top countries like Japan and see how they take music so seriously and they’re most of the smartest people in our classes, or job. THat says something and how u can hear something so pretty and cry because it moved u and it doesn’t have to be lyrical music either…these kinds of things just speak to people..and give u chill bumps when you hear something pretty that u know it more then and hour to write on a sheet of paper…some peices take years or a whole person’s life because they really put themselves into the music…
    Why is it that u still have ppl going and listening to the same Mozart, Beethoven or even Hayden concers over and over again after hundreds of years??? itz because it touches a part in them that they love to feel and love to hear when it’s played right. So yea when u think about it if ur band is good then you enjoy playing (i’m not saying that my band is the best cuz we’re not) but it really does affect you and the discipline that it takes in marching band not to move no matter what even if a bee stings you like it did one of my friends…it teaches you respect, pride, and discipline…I mean not many people would stay in the hot sun and run back and forth up and down a field (and ppl say marching isn’t hard) and ppl wit asthma doingit just cuz they love to be in band and passing out after every show cuz it took so much out of them…thatz heart and will and determination…or a boy who died while marching cuz he had a bad heart but it meant so much to him that he did what he liked and grew to love…Band means a whole lot to people its just that so many americans (and yes i am american also) are so close-minded that they don’t notice that section leaders and band officers are look at HIGHLY when there are National Guard Recruiters are recruiting…so if ur nation looks at music as being important then yea itz gotta be something.
    thankz for reading =-) *~jaz~*

  • Britney>Tenor Sax 4 Life

    As a former marching band, symphonic band, jazz band, and current show band member, I can tell you some reasons:
    The music the band plays depends upon different criterias. For example, Marching band music is usually up beat and recognizable because it is too entertain a football crowd and it also has to please judges when the band competes(a very fun and energetic part of marching band); symphonic music is for both entertainment, showing off, AND for pleasing judges at district festival competitions in hopes of going to state competitions; jazz band and show band are basically for pure entertainmetn and fun.
    The music is different for MULTIPLE reasons. Sometimes it can be because of the particular arrangement and other times it can be because the particular band may not have had certain instruments that the song called for so the director had to improvise (such as give major parts to different instruments by transposing. A tedious process).
    One thing is for sure though, no matter how much you like the music, the band members playing it have worked their butts off to make sure it comes out right and to tell them they are no good will be a huge mistake that will hurt their feelings very much. Marching band is a difficult sport because you must use hand-eye coordination, memorization, musical talent, mathematical skills, and you MUST have STRONG ENDURANCE of many different weather conditions. My marching band had band camp for 3weeks before school started from 8am-8pm 5days a week and then after school started we had to practice after school until 8pm. So if anyone ever tells you band is not a sport, you remember that we work harder than pretty much any ball team you’ll ever see!

  • Cassie Gunn

    School music groups frequently participate in contests, and contest judges do not respect more popular styles. Complexity of music is one of the ways to score points.Cassical music, as an example,is respected as being more difficult, even if the arangement is not really hard at all, so it will score more points. In most marching band or drum corps contests, the group playing classical and jazz music will be closer to the top and the popular music will be toward the bottom. There will also be a higher number of band kids who like classical and jazz music than the general population, and will prefer to play those styles.

  • Patricia Kline

    Who likes band music? I do! My band students do! Community members who participate in community bands ranging from ages 14-88 do! Audiences who attend outdoor and indoor band concerts do!

    Band music isn’t a “style” of music…. it is a medium of musical expression. A good band and band director will rehearse and perform a multitude of musical styles through a variety of musical periods including those popular but sometimes forgettable hits.

    However to answer your question… band in school is still an environment for learning for its members. Kids get quite excited to learn and master their instrument, and their musical taste might suprise you. Musical taste is a personal idea and varies as much as someone’s favorite food, book, or color. It is my job as a music educator to enable my students to express themselves through their instrument by exposing them to a wide variety of musical styles, and technical challenges.

    For example…on a recent concert I programmed a contemporary “band opener”, a Latin Rock piece, a classical opera piece, a western “movie” motive song, Stars & stripes Forever and Pirates of the Caribbean. Know which one won hands down as the group favorite? the CLASSICAL one (Toreador Song from Carmen)… go figure! I thought for sure it would be Pirates! That was the consensus of my 6th grade band.

    Thanks!

  • Shelbie jackson

    to me some people do and some dont.take me for exsample i love them cause our band comes up with ours and people eat it up,mainly cause its something new and exsiteing.but thats pep band.and im a 8th grader in the high school band so i have both pep and middle school band.i like the middle school’s better cause its party like a rock star,crazy train,finle countdown,& many more!!!!

    RIPLEY TIGERS FOR EVER

    THANKS FOR NOT READING IF U DIDNT BUT IF U DID IM VERY GREAT FULL,from a very very weird trumpet player

  • joey

    Bottom line: School bands are business driven. Instrument makers/music stores have vested interest in kids buying, renting, repairing instruments, and selling band scores. The repertoire is typically mass produced by second rate, middle-aged white “composers” who use predicable, formulaic writing. The bland mush is pushed heavily by publishers and eaten up by band directors looking for material to fill a rehearsal. Kids are rarely exposed to multiple genres, almost never play outside of the band, and typically stop playing when they graduate. The class usually concentrates on 3 skills: how to play an instrument, read music, and follow a conductor. Students lack independent music making skills and seldom engage in creative pursuits. School bands are long past their prime.