Jump on the Bandwagon

“The great thing about rock-n-roll is you realize the top of the mountain is big enough for more than one band.”

–Paul Stanley


This week, Don and I attended Sarah’s Winter Band Concert. All three junior high bands were scheduled to perform. The packed high school auditorium we borrowed was too small for the crowd. Parents and grandparents stood in the aisles. Everyone smiled and greeted each other. We were in this together—supporting and celebrating our children’s accomplishments.

The Beginning Band played first. Composed of new musicians—who learned to hold their instruments twelve weeks ago—you could see students’ pride and nervousness about performing their first concert. Parents cheered and applauded. The kids beamed. Don and I remarked how small the seventh graders looked now, “Can you believe that was Sarah two years ago?”

Concert Band performed next. The kids in Concert Band are second and third year band students. Many tried out for Symphonic Band last spring and didn’t make the cut. All of them chose to stay in band another year.   While they played, I spent a lot of time looking at individual kids—trying to figure out their stories. The redhead playing first chair clarinet bobbed her head while she played. The oboe players looked like they were jamming in someone’s living room. One boy, a friend of Sarah’s, borrowed a French horn because he left his at school. Lively and fun, the kids and their director had a great time playing.

I have been thinking about those Concert Band kids all week.

I understand why Sarah and the other Symphonic Band kids stay in band. They are the top musicians in the school. They take pride in that. Symphonic Band plays at pep rallies, tours elementary schools, and competes in district contests. They hang out with other kids who share the same interest and talent for music. There’s status and prestige that comes with earning a spot in Symphonic Band (at least among the other band kids).

But, why does a Concert Band kid stay in band?

Imagine what these students have endured. They competed for a slot in Symphonic Band and everyone knows they didn’t make it. For whatever reason, they didn’t play well enough during their audition. Maybe, they don’t practice as much as they should. Maybe, they’re struggling to learn the fundamentals. Maybe, they don’t have a talent for music. Some of their friends bailed out of band last year—moving on to Spanish class or art. But these kids stay in band even though they’ve been told (publicly) they’re average musicians at best.

So, why do they do it?

Thirty seconds into their first performance piece, you can see why. Those jamming, head-bobbing, borrowing-a-French-horn kids play because they love it. These kids love being in band. While they were learning how to hold a clarinet and read sheet music, they fell in love with performing it. These young musicians believe:

We are in the band and it’s awesome.

We have made some good friends in band.

We love playing music.

It’s hard, but if we practice we will get better.

Our band director believes in us. She’s a musician, too.

It makes sense, yes? You need to love what you’re doing and believe that commitment and practice lead to self-improvement. The more you work at it the better you get. The better you get the more you like it. Pick a skill. Any skill. It’s the same.

I think about reading, of course.

Doesn’t everything lead back to reading?

If you don’t think we sort readers the same way we sort band kids, you’re not being honest with yourself. Do our developing readers receive the same positive message the concert band kids do? Young readers must believe:

We are readers and it’s awesome.

We have made some good friends who are readers.

We love reading.

It’s hard sometimes, but if we practice we will get better.

Our reading teacher believes in us. She’s a reader, too.

All kids need positive reading experiences, not just the kids who read well. It baffles me that no one questions why athletes need practice time (Practice improves performance on the field!) or the band needs to visit elementary schools (If these little kids think band is cool, they might join when they’re in middle school.), but English teachers must justify why their kids need reading practice and librarians must align an author’s visit to CCSS to show its “instructional” value.

Meeting an author makes reading exciting.  Author’s visits help kids fall in love with books and reading. You need the love for learning to matter.

You need love for anything to matter.

If we want kids to stick with reading when it’s hard, if we want kids to build positive reading relationships and experiences, we must help kids love reading.

Or else why would they keep trying?

6 responses to “Jump on the Bandwagon

  1. Totally agree! Being a band person myself, I felt everything you mentioned. Plus, being a reading teacher, I totally relate. The thing about band and music is that learning to read music and then play the music engages all the senses and makes your brain work in a way that is magical and makes you want more. As educators of reading, we need to emulate the music experience with the reading experience – get that brain engaged so kids want to come back for more.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. My students just completed their end-of-semester reading evaluations. While I celebrate many successes, with students reading more than they ever have, I still have many students who not only do not “love” it, they really do not care to even try. They have been beaten down year after year, and somehow I’ve got to give them hope. Hope is hard when it requires a lot of time to help kids feel it. Time immersed in books and discussions and one-on-one conferences. I’m thinking about different choices for how we spend our time when we return to school in January. Thank you for helping me with my thinking!

  3. As someone who loves band and reading, I’m delighted by the connection you found here. I especially like the parallel lists showing how important a supportive community is. When we talked about her reading during the speaking portion of her exam, one of my new readers talked about how joining my class made her become a reader because it was a place where everybody was excited about reading, and she wanted to join in. Your writing and speaking (at the 2012 Dublin Literacy Conference) helped me see how important that environment is, so thank you, from me and my students!

  4. It goes without saying that I am on this bandwagon in particular. :->

  5. Love the analogy, and I love that everything leads back to reading. 😉

  6. I couldn’t agree more, Donalyn! When someone can relate this in this way—the excellent analogy (Holly 🙂 )—in can often have more impact. It’s getting to the core and making the right comparisons that can sometimes help otherwise “blind” people open their eyes. I find it remarkable how these very basic things have to be fought for. Meanwhile schools have no trouble spending countless dollars on sports equipment *sigh*

    One thing I know is, whenever I attended the school concerts or anything in which kids performed stuff like this—esPEcially the young ones, I always got choked up—typically cried 🙂

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