From the Trenches: 2013 Holiday Wish List

Mike Lawson • Commentary • December 16, 2013

My Annual Holiday Wish List for Santa


Dear Santa,

Bob Morrison.

How are you? I hope you and the missus have had a fabulous year! How are the reindeer? Great, you say? Things here in the United States have been, let’s just say, interesting. There has been a lot of activity in education reform, work on the new standards for arts education, and some brilliant innovations in music education. We lost a few good people along the way, as well. Anyway, you know why I am writing. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now. After a very careful review, I have assembled my annual gift list so all those who have earned their place here – both naughty and nice – may be rewarded appropriately.


• For U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: A muzzle! In a speech in front of state education chiefs, Sec. Duncan blamed opposition to the Common Core State Standards on “white suburban moms” who were afraid their children were not “as bright as they thought they were.” Really? You know, Mr. Secretary, we can hear you when you speak, right?


• For White Suburban Moms (and all moms and dads of school age children): A new U.S. Secretary of Education! Nothing says “happy holidays” like a shiny new Secretary of Education. One who has a track record of success and actually cares about what happens to our schools. I thought I saw a refurbished Richard Riley model from the 1990s – that would be perfect!


• For Backers of Common Core: Some common sense! I know you are all in love with the idea of common standards and the writers think they have created the most important work ever crafted since a quill first met a piece of parchment, but could we please slow down a little bit to do something like validate the idea that these standards will actually, you know, work? In product development, we always build one and test it before building many. I am not sure what could possibly go wrong with a field trial of 50 million students, but unless you slow down, we are about to find out. And you can’t be pleased when people compare the rollout of Common Core with the rollout of the new healthcare law – and the healthcare supporters take offense to the comparison! Oh, how did the first rollout in New York State turn out for you?


• For NY Education Commissioner John King: A hearing aid! Seems the good Commission has been on a “listen tour” across New York State based on the public blowback to the failure of the state’s Common Core test to actually, wait, what’s the phrase I am looking for, oh yeah: be useful. Here is the thing: when you go on a listening tour you have to actually listen. Sitting in a chair for hours while people speak while not acknowledging they have been heard or respected is not a listening tour. It’s a congressional hearing! Do not patronize the public with fake theatrics. Either listen and acknowledge that you just may be wrong – or resign.


• For the great author and poet Maya Angelou: The thanks of a million children! She had the courage to stand up and be counted by being one of several distinguished authors to write to President Obama stating: We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature.  Now if only he would listen…


• For Coach Mike Scott and the coaching staff at Annandale (Va.) High School: Anger management training! It seems this coach, his staff and some unruly parents were badgering the band director to “get the damn band off the field” during senior night when there was still plenty of time left and the band was in the middle of their field show performance. A student recalled, “Coach Scott resorted to his own measures by shaking the podium of assistant drum major Douglas Nguyen, a junior, and then yelling at the other assistant drum major, senior Noah Wolfenstein, to stop conducting and get off the field. Yells came from the stands and the coaches to the press box and the field.” Really, you are shaking the podium, Coach? Are you auditioning for the coaching staff in Miami? In spite of the commotion, the band played on – as they should have.


• For Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s (England) Music: A bigger soapbox! The Queen’s composer has attacked the state of music teaching in Britain, branding it “disgraceful” that so many young people do not know Mozart or Beethoven – let alone have listened to their music. He went on to lay the blame squarely at the feet of successive governments for treating music education as an “elitist fringe activity.” Glad to see such esteemed voices such as Ms. Angelou and Master Davies being added to our “choir.”


• For the Annandale High School Marching Atoms: The gratitude of the music community for showing courage in adversity and not allowing the bullies in your community to keep you from finishing your performance! Bravo! And while we are on the topic of bullies…


• For Detroit Lions offensive lineman Dominic Raiola: A seat next to Coach Scott in anger management class! Seems that this Detroit Lion could not control himself and, in an unprovoked attack, verbally abused the University of Wisconsin Marching Band before a performance of the National Anthem. What’s wrong Dominic, tough night at the strip club? Had to hurl insults, profanity, and homophobic slurs at college students? An apology and “sizable” donation to the band program is not enough. You need help, or a spot on the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins. Now, before we get too comfy with ourselves we need to clean up our own house…


• For Delaware State Marching Band and the Texas State Drumline: Some long term memory! Two years after the tragic hazing death of Florida A&M University band drum major Robert Champion, the Delaware State University has suspended all activities of the school’s band music groups amid an investigation of _ that’s right _ hazing. Thirteen students in Texas State University’s Bobcat Marching Band drumline faced hazing charges after making freshmen drink alcohol until they vomited and positioned the freshmen’s faces in the upperclassmen’s groins. What will it take to bring these outdated rituals to an end? Have we learned nothing during the past two years?


• For School Boards everywhere: Some sanity! I have been writing this column for 10 years and every holiday season we have another silly battle over Christmas Music in schools (yes, Nick Santoro, I blame you). I think we should be celebrating Groundhog Day instead of Christmas or Hanukah or Thanksgivingakah since this fake controversy happens over and over and over again. This year we add the Wausau (Wis.) and Bordentown (N.J.) School Districts to our distinguished list of knuckleheads. Okay, enough! We should not be paying lawyers to program our winter holiday concerts. It is bad enough that many schools now feel it is better just to move these concerts to January to avoid the whole issue. Music teachers may program anything they want as long as they have sound educational reasons for the selections – which basically describes all music educators! Come on, folks: lighten up! Let our teachers teach, our children sing, and our lawyers bill someone else an outrageous sum of money for some other manufactured issue.


• To the Producers and cast of Glee: A standing ovation! Nothing has done more in the past decade to help promote vocal music education to a national audience. Love it or hate it, the producers and cast have had a positive impact and have embraced their unique position to be active advocates for music education in our schools. As the curtain comes down on this series it is time for you to take a very well-earned bow.


• To one of the greatest music education minds to walk this earth, Bennett Reimer: A quiet peaceful corner of heaven where you may continue to think deeply about our field. Bennett was one of our great music education thought leaders for decades. His work over the years has helped shape our field and elevated the profession. We are better off because Bennett committed himself to our community. May he rest in peace.


• To the SupportMusic Coalition: Ten more celebrations of 10-year anniversaries (another 100 years)! This year, the SupportMusic coalition celebrated its 10-year anniversary since it began in 2003. This coalition, a brilliant partnership between NAMM, NAfME, and thousands of other organizations, has become the central nervous system for music education advocacy in our country. Born out of the NAMM/NAfME work with the National Commission and the National Coalition for Music Education of the late 1980s and 1990s, SupportMusic is a tremendous asset to our community. If you have not checked out, you now have something to add to your to-do list over the holiday break.


• For Ohio State University’s Best Damn Band in the Land: Your own network show! What can anyone say? The OSU Marching Band has single-handedly (well, make that 225 pairs of hands) elevated the visibility of marching bands across the globe with their innovative programming and approach to drill design. When ESPN posts a poll asking viewers which group of Buckeyes were more exciting to watch: the third-ranked football team or the marching band, something very special is going on. The “Hollywood Blockbuster Show” has drawn three times as many viewers on YouTube (13 million) as watched the actual football game on ABC (4 million). Congratulations (again) to Jon Waters and his entire staff and marching members for showing innovation and tradition can exist side by side.


• To the Rutgers University drumline: More drums! Looks like the drumline at Rutgers is going to have a stampede of new members clamoring to join the fun after percussion line was featured as the opening act for, of all things, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it. Band director Timothy Smith said it took a very long time to convince the drummers to do the show, stating, “They didn’t wait a nanosecond” to say yes (okay, so maybe not so long). The best part? USA Today’s Ann Oldenburg named the drumline one of the top 10 highlights from the fashion show and many of the models wanted to pose for pictures – with the drummers! Nice! Ah, to be young again, in a college drum line, and opening for lingerie show…


• And lastly, to all of my readers: My sincerest thanks and gratitude for the work you do all year long to bring the joy, wonder, inspiration, and excitement of music to millions of students. Have a wonderful holiday and an exceptional new year!


Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. He may be reached directly at [email protected].

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!