Letter to Santa

Mike Lawson • Features • December 5, 2019

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Dear Santa,

It has been an eventful 2019. I hope you and the Missus are doing well. I hope you have some extra carrots for the reindeer. A lot is going on in the world and a lot of interesting things happening in music education.

Which brings me to my gift list! If you would be so kind, please deliver the following gifts to the people and organizations below:

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger — A Sense of Humor. President Bollinger abruptly disbanded the Columbia University Marching Band based upon the band’s inability to gain “recognition as a student group from our undergraduate life student activities/ governing boards.” The “scatter band” approached their occupation with a healthy lack of seriousness, and have a history of trying to slide jokes and gags at the expense of their school. After a huge outcry from the Columbia community, the university reinstated the band three weeks later. Why disband the group in the first place? It is no secret that the upper echelons of the university are not enamored by the band but, to borrow a phrase from ESPN… come on, man… get a sense of humor!

For the Sam Houston State Kicker Connor Crow — A Lifetime Ban. Sam Houston State kicker Conner Crow decided he was going to violate Southland Conference rules (as well as universal common sense) by taking the field to practice kicking field goals DURING the halftime performance of Stephen F. Austin University. When the associate band director grabbed the tee, the k icker bullied him off to the side, shoved him, and then continued to practice his kicks. While the SHSU athletic director stated this event “was not representative of the values,” how is it that Conner Crow is even still on the team? He should have been cut and banned for life by the conference and the NCAA. Bring it to him, Santa.

For the College Football Fans — Some Class. If the kicker situation is not bad enough, we have not one, but T WO examples of college football fans behaving badly or even criminally: University of Florida Gator Band was in their parade order marching to their buses outside of the stadium after a game with the University of Miami in Orlando when a University of Miami fan tried to push their way into the band block. The director of the Gator Band, Jay Watkins, saw the individual and did what any band director would do: stop them from walking through the band. He was then attacked by a Miami fan who came from behind Watkins, placed him in a chokehold, and slammed his head to the concrete.

At a game between the University of Iowa and Iowa State, multiple Iowa band members reported they were subjects of “physical and sexual assault, verbal harassment and racial slurs” while leaving their rivalry game. One band member was hospitalized with broken ribs. What is wrong with people? Picking on the visiting band? Trying to break ranks? While I know this is not new, the recent uptick of these reports is undoubtedly concerning. How about we bring some sportsmanship back to our college football fans?

For the Marching Band Directors at the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas — An Export License! In response to the recent attacks on collegiate marching band members, the band directors at Texas and Oklahoma did something different for their October 12 matchup. The bands marched out of the Cotton Bowl together, side by side. “They ’ve got our back, We’ve got their back,” said Brian Britt, the director of the Pride of Oklahoma. Britt and the University of Texas Longhorn Band director Scott Hanna have provided everyone a living example of the esprit de corps that exists in our community. May others follow their lead!

For New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy — A Role in an Upcoming Play. In September of this year, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to document universal access to arts education for all students. Governor Murphy himself held a press conference to celebrate the event. In doing so, he recalled his theatre teacher Bob Narducci and recalled because of him, “I was learning to sing and act and dance.” For his strong show of support for arts education, please bring him a role in an upcoming musical!

Eastman School of Music Wind Philharmonia — Common Sense. In preparing for an upcoming trip to China, the Eastman schools decided it would remove all Korean students from their ensemble. China refused to issue visas for Korean students. Eastman had a choice: remove the students or cancel the per formance. The school shockingly chose wrong, deciding to remove the students. What ’s worse… the ensemble members voted overwhelmingly to go ahead and leave their Korean peers behind. Only after international outcry did Eastman reverse course and cancel the tour. What were they thinking? Whatever happened to all for one and one for all? A little common sense and a smidge of character would have produced the proper outcome… the first time!

For West Chester University Incomparable Golden Ram Marching Band — A Trophy Case! West Chester University ’s “INCOMPARABLE” Golden Rams Marching Band became the first Division II school marching band to be presented with the prestigious Sudler Trophy by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. This recognition follows 40 years of leadership in the marching band world. The program, first elevated by Dr. James Wells, followed by John Villella, Dr. Andrew Yozviak, and currently Adam Gumble (along with assistant director Dr. Greg Martin) has been an east coast powerhouse for music education. Congratulation’s to all involved… now get that trophy case!

For the Vandegrift High School Marching Band — An Encore! Making their very first appearance at Music for All’s Bands of America Grand National Championships, they emerged the top band in the land with an awe-inspiring performance. Under the direction of Mike Howard and assisted by Joe Hobbs, Katie VanDoren, and Dustin Tharp, the Vandergrift Vipers were victorious in both semifinals and the Grand National Championships. While this was their first appearance at Grand Nationals, we can only hope that there is an encore in our future!

For National Association for Music Education Executive Director Mike Blakeslee — The Gratitude of a Nation. Mike Blakeslee, NAfME’s executive director, will be retiring in the first part of 2020. Mike has been a key player in music education since he joined NAfME (then MENC in 1987). Mike was always the “reasonable one in the room,” representing the interests of music education in Washington and around the nation. I have personally known Mike for 30 years. I have long considered him one of the “good guys” fighting on behalf of our children. Congratulations, Mike, for your successful career of service to the field of music education. You have earned the gratitude of the nation.

For all the readers of SBO and music educators everywhere, I wish you a very safe, restful, happy, and healthy holiday season and all the best wishes for the New Year. Bob Morrison is the CEO of Quadrant research and is the Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Music for All. He has been a lifelong advocate for music and arts education across the nation.

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