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Letter to Santa

Mike Lawson • Commentary • December 13, 2016

Hello Santa… it’s me again. I am back with my list of gifts for you to deliver this holiday season. Some are for those who have been naughty; most are for those who have been nice. Hurry up and pack the sleigh it’s almost time to go!

Please deliver the specified gifts to the following

To NAMM and NAfME Government Affairs Teams: A Hawaiian vacation! Thanks to the efforts of the government affairs teams at both NAMM and NAfME music was designated as part of the federal definition of “a well rounded education” in the new Every Student Succeeds Act (the legislation that governs K-12 public education in the United States). This brings to an end more than 15 years of confusion amongst some policy makers regarding what art forms are included in the word “arts” in the phrase “arts education.” Calling out music explicitly means there is no more confusion. This accomplishment was no small feat… it took a tremendous about of effort and courage to have this make its way through the legislative process and come out the other end. The people leading the way from both NAMM and NAfME deserve a vacation!

For the US Department of Education: An eraser. Sure we have heard all about how the new ESSA law is all about flexibility. But that only is true if you stop adding regulations to the law that make it more like No Child Left Behind. The whole idea behind having additional accountability measures for states is so that states may develop measures beyond language arts literacy and math. Your proposed regulations that all measures must be tied to… wait for it…. Academic outcomes (bureaucrat speak for language literacy and math) undermines the whole intent of the law.

For Fox Sports Radio Host Clay Travis: A new job. This “so called” sports commentator suggested getting rid of marching band halftime shows to shorten the length of college football games. Yes… because we all know that it is the marching bands that are responsible for 5-hour games. It certainly isn’t the 50% increase in commercial time sold, increased penalties, clock stoppages or instant replay. It is the marching bands reeking havoc on football games across the country. Maybe Mr. Travis and Jim Rome can team up and start a consulting business on how to become reviled on twitter.

For ESPN’s Broadcast of SEC Football Games: Ginormous ratings! For the 2016 ESPN decided to broadcast all halftime shows of the South Eastern Conference for Broadcasting Halftime shows of SEC games reversing a decades long trend of going to commercial breaks and halftime summary shows. If this experiment is successful we will hope to see more and more halftime performances aired on television in the future!

For the Rice, East Carolina and Stanford University Marching Bands: Some common sense. Come on folks. We have enough challenges in the music education community without having to go through some version of “bands gone wild” every fall. Rice had to make fun of the Baylor sexual assault scandal because we all know how funny a topic sexual assault is. That’s a hoot coming from the Marching Owl Band. Some members of the East Carolina band had to jump into the “kneeling for the national anthem” debate by kneeling WHILE PLAYING the national anthem. And the Stanford band, after being banned from away games for the entire 2015 season showed the good judgment of University officials allowing them to perform at the Rose Bowl halftime by making fun of an entire state (Iowa) and ridiculing a way of life. I am going to chalk this up to the presidential campaign and hope common sense prevails for 2017.

For the University of Michigan Marching Band: A really big birthday cake! The University of Michigan Marching Band celebrated its’ 120th birthday this year. That is really something for this legendary band. One hundred and twenty years of class, tradition and legendary directors. The blue and gold is a true role model for other collegiate bands in our country (yes… I am talking to you Rice, East Carolina and Stanford). Here’s to the next 120 years!

For the Castle (Indiana) Marching Band: Our deepest sympathies. After barging into the Bands of America Grand National Championship Finals for the first time in their history tragedy struck as one of the featured performers Sophie Rinehart, her father David and grandmother Ruth were struck and killed by a car while returning home from what was one of the biggest moments in Sophie’s young life. Her sister Josie survived. This tragic event has shaken the marching band and music education community. It has brought tremendous grief to the Castle community. Sophie had moved and touched thousands with her emotional performances at Grand Nationals. She even did an interview before her finals performance. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, Tom Dean and the Castle community. #weareallcastle

For Thom Hannum Assistant Director of University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band: A bigger wall. The National Association honored Thom for Music Education with the George N. Parks Leadership in Music Education award. Thom has had an incredible career as one of the most influential educators in percussion, marching percussion and collegiate marching band and very deserving of this honor. It is even more poignant since it is named in honor of the memory of Thom’s friend, mentor and longtime colleague George Parks. George and Thom had worked together for years starting back during Thom’s college years at West Chester. He went to UMASS to do his masters degree in the early 1980s. George never let him leave. Thirty-Four years of commitment to the University and to his art form. Thom truly is one of our great national treasures in music education. Congratulations my friend.

For the United States: Hope. I have seen my fair share of presidential transition going back to President Johnson and Nixon. Every change has created opportunities. Every one. This transition will be no different. Regardless of who you voted for (or if you voted but that is another conversation) we are all Americans first. And those who read these pages are Americans with a passion for music education. I truly believe the best days for music education remain before us, that what we want for our schools is within our power to achieve regardless of the person or party in power in Washington, D.C. Arts and music are now recognized as a part of a well-rounded education. This is now a 50 state effort to create the change we envision… a world where every student has music education as a basic educational right. It is time for us to look forward, lock arms and make that happen.

May the blessings of this holiday season and the bounty of the New Year be plentiful for each of you.

Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Research, an education research and intelligence organization specializing in arts education. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. 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

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