Survival Tip Two – Setting Your Band’s Expectations Before the Levy Breaks…..

Mike Lawson • Commentary • July 24, 2015

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(c) ShutterstockLet’s put ourselves in that moment where we get the emergency call. Our community is in danger from the rising waters and help is needed to fill the sandbags. I bet most of us would go with few questions asked. Ok, add another factor: Your home might be in danger if it gets bad enough. That is even more reason to help, correct? Now, let’s throw in the final carrot: Your school and your classroom are in the direct path of the destruction. I’m pretty sure that at that point, you are out the door and texting everyone you know and pleading for help.

This is all a potential tragedy none of us want to experience and we absolutely have empathy for anyone who has been subjected to a natural disaster. For the moment let’s be thankful we are not dealing with such an event and take an opportunity to visualize the process.

Speed limits would be pushed, stretched, or simply ignored as we made our way to the sandbagging area. No one would need to beg us to hurry. No one would need to instruct us to take the most direct route. No one would stop to check make up or put on a clean shirt. A sense of urgency would be understood and on display. Finding a superhuman way to safely get there faster would be desired.

Upon arrival we would be directed to a job. I imagine we find people unloading sand, or moving sand. Others are making sure we have enough supplies, or filling the bags and finally, the bags are being moved to the needed location. We don’t stop to choose a job. We don’t ask questions. We don’t look for a friend to stand next to. We go where we are needed.

Who directed us to our duty? It does not matter. They were there first, they seem to know what is going on and there appears to be a plan. We simply know we need to help. As we arrive at our assignment, it takes a minute to get up to speed or to understand the process and we learn quickly by observing or by taking a few suggestions from someone who already has 10 minutes of valuable experience.

(c) ShutterstockA few minutes go by and we become comfortable in our job and our efficiency and we are able to take in the surroundings as we work. The person next to us might be the bank president, or the mayor, or a minister or neighbor. It might be our plumber, car dealer or the clerk from the grocery store or even a former student. Although, it could be that former band parent who maintained you were the worst teacher alive and pulled their kids from the program while making regular appearances at the school board meeting to expose your horrible methods and call for your resignation. Gracious!! Working hand in hand with you might be the town meth head or a frequent resident of the local jail. It does not matter. You keep right on working because the only job that matters right now is saving your town, your home or maybe your school.

When a bag is filled incorrectly, not tied properly, or installed poorly in the wall, you do not criticize and point out the error. You simply immediately help to fix it.

Now, back to our safe, comfortable world of music education: All those experiences and qualities should be evident in our classroom and our rehearsals every day and define the culture that is our group.

  • There is a sense of urgency in everything we do. The director not only demonstrates it constantly and consistently, but also demands it from the students. The students will not walk in the room with it, they were probably not born with it, but it can be instilled and demanded. The students need to understand there is never enough time. The director must constantly communicate the need to get more done. (If we don’t need to be here, let’s go to the beach.)
  • The students must be willing to do whatever it takes to make the group better and exist. Again, this is not a trait that most will bring to the program but it can be promoted and requested and most importantly praised when it happens. Eventually, over time, students WILL volunteer for the extra job, the dirty job, or the third part. Over time someone will straighten the room and tighten the stands or help a freshman. The more they understand and feel ownership, the more they will buy into this behavior.
  • Labels and positions and rank often get in the way in many school music groups. It takes a lot of effort, love and maintenance to install a system where kids will take “orders” from another student. Approaching all of these situations with a little credit given to experience will always help. Making sure everyone feels appreciated and everyone knows they are valuable is a must. Make no mistake about it though, any leader must be the absolute first to volunteer for the unpleasant duty and always, always, always be the most prepared member of the section.
  • It matters not who we stand or sit next to. Although most of us find our BFF’s through music organizations, part assignment and marching numbers are not based on Best Friends Forever. Our students must learn how to and be encouraged to get along and work with everyone and not always gravitate to only those who came from a familiar side of the tracks. This is not a natural skill for some. It must be installed and drilled just like a difficult key signature. Respect for the human being next to you is one of the greatest traits we can pass to the next generation.
  • When a mistake is made, when a wrong note is played or a dot on the field missed, it is not the job of the other members to point out the error. It is the very first duty of the other members to find a way to help fix the error. Anyone can find the mistakes. Who can actually bring about a correction without making the problem bigger? That’s the key.

Band or orchestra or filling sandbags, it’s all the same. For the simple reason that at the end of the day, they were not our sandbags. They were part of a barrier that belonged to the entire town. At the end of day, we fill the sandbags because our town will be saved and we will benefit.

The same is so true with our ensembles. We work to make the group great because we all love being part of a thrilling musical experience and a little selfishly, we will benefit too.

The next time your group needs a little reminder of your expectations just ask them if they have ever filled sandbags during a flood.

Bob Medworth has been the band director at Northview High School (formerly Brazil HS) for 38 years. During that time his marching bands have been Indiana State Finalists 36 times and have won nine state championships. His drum corps involvement as a marching technician and caption supervisor has included The Star of Indiana from 1987 – 1993, Carolina Crown from 2005 – 2008, and the Madison Scouts from 2010 to 2012. Bob was also a member of the Brass Theater and Blast! instructional staff as well as serving at many camps and clinics throughout the United States. He has received recognition in education including the WTHI Golden Apple, the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology Outstanding High School Teacher Award, WalMart Educator of the Year Award, and was a 1995 State of Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash presented by Governor Evan Bayh. He was also a VFW District Seven Teacher of the Year.

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