You Go Back, Jack, and Do It Again…

Mike Lawson • August 2021Perspective • August 13, 2021

Musician/Publisher Mike Lawson photographed by Michael Weintrob for the Instrument Head collection

The mood among the music educators and related professionals I regularly consult as editor of these music education magazines is one of cautious optimism for the return to school. There were glimmers of hope, vaccine rates at one point starting to increase before leveling, then falling off. This Delta variant has everyone on edge again. We still have a “healthy” amount of the population refusing to be vaccinated, spreading disinformation, demanding their children not have to wear masks, while politically radicalizing the health crisis, and that also worries a lot of these teachers. If you’re feeling any of that, I can assure you that you are not alone judging from comments of educators I speak with. 

It is difficult to begin shaping your upcoming programs as though things are going to be “normal” again, with the lingering feeling that maybe they will, maybe they won’t, maybe things will for a while and then they collapse… Teachers see school board meetings with outspoken, fist-shaking, angry parents, some even having their children burn masks in the parking lots. Teachers have a right to be concerned about so many things outside of how their new classes will begin to settle in, who will be in what chair, how they can catch up from over a year of loss. Beginning band programs were smacked down. Having a viable feeder program to the high school is going to be rough from the 2020-2021 damage. High school band directors, and subsequently college directors alike, are wondering how they will feed their programs just a few short years from now.

The teachers I know are largely obsessive planners. They think things out months in advance to the detail of weekly and daily execution of lesson plans, working backward from performance dates, logging the various milestones on the calendar their band and orchestra students have to arrive at to have a successful performance. Much how they had to suddenly wing it when 2020 brought us shutdowns, Zoom classes, and the scrambling to become tech savvy as a matter of survival, the next level of challenges are rising up to greet them. This time it is putting all the pieces back together for in-person classes after over a year of missing them, and being ready at a moment’s notice for that rug to be pulled out from under them and finding their band programs returning to remote instruction. Many educators, especially those able to retire, are throwing in the towel and getting out. While that isn’t helpful for the students, it is certainly understandable for the mental health of the overburdened teacher who just isn’t up to doing this again. I get it. There is much to be said for stability, continuity, and all the things we took for granted for so long before this mess popped into our lives. 

Directors are, nonetheless, planning anyway. In the face of potential setbacks more probable than not in some parts of our great nation, they are still setting concert dates, even planning and booking spring travel for festivals, clinics, performances in parades and putting kids on roller coasters for the very important social aspect of band programs. Student travel is all carrot and no stick when it comes to recruitment and retention, and after 2020 and half of 2021, it has never been more important to go ahead and book the trips, reserve the hotel rooms, figure out transportation and fundraising, to give students another goal and incentive to be their best at their music studies. Time marches steadily, that’s for sure, and we have to look ahead and try to make the best of our inability to control the world. I’m scheduling flights and booking hotel rooms now in anticipation of being at the NFHS conference, where I’ll speak on Technology in Music Education in a plenary session to fine arts administrators. I’m booking trips to NYSSMA and Midwest Clinic for December, Winter NAMM, OMEA, TMEA, and beyond. I’m keeping my hopes up, along with you, that things will somehow level off, some amount of normal will be back, and we can move forward making music. Here’s hoping you enjoy this last small bit of time before school is in full swing, those of you who didn’t have classes starting back the first week of August. No matter when your classes return, SBO hopes this is a safe, fruitful, and rewarding year, as we salute your resilience and perseverance over a very difficult period. 

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