The Joys and Frustrations of Being a "Band Parent"
I confess that I’m one of those parents. You know the kind; those who love to post their kids’ high school accomplishments on social media. But I am not one of those parents who assumes that just because I happen to think my kids’ accolades are important, everyone else must think so too. I’ve learned that each school activity has its own unique subculture, whether it’s a sport, cheerleading, drama, debate, math, science or whatever. Unless you are fully immersed in that particular subculture, you’re not likely to comprehend what it’s really like to live inside that “world.” You can’t fathom how the activity consumes a family’s time and money, dictating not just academic schedules, but also parents’ work schedules, social calendars and vacation time. The activity often determines not only the student’s friends, but the parents’ friends too, because who else could understand?
During the years our kids were in high school, my wife and I were embedded in the world of high school band. Our two sons played woodwinds, and my daughter was in the color guard. (Color guard kids are the ones who twirl flags and throw things high in the air and catch them.)
For us, being band parents meant chaperoning at football games and rehearsals, constantly washing uniforms, spending weeks on fundraising projects and shelling out thousands of dollars for instruments and travel. For our kids, it meant coming home tired and aching and sunburned from logging 20 or more extra-curricular practice hours a week, spending as much (or more) time on football fields than any high school quarterback.
Only marching band parents appreciate the fact that their kids are involved in what amounts to a sport as well as an art, one that is as strenuous and competitive as any other. Strenuous? You bet. A few years ago ESPN showed that during practices and performances, marching band students maintained a heart rate and consumed oxygen at a level comparable to marathon runners, except that marathon runners don’t carry 35-pound tubas and play them with note-perfect precision while running in a flawlessly straight line with their teammates.
Competitive? Oh yes. Several times a season our young musicians traveled across multiple states to enter fierce marching and playing competitions, eventually resulting in their school’s nationwide reputation for excellence—but only among others in the world of high school bands.
Unless you are in that world, you see only the tip of the iceberg. While my kids’ marching band performed regularly in the country’s most lavish college and NFL stadiums in front of tens of thousands of other band fans from around the U.S. often bringing home trophies the size of smart cars, most people at home saw nothing more than a pleasant Friday night half-time show in between snack bar visits, never realizing their little high school was actually quite famous in band circles throughout the U.S.A.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: At one out-of-town competition I sat on the thirty-yard line next to a college kid from Michigan who had never set foot in my home state of Georgia. He asked which school my kids attended and I simply told him, “Harrison High.”
“Nice,” he said, nodding. “The Cobb County, Georgia school district has a great music program.”
He got it.
Contrast that conversation with this one: After coming home from a thrilling weekend at the national championship, I enthusiastically (though naively) told a non-band-parent friend of mine, “My kids’ band just brought home a big trophy. They came in seventh at the Grand Nationals Band Competition at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.”
“How does anyone get a trophy for seventh place?” he laughed derisively.
I guessed he might think it a pretty big big deal if his kid’s lacrosse team was declared, out of every high school team in the nation, the seventh best. But it was no use; I realized he just didn’t get it.
Fortunately there were enough people who did. Part of the fun of going to those out-of-town competitions was being around other band parents and students who understood what it took to get there and what it took to win. Like us, they were familiar with other well-known bands from around the country: Tarpon Springs High School from Florida, Carmel High School from Indiana, Blue Springs High School from Missouri and Broken Arrow High School from Oklahoma, to name a few. These schools were all household names in our home and in thousands of others, just like our kids’ school was in theirs.
So it’s okay if you don’t get it. I understand. But please don’t be offended if I don’t grasp how important your kids’ competitive achievements are either. I’m guessing they also do great things that no one outside their world sees.
But if they ever come in seventh in the nation, let me know. I promise to be impressed.
© Nick Walker 2019
This video produced by ESPN shows the athleticism required of a marching band student.
What high-school activity has consumed your life? Feel free to scroll down and leave a comment below.