And the band played on.....except in Round Lake

A hundred years ago, according to accounts, the band on board RMS Titanic played until its members were taken below with the ship. The event inspired the phrase “and the band played on.” That same phrase was taken for the title of a groundbreaking book about the AIDS epidemic and how it was ignored  for so long. Now, it appears, after being ignored for so long the marching band at Round Lake High School won’t be playing on. Its existence is in jeopardy due to a decision to go to a single teacher at RLHS for band, choir and music.

My fellow RLHS alumni know the history and stature of our band well. We have seen a host of renowned educators take the baton at RLHS and inspire generations of students to be musicians. I myself picked up a trombone and then a baritone and then a tuba for RLHS and took that to the USC Trojan Marching Band where the band is the center of school spirit and adulation. Friends from there are professional musicians now and some still work for the band.

Over the past several years, sadly some on my watch, the band has been gradually suffocated. When myself and many others were in Round Lake there were two band teachers and a choir teacher at Magee Middle School and two band teachers and a choir teacher at RLHS. There was a Fine Arts director because, as was properly seen then, band programs do not begin at RLHS, they end there. The program begins in the elementary schools and the elementaries have been almost put out of the band business. I implored two CEOs and several more administrators privately and in public meetings to put decisions about music and band especially on the district level and not on the school level. It is a DISTRICT WIDE program and needs to be approached that way. Sadly that’s never come to be and the fate of each band, choir or music teacher in Round Lake Area Schools has been at the whim of their principal. The scheduling conflicts, the time band staff is needed in other buildings, the lack of any coordination, cohesion or leadership in the music program is because of this faulty approach to running it at the building level.

RLHS Marching Band in better days, 1987-1988
The death spiral started when Magee was reopened and renovated. Scheduling conflicts between buildings were used as a reason to no longer bus elementary students to participate in bands at the middle schools as was the way before (somehow for decades that was accomplished, suddenly now there are “scheduling” problems”). It was an integral part of the program and by introducing a learning musician to a group of players with more experience, they saw what they could achieve as a band. No more and has been that way for some time now.

When the students have nothing to do in band for 5th grade it’s not difficult to imagine, they drop out of band. Bored with being stuck in an elementary band where a teacher doesn’t even regularly have an opportunity to rehearse the student quickly loses interest and drops out. Before where every band teacher led the recruitment drive in school assemblies with impassioned pleas about the importance of music they mesmerized a gym full of 4th graders. No more, they can’t get the time away from their own buildings.

So where our band was some 75 members strong for marching season it has gradually dwindled. It had almost bottomed out in the mid-90s with the scathing cuts. It had nicely rebounded with a small but dedicated band in competition and in the past few years as a show band. Their drum line got some separate instruction and I can assert is better than any drum line we ever had. Now, 2012 with one of the healthiest fund balances in the state, numerous administrators making six figures, a whole new influx of new midlevel assistant, deputy and director administrators and new positions that never existed before it’s been decided RLHS can get by with a combination band and choir teacher. After all, with all the trailers in the parking lot we need the band room for study hall (aka a place to put the kids when we don’t have classes for them).

I have held off writing this blog since I became aware of the news, I can’t sit here silent and watch 50 years of RLHS history go out with a whimper. While the RLHS Marching Band may find some way to still exist it can’t exist as it has been before. With a single teacher how can there be a meaningful band camp? How can a single teacher possibly do all the rehearsals for marching band, jazz band and pep bands outside of normal school hours? The Pep Band, a famous tradition at RLHS complete with Pep Season attire and filling a quarter of the stands with band members has been dead and buried for some time, victim of a single band teacher for a decade. Now there’s not even that.

Perhaps the plan is to take the new uniforms the band members and parents themselves strove so hard to get funded a few years ago and put that new throng of administration to work. For six figures I would think they should easily be able to put in the time. Maybe then they would learn something themselves and realize that if band and art and music and electives are all taken away, what is the point of learning then? What good do math or language do if they are not used for the betterment of us all? Those are the things that keep us alive, the things that make us human, what’s the use of living if you can’t be a human?

A hundred years ago thousands of people met their death and thousands more lived to tell the tale of the band that played on. The band that knew how important music was to life and how it was of comfort when one was facing death. It’s sad to me to think that future products of Round Lake will not have the opportunity to realize what a difference band can make, because it was starved out by administrators, a school board and increasingly a community that didn’t care.

For my part in not doing more, I apologize to all the band kids in Round Lake. I chose to pick my battles and not fight all the time, I was trying to push for things like fixing the roof that was leaking on band equipment and carpet that had been there since I was a student. I was wrong to not fight for you earlier and harder and I’m sorry. Don’t give up, make band what you know it can be and don’t let any administrative decision get you down.

The band I played in after RLHS. Hopefully the RLHS Marching Band won’t be relegated to rising from the dead.