America has a lot of long-time, embarrassingly idiotic attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices about a lot of things that make us the laughing stock of the world, and no where is this seen more acutely than in jr. high and high school. For example, what total no-brain started the attitude, so many years ago, that athletic ability rules and that having any kind of smarts or artistic talent is considered geeky? Probably someone who ended up spending their life on welfare, in jail, or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Someone who was no doubt operated on or supervised by, at one point in their life, by a “geek”. But here we are, at least 60 years later, and that attitude still prevails, hurting us in so many ways. I actually heard a friend say to me a couple years ago, “I’m not going to encourage my son to be in the band because I don’t want him to be called a band geek.” Huh? I tried to set her straight. Though my band experience ended in 9th grade and Allison’s ended by 7th, I have a lot of friends who found their life’s career in band, not to mention those who simply found great friends and memories.
“People who are in band, or choir, remember, are musically talented,” I told her. “Which means they are pretty fun people. Their parties are fun, even school field trips are fun, because there’s always lots of music and you never know—there could be an impromptu jam session, or singing… they have great music collections and they’re usually pretty good dancers, too.” (well…at least the drummers are…)
I related some of my own memories to her. I’ll never forget a “spring tour” I went on with my high school show choir (we were called “The Purple Aires”— naturally, since our high school colors were purple and gray). Our choir director booked us to sing at a church and in the cafeteria of a community college in the greater Kansas City area, which was a day’s drive from my hometown. Not sure if even one of those college students ever looked at us while we were singing, but we still had a lot of fun (Worlds of Fun, to be exact—that was the name of the theme park we got to visit)—and we did break into a song or two on our “tour bus”… Fast forward to 2007– I’m driving a bunch of 6th grade Girl Scouts around Washington, D.C., and the band girls who are riding in my (rented) minivan start an impromptu “mouth version” of the Star Wars theme, singing their particular instrument’s part, perfectly on pitch, using the word, “Duh” for each note. Several band “sections” were represented in my car and so, as all the parts chimed in and came together, it actually sounded good! I christened them The Duh Band. They had so much fun, they kept doing it again and again, recording it on their phones (the second time with an emcee, of course) and eventually performing it for our whole troop. Even girls who normally weren’t friends were having a blast and cracking each other up as they performed. It was one of my fondest memories of the entire trip, and I felt sorry for the girls who weren’t in band.
By the end of our conversation, my friend said she’d never thought of band kids as “fun” before and I thought maybe I’d changed an attitude. Not sure that I did. Her son didn’t enroll in band. When grown adults start worrying about whether their kid is going to look “cool” or not, we’re in a sorry state.
Speaking of Scouts—now there’s yet another group who gets a bad rap. The uniform probably doesn’t help, but, uniform aside, Scouts offer some pretty cool things kids can’t get in other activities, at least not at a young age. Opportunities to learn how to lead, whether it’s leading the troop in a meeting, or leading a service project, or teaching younger Scouts how to do something. Opportunities to experience a whole lot of stuff in ways other kids can’t. My 5th grade Girl Scout troop is sleeping overnight at NASA next month, something only offered to Scouts. In a couple weeks, we’re learning about the winter Olympics and going “curling” (yes, Dallas has a curling club!) and visiting the only wolf sanctuary in Texas. It’s so much more than camping and selling cookies (although those activities are good as well) and yet parents either don’t sign up their kids (one mom told me, “I was never in Scouts so I’m not signing up my daughter”) or they let it go by the wayside as kids get busy with jr. high sports and other activities.
Kudos to Girl Scouts of the USA for continually trying to update the uniform and trying to keep the program fresh and “current”. Kudos to movies like “High School Musical” and the TV show, Glee, which has helped boost enrollment in school choir and theatre programs. And kudos to all the travel agencies out there who specialize in arranging choir and band trips to exciting locales. Jay Johnson, the owner of Coastline Travel in Garden Grove, CA, (I work with a lot of travel professionals in the corporate freelance writing that I do) told me last week about how his agency resurrected the Hawaii Invitational International Music Festival, and that when bands and choirs are able to plan trips to Hawaii, it doubles their membership.
In the next few months, Emmie is going to have to decide if she’s going to participate in 6th grade band next year and if so, what instrument she’ll play. (She’s already been kicked out of choir for doing pirouettes on the risers, among other things…) Band instruction is provided for 6th graders every day during school hours in our district (even though our 6th grade is still at the Elementary School.) I told her I thought she ought to consider percussion, since she’s had the piano experience they require, and they might even let her play her guitar.
“But, Mom,” she said yesterday as we drove to church, “hardly any of my friends are going to be in band.”
“Why not?” I said.
“They think it’s for geeks,” she said.