School Bands

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by mikelyons, Jun 3, 2004.


Should school bands be a compulsory part of education for musicians

  1. Yes

  2. No

  3. In desperation only

  4. Never

  1. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I'm a music teacher in a school in Wigan. We currently have a 'band' of 4 including myself. In previous years, thanks to commitment from parents we have had as many as 15 and have reached a high standard.

    We lost a lot of players two years ago and since then I've struggled to keep the band going. Even though I know of several good-average players in school, they refuse to come to rehearsals. Not only that, but their parents seem to actively discourage them from coming. It seems to be OK for them to play solos at school concerts but not for them to come to band.

    What do you think. Should school band be compulsory?
  2. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I don't think it is ever a good thing to make things compulsory at school, as it will often turn people against it instantly. There may a case for insisting on attendance at a couple of rehearsals, so that everyone who plays at least gives it a go, but not on an ongoing basis.

    From my experience of the American scene, at least as portrayed in other forums, many students out there have been put off music entirely due to being forced to participate in band activities.

    As to how to attract people to sign up of their own accord, no easy answers I'm afraid, other than trying to make it as attractive and interesting as possible, and working to get the backing of the "powers that be" as well as parents.
  3. Naomi McFadyen

    Naomi McFadyen New Member

    I've voted yes on this one...
    My brothers school had compulsory for music... Every year 7 student had to take up an instrument and they had orchestras in years 7, 8 and 9 and then a senior orchestra for years 10 and above... also other groups the students put together; pop groups etc...
    The school concerts were always fantastic and with (at the time) a great Head of Music the kids loved it.

    My school on the other hand didn't have compulsory music lessons, the wind band got smaller and smaller each year and ended up as an ickle emsemble... People who did music, including myself, weren't as keen and into it as much as we should have been... This totally destroyed the department by the time I left the school... and that was really sad to see.
    I'm sure that if we had the same system as my brothers school had, it wouldn't have happened.
  4. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Thanks for the replies. The reason I haven't made it compulsory so far is that I agree with the comments about putting people off. But I'm getting desperate.

    As for making it attractive, we have a school band trip and the kids choose where they want to go. Two years ago we went to Venice for the day. This year we're going to Barcelona for two days. How much more attractive can I make it?

    We don't make huge demands on the children either, one rehearsal for an hour a week and two or three concerts a year. We used to provide music for church services (standard SA hymns, mostly) three times a year but we can't do this any more because of lack of players. I can and do call on past students to come back and help out, which they do with unfailing regularity, but this can't go on, eventually they will grow up altogether and move away. It's the way of life.

    What gripes me the most is that these children and their parents expect us to pull out all the stops for them at GCSE and/or A level, but they won't give anything back. I find that attitude quite offensive. :evil:

    We had one brat who expected us to root around and find an ensemble for him to play with for GCSE because he couldn't get members of his own band to help out - it was during the working day - but I totally resented having to do it. I nearly broke 3 teeth gritting them together to stop myself saying what I actually wanted to. :hammer
  5. NeilW

    NeilW Member

    In my part of the world, the younger players all go to an "area" music centre for most of their group playing.

    Unfortunately this means that its incredibly difficult to get younger players into the local bands.

    Whether individual schools have music groups really depends on the numbers available: in my son's school of 1270 :)!:) there are enough to have most sorts of groups... However they have a "brass ensemble" rather than a band as most play trumpets not cornets.

    Another hitch, from the BB point of view, is that all the trombone (and tuba) players are taught in bass cleff - which again makes their integration into local brass bands difficult (but that's a whole different subject...)

  6. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I've always had an 'open door' policy in the school band. If it's brass you can join. If kids are already progressing in one clef, I let them get on with it, but encourage them to learn both/all clefs associated with their instruments.

    I don't mind trumpets or even french horns in a school band, although not strictly kosher, as long as they breathe occasionally I'll accept them into the family. :D Of course I draw the line at reeds and squeaks!

    When we actually still had a band, I was running a 'main band' for everybody and an 'ensemble' for the more experienced players. We were good enough to win several local competitions. Unfortunately, the most experienced players in school are not willing to take part in the band. This is crippling the band because they are not sharing their experience with the younger players, who in turn get discouraged and drop out. This makes it less likely that new players will want to join and so the circle is complete.

    It's very depressing. :(
  7. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    If the kids are given instrumental lessons at the school then the best people to go to are their teachers. As long as the kids have a decent relationship with their instrumental teacher, if that teacher then says it would be good for them to play with the school band (extra experience, variety of ensemble, blah blah blah...) then they're more likely to give it some thought...
  8. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    My school was always good for ensemble playing - it wasn't compulsory, but you got leaned on heavily if you didn't attend. I guess with bands it might be different - when I was learning (on both the trumpet and trombone) brass banding was actively discouraged by several teachers and tutors I had - which I realise now is a big mistake. There might be a stigma thing attached to it (i.e. how middle class is your school?).

    It is difficult to get kids to commit any of their out of school time to anything. The reason why I did ensemble music at school was because I went to an all boys school and the orchestra was joint with the girls school across town.

    I think you should try and get a unified approach from the staff in your department (i.e. get their support including the peri teachers too). Also try and find out why the kids don't want to do it, if it's bone idleness then talk to the parents. If it's the parents or outside teacher that are discouraging them, then you definately need to talk to them.

    Try and get to speak to the headmaster (or whoever brokers power) and get his/her support. At my school the headmaster was very keen on music and this reflected in the pressure put on kids to attend ensembles.
  9. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Tried it!

    Unfortunately, either the children just ignore the peri's advice or the children who are missing band don't have peri lessons in school, in one or two cases it's a family member, in others it's a private tutor -

    Thanks for the thought, though.
  10. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    There seems to be no stigma attached to one of the people concerned playing a solo with piano at the Christmas service!

    Already got more support than I know what to do with. My HoD is wonderful like that. The Peri teacher has already been approached and does encourage, but he can't demand.

    Again, already done it. These particular parents are less than supportive. In fact a couple of them are rather weak. "Well, I don't want to force him/her", "He/she already does ..." I could almost think that one or two of them are doing this because I play in a rival band to them, although the rivalry is entirely one sided. I don't poach people!

    The head is nominally very supportive, providing he doesn't have to confront parents. I've spoken to him a number of times. He has backed a plan whereby I am giving free 'taster lessons' to some pupils in Y7, but he will not go so far as to confront parents. In that respect he's a waste of space. I don't like giving free lessons because that is undermining the music service and I'm only doing it for a short while. But you can see why I'm at my wits end. I've already tried everything I can think of except for making it compulsory for players to be in the band and that is definitely a last resort.

    I could understand it if I'd upset someone. :?
  11. missflugel

    missflugel Member

    I voted no for this one as from personal experience I think forcing kid to play an instrument just like forcing them to do sport or art when they aren't good at it makes them resent it in the long run.

    I was never forced as a child and am still enjoying all aspects of music now even though I have been emersed in it since I was about 6 years old. I know lots of kids who had to play as children and many of them have no motivation for music anymore because they were so involved as children.

    I think it is important to involve children in music much like sport and art etc. but I dont personally think that it should be compulsory at any age.

    Jo x
  12. Caro

    Caro New Member

    School bands are an important part of musical life even now. It was where I learned to communicate with other players, be part of a team, learn how to cope with peer pressure etc. If you play an instrument then it is critical that you learn ensemble skills. If you have a severe hatred of the idea of group playing, then you [possibly also have a hatred of listening to music. Thats not exactly the best for someone who classes themselves as a "musician". I feel that i learned a great deal from my time in school band, and used these skills to help me towards my playing in more senior bands and indeed in how to teach younger players.

    Maybe it shouldn't be compulsory,,,,,but it should be encouraged.
  13. jambo

    jambo Member

    In the school that I teach at we got together with the local authority for a grant to but a load of new student model instruments. This was done after we had a team of Brass Peri's come in and give a demonstration and then let the kids have a go.

    Afterwards anyone who wanted to learn was given a slip to take home to their parents to ask permission and for the £5 a week for their lessons. At the end of the year they have the option to purchase the instrument at a discount.

    As part of their learning the instrument they are also to play in the band that has been formed since. As they are all learning together it has been great and our band of 23 will perform their first performance at the end of the summer term as part of the school end of year concert.
  14. Andy Moore

    Andy Moore Member

    I can't see the point in our music lessons, we never even play anything except keyboards and the odd xylophone. (sp)

    Unsurprisingly the only people good at music are those that do it out of school.
  15. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    This idea has already been mooted. The main handicap at the moment is that, as we are a VA school, it's a little more tricky to get the grants. School has to be put over a barrel to get any money out of them - I could tell a tale of the last 15 years - but it has been mentioned and not yet totally dismissed by the powers-that-be.

    One thing we are going to try is a band concert - to 'raise awareness'. One of our local bands is doing one this term (Go on the Girls!) and we were going to do one, but exams got in the way. Hopefully next term.

    I'm glad I started this thread.
  16. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    That's the national curriculum for you. However, aren't you encouraged to use your own instrument in composition/performance? Maybe you could organise a little group to play your own pieces? Keyboard, guitar,drums & horn?

    Makes sense to me! :)
  17. geordiecolin

    geordiecolin Active Member

    Exactly.. When I was at school I had PE the lesson before music. I was hopeless at PE and no-one would be my partner. As soon as it came to music, I had to beat them off with a big stick, I was the only one who had any musical knowledge. I don't think I ever learnt anything in music, I used to spend all lesson writing letter names on keyboard keys and letter name beneath the notes on the music for everyone else!! Probs why I didn't bother with GCSE music!

    As for school bands, we just didn't have the numbers of brass players to support a BB at County level let alone at school level. there was a sizeable orchestra (in which I was forced to play 3rd Trumpet, whilst I was Principal Trumpet of the County Wind Orchestra :shock: :? They worked out the seatings on age as opposed to ability!) but when the music teacher left, it collapsed and at one point NO music teacher was employed by the school, my friend literally taught herself A-Level music, the dept was run by the students. A music teacher was eventually appointed and he has resurrected the groups and has moulded them into whilst small, coherent units that are probably actually better than the massive orchestra i was in. He still has problems with attendance though. I also feel that in Northumberland the county orchestras aren't pushed enough by either the departmental teachers or the peris.
  18. jonford

    jonford Member

    I think a big problem with school bands is that the people normally in them are very busy with bands outside of school or other activities such as sport. It is the same people that does all the extra curricular stuff and there isn't enough time to do everything as well as exams!
  19. stripybananas

    stripybananas Member

    My school has around 800 pupils in it, and we have 2 full orchestras, 2 full concert bands, 2 dance bands and a recently formed brass band. As far as the school rules are concerned "it is compulsary for anyone receiving music lessons in school to play within school ensembles" and this for the most part is kept to. We've found it works and you get the attendance, the junior concert band now amounting to nearly 90 players, which is quite a hurrendous amount, but still, its there. However some of the kids don't enjoy it so much, and you do get problems with sullen faces, but then, very few actually give up because they are unhappy, they just accept its a burden that comes with talent. The school concert band is a reasonable youth band, and has played at The National Festival of Music for Youth in Festival Hall a few times, and can at times play really well. In general i disagree with being forced to do music, however in a school environment, I think things are very different.
  20. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    You do have a point there, but you also have to realise that if school bands dry up because people are 'too busy' then bands outside of schools are going to be in big trouble. Is it really too much to spend an hour a week after school? Especially when you consider what could happen if school bands disappear entirely?

    School bands in this area are struggling more because pupils now have to pay for instrumental lessons and hire or buy instruments if they don't already belong to a band. Seeing school bands becoming smaller and smaller discourages people from joining and we have another vicious cycle. Incidentally, this is further aggravated by those who haven't taken part sneering at those who have in public. You know who you are!