Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Norton Needs to Keep Band Going

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on October 21, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia


            Though it may have seemed trivial and relatively unimportant to many, the announcement last week that the Norton High School Band has dissolved to the point where it pretty much does not currently exist and cannot march in the annual Veteran’s Day parade has many people incredibly sad. 


            While the impact on the parade and the honoring of our deserving veterans is of prime importance, the current state of the band is disturbing on many levels.  It says something about our priorities today regarding both our educational systems and society in general.


            I am former president of the Norton High band.  It was back in 1974, and I might have been the worst president the band has ever had.  But I played the trumpet (not overly well) and enjoyed marching during football games and parades.


            I covered high school sports for this fine newspaper back then, and would walk the sideline in my band uniform taking notes until halftime.  Then I would make a mad dash for my trumpet, jump into line, and perform in the halftime activities.  My wife-to-be (yes, high school sweethearts) “played” the symbols.  Her big moment at each home game was the crash at the height of the Star Spangled Banner.


            Our children find our band experience embarrassing.  But as we tell them all the time – it was very cool to be in the band back then.  And it should be now too.


            Our marching band was 99 members strong, which was amazing considering our graduating class had only 99 members.  We won awards in statewide band competitions, and even recorded an album.  I was going to explain those are oversized CDs, but then realized even CDs are now obsolete.


            We were proud to be band members, as I’m sure recent band members were also.  We loved the parades, where we got decked out in our uniforms and represented our community.  We looked forward to the ceremonies at the town common, and the hot dogs the veteran’s organizations so generously served us at the finish.


            Today that pride in the band and the music program is considerably less visible despite the tremendous efforts of those great kids trying so hard to maintain that wonderful tradition.  There are just simply not enough of them. 


            It is not a completely sudden shift.  Both interest and funding (not a completely coincidental relationship) have been falling off for bands across the area for many years.  With the range of activities available to youth today greatly expanded and in some views diluted, it has been difficult to get students to commit the time and effort necessary to have a good band. 


            But there is a difference between having a “good” program and having a program at all.


            If not enough kids turned out for the football or baseball team, there would be a huge outcry throughout the town.  We should be just as concerned about this problem, and make every effort we can to find out why it is happening and address it.


            Educating our children is not just about books and math and computer skills.  It is also about creating well-rounded students who appreciate the arts and can contribute to them.  While not every kid is a musician, their high school years should expose and involve them to these things as much as possible.


            When I was in the school system, there was a program in place at the elementary level to get kids interested in playing music.  It was a great “feeder system”, and that has been somewhat revitalized in Norton in recent years.  But if the community thinks the music program is important, it has to start showing it more.


            This is not all about funding, nor is it unique to Norton.  And perhaps there is little we can do about it.  Our own kids never marched in the band, though my oldest still claims we forced him to join in his freshman year.  We understand how difficult it is to maintain this very important tradition.


            When there is no Norton High Band in the Veteran’s Day parade next month, it will be a sad day for my hometown.  Let’s hope it serves as a wake-up call all around the area.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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