Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Grow Up

So of COURSE I’m going to react badly to an online article about a high school marching band being abused.

This is news?

The reacting-badly part, I mean.

Now is the time for all good marchers to come to the aid of their fellow musicians, blah, blah, blah.” Solidarity forever. Band nerds & geeks unite, and all that.

In addition, let’s be honest, this would not be the first time that a marching band – y’know, the folks who wear chickens on their heads and attempt to play instruments and wave flags and things … while on the move … in searing August heat and bone-chilling November frostiness? Not the first time a band has taken shots, good-natured or otherwise, from somebody somewhere.

Heck, I was in a band that had things thrown at it (and I wasn’t even a tuba player – they carry natural targets for projectiles, complete with built-in backboards). And I directed a band that had to worry about being target practice for our own team’s punter, who liked to warm up for the second half during the band’s halftime show – although that little practice stopped after I had a heated word or two with the athletic director.

Believe me … I know the drill.

This instance seems a little different to me.


The article was written by members of a high school student newspaper, and it might strike you as probably a shred lengthy, even if you’re one of those folks likely to agree with its sentiments. But that’s okay: I think young editorial writers can be forgiven a little youthful exuberance. They’re young. We were all young people, and as such, we all struggled with the balance between adrenalin and good sense. With time comes a certain amount of temperance. Hopefully.

(An aside: in this case, the two editorial writers were in fact members of the embattled high school band – so one could also consider that they may have been a smidge too close to the events for complete journalistic objectivity. Still, it is an opinion piece.)

The longer one continues on in life, though, the more opportunities one finds to develop the ability to temper passion with a sense of proportion and priorities. And here is where the problems began, at the high school represented and reported upon by that newspaper.

If you scan the linked article, you will notice immediately that a high school band in Annandale, Virginia reportedly suffered a completely wretched experience last week, at their last home football game appearance, at the hands of its own school’s alleged fans. The band took the field at halftime; and for a number of people, that was just too much to bear.

During halftime of this home game, at least one football player’s parent shouted “Get the damn band off the field!” … Language, please!

The football coaching staff and some players also shouted at the band director, with similar sentiments – with still more than four minutes left in the allotted halftime. Fans in the stands – presumably fans of the football team and not so much of anyone else there present – reportedly escalated their verbal assault on the band at that point.

After the game, in response to questions about why the band was being pressured to leave the field before its performance was complete, the high school’s principal and its director of student activities explained that the football team would have received an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty if the band had remained on the field. Seems worthwhile to be avoiding that sort of thing. Your New England Chevy Dealers’ Keys To The Game: [1] avoid stupid penalties.

(The editorial writers suppose that for a team that was trailing by more than forty points at halftime, a 15-yard penalty assessed on the opening second-half kickoff might have been, um, the least of that team’s worries. However, I choose to let that slide for the moment. Stranger things than a forty-two-point football comeback have happened before.)


Here’s the moment in this story, though – at least as reported by the Annandale school newspaper’s editorial writers – that really got my attention.

[Annandale head football coach Michael] Scott resorted to his own measures by shaking the podium of junior Assistant Drum Major Douglas Nguyen, and then yelling at the other Assistant Drum Major, senior Noah Wolfenstein, to stop conducting and get off the field.”

Grabbing one of the conductors’ podiums and shaking it?

The equivalent action – the high school band director running onto the field and grabbing the sleeve of the quarterback just as he’s calling a play – would draw a pretty impassioned response, don’t you think? Certainly at least a 15-yard penalty … preceded by a gang-tackle of Biblical proportions … and probably followed by a hearing of some kind the next Monday morning.

Sorry, again, let me see if I got that right. Trying to shake some drum major off his podium?

Okay. Deep breath. Let’s take a step backwards, just for the sake of wide-angle context:

Never mind the parents in the stands; you can’t really legislate away their opportunity to say foolish things. The First Amendment, and that sort of thing. We’ve all read stories about out-of-control sports parents.

Never mind the football players; they’re either caught up in the moment, or, as was reported in the article, some of them may have been a bit embarrassed by the whole incident.

But do pay attention to this: a little research reveals that the football coach is a member of the high school’s faculty.

Hopefully, at some point in his teacher training, this person was made to understand (or maybe not) that a teacher is always on stage? … that a teacher is always in a position to set an example? And at some point, it was made clear to him (or perhaps not) that grown adults, whether they’re in front of children or not, ought to be able to express their frustrations in grown-adult ways?


Open letter to the coach: sir, you are allegedly a leader of student athletes. You are allegedly a role model for them. You are allegedly a member of an organization whose mission is to educate students and to prepare them for the world of the 21st century (whatever the current educational buzzword-generating organizations deem that world to be), and for life as grownups.

And you’re grabbing a band conductor podium and shaking it, to get a band to stop playing, for the reason that … what? You want to avoid a penalty? Or that it’s your team’s field really? Or that your team is getting stomped, so you don’t see why anyone else should have a good time? Or that your team has gotten its collective self beaten every time they’ve taken the field this year but once, and it’s getting on your nerves?  Or that sports naturally trumps music, in all instances?

O… -kay. What’s done is done.


But, friends: it may well be that this high school football team is being coached by a child.


November 13, 2013 - Posted by | arts, band, current events, education, football, journalism, marching band, music, news, sports, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I am right there with you! I did a blog post as well on my blog (www.ihavegripe.wordpress.com) and sent an email to the coach, the principal, the director of student services, and the band director. Enough is enough.

    Comment by Andrea | November 14, 2013 | Reply

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