Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The murder of music (and so goes guard)

I know my title is pretty extreme, but depriving kids of music is downright criminal. I've copied this post from my other blog, Joy in the Litterbox.

Someone actually left a comment, "Well, what else are we supposed to cut instead? English, Math, Science, Social Studies?" My answer? Football. :)

We all know there's a lot of waste in big organizations - each district needs to examine the budget.

Anyway the post:

Recently I lost my job as a color guard instructor. Not because I rotted at my job, but because school administrators didn't think music programs were important. I'd been at that school for eight years and feel like I'm grieving a death.

Below is a letter written to administration by a middle school parent. Permission to print and circulate this letter has been granted by the parent.

What A Loss 5/11/09

Today was the day I attended the last concert for my son’s middle school band at the Sheridan High School. The district decided to cut music from the school’s program from both the Middle School and the High School. All I could think of the whole time as we sat and listened, and then as we drove home afterward was, “What a Loss”. What a loss for those 20+ kids who practiced diligently and went faithfully to class each day to learn to read music and to play on an instrument. What a loss for the instructor who is so dedicated to instilling music into those kids, and what a loss for the parents, friends and family of all those kids sitting in the audience who will no longer have the enjoyment, pride and happiness that comes with seeing a child learn music.

Music is such a vital part of our everyday lives and has so many affects on a person’s all around being. A simple song can spark a memory and take you back to years and years in your past and bring forth a feeling inside a person of a time in their life that brought joy, sorrow, love or even laughter into their life. To take this gift away from not only the students of Sheridan, but the families of the students, the teachers, the staff and the community as a whole, to me, is such a great loss.

My oldest son graduated from Sheridan High School and was a dedicated musician to the Sheridan music programs and when I think back to all of the memories of those years, I cannot even tell you the disappointment that I feel. When I think of how many kids (my second son included.) will no longer have the opportunity to learn music or to have the memories of school with music all around them, all I can say is “What a loss.”

What will there be now to replace the music? HOW can you replace the music? Who will lead the Sheridan Day’s Parade? The Homecoming Parade? Who will play at the bon fires and basketball games? Who will play at the Pep Rallies and school assemblies? Who will play concerts for their parents and Christmas carols? Who will play for the school musicals? Who will play for the football, baseball, soccer, volleyball teams or wrestlers when they bring home the state championships? Who will play at the graduation ceremonies when our Sheridan students receive their diplomas?

Will you simply play a radio or a CD? Is that what this has come down to? Replacements? Can’t you see that you not you are not only replacing the music but you are replacing feelings, memories and most importantly, you are replacing PEOPLE.

When I think of the years and years of band competitions for marching band, jazz band and winter percussion that made so many students, parents, teachers and the whole Sheridan community so proud of what these kids from a small little community could accomplish, all I can think is – What a loss.

I pray there is some way to bring back the music programs of Sheridan. I want to hear the children’s music. If all we have, is to spend all of these events in years to come listening to a radio, CD’s or even worse, SILENCE, again I say, “What a Loss”.

Yvette Medina (Sheridan Middle School Parent)

Last week I was hired to teach color guard at Columbine High School. I'm excited about the opportunity, but my heart goes out to all the kids who'll never put their lips to a horn, sticks to a drum or hands on a flag.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Count your blessings

Times are hard for all of us right now, but take a moment and see how this 16 year-old girl is dealing with her new state of homelessness.

The blog is titled Anywhere but here

Competition season is around the corner! See you on the floor!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Understanding your instructor

"Yeeettter! Your nose full of mud yet? What do you think your are? Some sort of plow-walking farmer?"

The smell of stale coffee battered my face. I tried to look him in the eye, but the sting of the caffeine caused my eyelids to spasm.

Snickers from upperclassmen pop-corned the surface of the muddy field.

My fingers numbed as I squeezed my pole into a still order-arms.

"Don't twitch when I'm talking to you!"

Talking? Nuh-uh. Screaming was an understatement.

What did I get myself into? Color guard was supposed to be fun.

During my five years of high school marching band and winter guard, I saw lot of kids audition then quit during band or guard camp.

Not because they sucked, but because they got yelled at. How dare the instructor or director yell at them?

Sound familiar?

Three-ring binders exploding page protectors, drill charts and count sheets... shattered coffee mugs... splintered rifles... words that could make a construction worker blush...

Even from the other end - myself being an instructor and a judge, I've seen some tantrums thrown by guard staff that'd put my two-year old to shame.

Codes of conduct exist for a reason: not because instructors are expected to behave badly, but because the passion for the sport of the arts is so intense, it's impossible to not become emotional. When emotions flare, we say and do things that look pretty stupid.

This past season, I tore grass out of the ground, threw mud clumps at trees and yard lines. One week from State championships, I had students who didn't know their show! Between the section leaders and myself, hours were spent with Struggling Student. So. When I heard, "Darcie, what's a helicopter toss look like again?" I lost it.

I've poured coffee breath over the heads of a student a few years back after she wandered the field, silk dragging on the turf - at regionals. Come to find out she sneaked off to get high before the show. My tirade happened in a parking lot.

Did I have some personal vendetta against these kids? No.

My job as a guard instructor is to take my students to the highest level their potential and my sill will allow. Guard is not an individual sport with individual scores. One person's failure to be responsible for knowing their stuff hurts EVERYBODY. Or, when I know someone is capable of harder skills, I get mad when they spend too much time complaining about how they suck, rather than trying to get better.

Guard instructors don't hate you. They're not yelling at you and acting silly because they have excess energy to release into the universe - they care about how well you perform. They want nothing less than your best from you. Seasons are short. Guard members and instructors have to improve at least daily. Pressure's on.

Years from now, when you're chosen for "Top Chef", wrap your fingers around that coveted diploma, cash in an obscene performance bonus, become CEO of a company or raise twelve amazing kids, you can thank your guard instructor for teaching you how to get ahead in the "real world".

Instructors know guard is way more than spinning and dancing. To them, you are more valuable than any currency or precious metal. You are an investment in the future of our country.

So, when a dance shoe bounces from your head and your skin peels from criticism, try to listen to what is being said beyond how it's being said. Then get better.

Trust me when I say it's not personal.

And a note to those of us who teach... we need to be aware of how we come across. Let's work to reduce occasional unprofessional behavior. :) We don't have to be ugly to get the point across.

See you on the floor in a few weeks!

Monday, November 24, 2008

YouTube and YourFuture

Your guard becomes your family. And sometimes families do pretty crazy things that get captured forever on someone's cell phone and posted to YouTube. Things that were funny in the moment, but in a few weeks, cause you to blush with shame. Maybe.

Recently the issue of employers firing employees due to offensive and questionable YouTube posts is bubbling to the surface of the news.

President-elect Obama is screening cabinet members and potential employees to the level where he wants every blog post, email, Face Book, YouTube etc investigated. More and more people are being blackmailed and exploited from a few mindless moments of "fun". On the presidential level, we all know video of someone naked in a tree can cause a scandal.

Private employers (meaning anyone but the government) CAN fire or refuse to hire anyone who has an internet presence deemed embarassing or a bad reflection of the company's image. Even if the video is several years old! Google it. You'll find stories.


When you're on the road with your guard, think twice before hauling out the cell phone camera. Think extra twice before posting to YouTube. When it comes time for you to start your career and find a good job, that moment of "fun" may come back to bite you and cost you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who are we?

We all know we're pretty unique. Come on, how many people like to throw pieces of metal into the air and try to catch them? For fun.

What qualities do you think make up the dedicated guard person? Why do you love the sport so much?

Do you know?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Don't put your hopes on one audition

It's time for winter guard auditions!

If your school doesn't have a winter guard program, or you've graduated from high school, there are independent units looking for your talent.

Auditioning for an independent winter guard is like applying to college. Dream of one, apply to many. Don't put all your hopes on one unit! You may not make it, or if there's not enough participation, the guard may fold leaving you in the bleachers.

Be realistic. If your fall program's skills are limited to flourishes and slams, you'd be wasting your time trying for a world guard. World guards are for the "pros". Those folks are, on average, in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties and have been in guard for a long time. They have years of dance instruction and drum corps under their belt. World guard members may also come from high schools with Scholastic World or Open skills.

Open guards are the intermediate level. All basic skills are mastered to perfection and it's time to experiment with layering dance, equipment and drill on top of each other at the same time. If your high school program challenged you, and made sure you could do the 27 point in space in your sleep, consider open. Dance skill need to be above average, and strong weapon skills are a must.

Independent A is for folks who are still learning their way around all three pieces of equipment. Also, if you don't have a dance background, Independent A is where you will receive a good foundation in movement.

Don't let the participation costs freak you out. Almost all successful units have built-in fund-raisers to cover instruction, travel, equipment, uniform and association fees.

Dream about making the best guard in your association, but make sure you give others a try as well. If you don't make your dream guard this year, the guard you do march with will give you skills to succeed in the future.

Go to Winter Guard International for a list of audition schedules for independent units in your state. Some units are training ground for drum corp. For example, if you want to march for The Blue Knights (Denver), consider Opus 10 which is an independent Open.

Not into silk, wood and steel? Check out Winter Percussion in your area. It's an amazing sport, too!

Questions about anything guard? Leave a comment and I'll answer. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Color. Guard.

Okay, now what are some of the weird names it's been called in the past? Band Front. Drill Team. Prancers. Flaggers. Twirlers. Auxiliary (like we're an afterthought)...

I prefer Color Guard.

Guard is coded in my DNA. My mother was a majorette and swing flag in a junior drum corps. Hate to admit it, but the first thing I learned to spin (I chafe at the word twirl) was a baton. From there, I experimented with stolen handkerchiefs tied to broken boom sticks or my baton.

Nearly all the kids in my neighborhood marched. I remember watching the neighbor lady hanging gargantuan rectangles of colorful wet fabric on the clothes line. The teen across the street marched from house to house in full uniform selling wrapping paper or crates of fruit "for the band".

My most pivotal memory is watching the Lake-Lehman High School Black Knights marching band perform under the lights at Meyers Stadium in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Aqua silk shimmied and shined under the lights as the guard brought Copland's Appalachian Spring to life. Crazy geometric patterns grew, shrunk and shifted with the music as horns flashed the audience.

Tiny spider legs skittered up my spine. I wouldn't be surprised if I drooled all over myself.

"I must do that." I whispered over and over as white-bucked feet drove like pistons on the turf in perfect time.

When the band marched off the field, I cried. Who wants to watch a stinkin' football game when there's something more magical?

Thirty years later, the sport holds that same magic. Eight years of instructing and five years of judging the Rocky Mountain Color Guard circuit perpetuate the dreams of my six-year-old self.

Seeing the successes of former guard members from my own guard or the circuit fuels my passion for the sport. Watching programs crash to the ground under the machete-like whack from struggling school districts breaks my heart.

I've created Silk, Wood and Steel to raise awareness of this amazing sport and build community across the world.

Sure, you're out to annihilate each other on the floor or field, but out of the competitive venue we need to show our communities the power of this sport of the arts.