Monday, October 10, 2011

The Path of an Artist

An AMAZING paper from one of my idols, Allan McMurray:

LEVEL 1 – PARTICIPANT
The common level of commitment is that of the participant. The music participant enjoys the experience of getting together with friends and engaging in the events. The participant is conscientious about rehearsal times, works to learn the music in rehearsal, and is interested in being a good section member. The participant likes music with a good beat.

LEVEL 2 – PLAYER
The next level is that of a player (or singer). The player/singer is a person who loves music because it gives him/her a chance to play. The player wants to play a lot and practices to achieve range and technique that can represent a great sound whenever the player plays. The player arrives early to practice his “licks” and wants great parts to play. In fact, the player judges music based on her/his part. If it’s a good part, it is a good piece of music; if it’s a bad part, it is a bad piece of music. The player likes solos and strives to be heard. The player loves her/his instrument and enjoys getting together with other “players.” The player will learn her/his part outside of rehearsals so s/he can sound good in rehearsals.

LEVEL 3 – MUSICIAN
The third level is that of the musician. The musician plays her/his instrument well and shows up to rehearsals with her/his part mastered. The musician loves chamber music and ensemble because of the opportunity for musical collaboration. The musician does not come to rehearsal to learn her/his own part; the musician comes to rehearsal to learn everyone else’s part. In that way, the musician is learning how to play together by concentrating on intonation, articulation, phrasing, blend, balance, and style. The musician is about listening, learning, and collaborating with other musicians. The musician evaluates whether or not a piece of music is good by the sounds that are created by everyone and enjoys listening as much as playing. The musician likes being a contributing part of every rehearsal through collaboration.

Level 4 – Artist
The fourth level is that of the artist. The artist has all the skills of the player and the musician, but the artist is also a creator. The artist comes to every rehearsal prepared in every way and leaves every rehearsal with new goals. The artist loves great music making and loves to bring expression and inspiration to the performance. The artist has imagination that is fueled by opportunity. That opportunity might come in a solo passage or in an approach to style that amplifies the intent of the piece. The artist is a collaborator with the other members of the ensemble, with the conductor, and with the composer. The artist is intuitive and original, but only uses those skills in pursuit of the most beautiful performance possible. The artist evaluates whether or not a piece of music is good by how it is composed and what it expresses. The artist has the potential to elevate the listener’s perception of an average piece through an extraordinary performance. The artist loves music because music fuels her/his soul.

If it were only about choosing a level, then all performers and conductors would be artists. But it is not about choosing: it is about growing, listening, and surrounding oneself with great music, great books, great art, and great people. It is about informed intuition. It is about learning theory so the architecture and harmonic language can be heard in every melody. It is about knowing performance practice and style of music of all periods. It is about listening to challenging pieces by imaginative and original composers, and pushing the envelope of personal preference. It is about reflection on life, death, pain, celebration, passion, grief, and nature to understand and experience those things that inspire meaning in art. It is about learning to be at home in solitude and seeking it out. It is about beauty and spontaneity and imagination and spirituality. It is attempting to approach every sound and every silence every day as if it matters, because it does. It is recognizing that the pursuit of perfection is a lifelong goal and that it is unattainable. It is knowing that the artist’s life is not about a destination—it is about the journey.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Road Blog

I just drove 3968 miles to Texas and back. Miles on the road, in a few short days, inspired this blog.

One of the truly great things about living in California is some of the greatest roads for riding/driving. I’m talking ROADS; like Skyline from Black Road to Hwy 92, or 36 from 101 to I-5. More great roads: 299, or Hwy 2. I’ll NEVER tire of Hwy 1, the coast road south of Carmel. I’m not talking about 101 north of San Jose, or the 405, or the Central Valley’s 99. These roads are terrible. Perhaps, it is because we don’t know HOW to drive these roads. Maybe I can help.

I don’t know how many of you know how to NUMBER the lanes. Luckily for us, they are numbered, like we read, from left to right. The lane to the left is lane number 1. Next lane from left to right, is the number 2 lane, and so forth until you reach the right shoulder.

I believe lane SELECTION is the key. Follow with me, please:

TWO LANES each way:
The number 2 lane is the DRIVING lane, and the number 1 lane is the PASSING lane. Drive on the right, pass on the left. While driving, you come upon a slower moving vehicle and you decide to pass. Check your rear view mirrors, turn on your left signal, head check over your left shoulder, move over and pass. PASS. When you can see BOTH headlights of the slower moving vehicle in your interior rear view mirror, signal right, and return to the driving lane. Hint: if the slower moving vehicle is travelling 60 miles per hour, and you are “passing” at 61 or 62, you are not passing, you are obstructing traffic. California Vehicle Code 22400. Put your foot in it and get around the slower vehicle.

THREE LANES each way:
In an urban area, the number 3 lane is a merging lane. Use this lane to merge onto the freeway, and move into this lane when you want to get off. Don't DRIVE in this lane. The number 2 lane is the driving lane, and the number 1 lane is the passing lane.

FOUR LANES each way:
In this case, the number 4 lane is the merging lane. The number 3 lane is the driving lane, the number 2 lane is the passing lane and the number ONE lane is the through lane. I explain: if you are going to be on a freeway for 10 or more miles, you have no reason to be in the merging lane, or messing around with driving and passing. Get over to the number 1 lane and stay there, until 1 or 2 miles before you need to exit, then safely make lane changes until you need to get into the merging lane to get off.

There is an exception to this. We are taught in driver’s ed, to check our rear view mirrors every 4-6 seconds. I do this, don’t you? If you see someone coming up behind you, moving faster than you are going, MOVE THE HELL OVER AND LET HIM PASS! In California, slower traffic moves right. If you don’t, you are a road boulder. See Obstruction above (California Vehicle Code 22400). Temporarily, move into the passing lane, and get back into the through lane once the faster moving vehicle has passed you. Slower traffic move right. Vehicle Code Section 21654.

MORE THAN 4 LANES:
1-    Through lane
2-    Passing lane
3-    Driving lane
4-    Driving lane
5-    Merging lane

Please, if you are driving and there are 5 or more vehicles behind you, PLEASE pull over:

VC Section 21656.  On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed. As used in this section a slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.

A couple of words about carpool lanes: FUCK THEM! If we had decent public transportation, we wouldn’t need them.

A couple words about metering lights: FUCK THEM!! I can see (sort of) having metering lights to get onto the freeways, but metering lights from one freeway to another (like SB 17 onto 85 south). WTF?? The traffic is to flow FREEly from one FREEway to another.

When it comes to driving and passing, they know this in every state except ours. Driving in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, people tool away in the right lane, then move into the left lane to pass, and actually pass! When I got back into California, everyone was driving all over the place. Maybe we need a sign at all ports of entry into our state:

WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA, MOVE RIGHT TO PASS.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Good Questions

The older I get, the more convinced I am that there are no good questions to ask during rehearsals. Consider, if you will, commonly heard questions asked in rehearsal:

1 – “What note do I have in measure X?” REALLY? You have to ask that question? What’s everyone else playing? If someone else is playing an F#, and you have an F, play F#. If that doesn’t work, look at your section mates’ parts. What are they playing? What’s the group playing? If it’s D major chord, play F#, if it’s D minor, play F. If I think I have a wrong note, the first thing I do is look at the trombone parts. If that’s no help, I look at the bass part, then the bassoon part. If you really can’t figure it out, check out the conductor’s score AT BREAK, or after rehearsal. Don’t waste everyone’s time with a note check, really.

2 – “Are you in 2 or 4 there?” Again, REALLY? If the conductor’s motions are generally up & down, I’d guess 2. If there is some side-to-side movement, I’d guess 4. If he* is in one speed, and then suddenly changes speed by a factor of 2, roughly, figure he’s changed from one to the other. If that’s not enough information, ask the tuba player. He isn’t doing anything but watching anyway. He’ll know.
*In this narrative, I use the masculine for the nameless conductor. There is no gender implication here; it is simply for convenience.

2a – “How fast are you going there?” Aren’t you watching? Go with the stick. If you can’t get it, go with the principal of your section, or the concertmaster.

2b – “What’s my dynamic at …. ?” What’s the guy next to you got? What’s the rest of the section have? What’s the rest of the group doing? Is the conductor conducting big, or small? If none of these help, look at the score, at the break. A good rule of thumb is blend with the group.

2c - "What's the bowing at ... ?" Really, you have to waste the whole orchestra's time with this? What's your section principal doing? If you can't tell, look at the concertmaster. Man, if I had a buck for every minute wasted on bowing discussions, I could retire now. Besides, isn't this supposed to be figured out ahead of time? If not, is this a discussion that can take place at the break?

3 – “Are you changing speeds there?” Well, DID he? If he did, he probably will again. If not, he probably won’t. Aren’t you watching? Even so, he may do it differently each time. Just watch. Forget about what’s in, or what’s not in the part. Parts are wrong all the time. If you honestly can’t figure it out, sit out one pass through that section and see what everyone else does. Go with the group.

4 – “How long do you want the notes there?” This one is only HALF bad, because sometimes it is hard to tell. I always listen to the first trumpeter. If I do what he does, 99% of the time, I’m in good shape. If the trumpets aren’t playing, I listen to first trombone, or first bassoon, or the basses, or the celli. Or … I do what the concertmaster is doing. There is nothing wrong with going with the principal violin (or principal clarinet in the band).

5 – “Someone (or some section) is playing a wrong note (or wrong note length) at …” REALLY? Do YOU want someone telling YOU that you are screwing up? The conductor will figure it out, or he can’t, or won’t. Still, it’s HIS job. Keep it to yourself.

At recording sessions, never, EVER point out that you made a mistake, EVER! What’s the point? It’s the conductor’s job to hear clams, or the recording engineer. Make like Yo-Yo Ma, you played everything perfectly. USUALLY, you are the only one that heard the mistake. Don’t WORRY about it. If you are making a ton of dough, you could be costing everyone MORE tons of dough to make another pass at that section, PLUS you are pointing out to the contractor that you messed up. You just might not get that call next time. Clam up on the clams. Someone is making a helluva lot more money than you to make sure the performance is clean. Let THEM worry about it. You have ENOUGH on your plate when the red light is on.

These are a few, I am sure there are others. As always, I welcome & encourage your comments.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It was one of those nights...

As I walked out on the stage during intermission, I sat in my chair and looked around me. I blew a few notes to make sure I was warmed up and my horn was up to temperature, then just absorbed the scene. One by one, my colleagues made their way onto the stage, the audience slowly returned to their seats, then the chorus filed in. Right before Robin (our concertmaster) stood up to tune the orchestra, there was this buzz, or heighten awareness in the room that something WONDERFUL was going to happen. The orchestra tuned, the room got silent, then Gregory Vajda walked onto the stage. The audience applauded, as they always do, no more, no less than any other conductor who has been fortunate enough to conduct our talented collection of artists.

Gregory mounted the podium, raised his arms and gracefully brought them down, and the wonderful DID happen. As the low strings made the gorgeous opening tones, and shortly after the chorus entered, the California was FILLED with Brahms. Music that has spanned the centuries was magically shared by 150 musicians on stage and a hall brimming with music lovers. It was one of those moments for which we musicians live.

During the whole first movement (I don’t play so I was truly a transfixed member of the audience), I was filled with wonderment, glee, appreciation, gratitude and awe. Here I am, sitting on this stage, in this beautiful building, wearing beautiful clothes, amongst a stage full of talented musicians, surrounded by this enchanted experience, God, I HAVE to be the luckiest man alive tonight. It was one of those moments that brings back the whole reason I am so passionate about music. Nothing else seemed to matter, but the moment. So often, we are sidetracked by contracts, and working conditions, and all the unmusical necessities of keeping an arts organization running, but here it is, the whole reason we do that, for THIS, right here, right now. We are IN that moment. Nothing else matters.

The Requiem was spellbinding... start to finish.

As the final chords were sounding, and Gregory held that last note, time was suspended. Those few seconds of silence after the release, seemed like an eternity..... then the audience erupted. Know it or not, they were participants in an extraordinary event.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why would you want a degree in music?

At the risk of sounding like a jaded old fart, why WOULD you want a degree in music? Here are your career choices:

Professional player/conductor/composer/arranger

Public School Teacher

University Professor

That’s it. I’ll go over these one at a time, starting from the bottom.

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR

First of all, you better be prepared to spend MOST (if not all) of your 20’s in school. NO college in the US will even consider your application without a PhD, or a DMA. Unless you’ve spent most of your life playing with the Canadian Brass, or the Julliard String Quartet, you’ll need the doctorate.

Plan on starting your career with almost $100,000 debt. Unless you are one of the fortunate few that can secure a free ride for your ENTIRE university career, you will have incurred some debt for tuition, lessons, materials, housing, and the like. $100,000 is not unreasonable in 2011.

Check into the pay. With SO many doctorates out there LOOKING for work, colleges don’t really have to pay much. I know of a recent opening for a university band director job that received over 150 applications. No PhD, or DMA, the apps were trashed. I know what the pay offer was. A public school teacher with 15 years service, with a BA +30 pays more. Recently, a good friend of mine was offered a college position, full time Assistant Professor teaching their instrument. At the same time, a job offer for teaching HS band was tendered. The HS job paid TWICE what the university offered.

I was having a few beers with some young college musicians, most of whom had at least Master’s Degrees and the rest had Doctorates. I was the lone un-degreed person in the room. I casually asked, “You guys are on the job search trail. What would you reasonably expect to be paid for a full time college teaching gig?” I was SHOCKED at the reply, “About $40,000.” Starbucks pays that here in California for a full time employee.

PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER

When I was in school (a hundred years ago), all of us ‘performance majors’ considered this a reasonable “fall back position,” should we not make it in the pro world. Along with practicing 3-4 hours a day, I learned to play the clarinet, bassoon, cello, drums (non-mallet percussion, really), piano, auto harp, and the recorder. I learned how to plot marching band shows, how to conduct basic band repertoire and how to arrange pop tunes for a field band. I took the history of the wind band, history of the symphony orchestra, all the counterpoint classes, 20th century techniques, form & analysis (Skapski was TOUGH!), and music history out the yin-yang. I even learned to be a copyist, using tips, nibs and vellum. All to be prepared to be a school music teacher.

Have you heard what’s happening to music educators all over the country? Tenure doesn’t mean a thing. If they want to cut corners, and they do, music is one of the first programs to go. If you have tenure, all they have to do is cut the program. No program, no class, no teacher needed. “Thank you and good luck.”

There is a lot of blame being laid on teachers for the lack of success of today’s students. Hey, I see your kid 5 hours a day, what are YOU doing to help your kid? It used to be, “Teacher is always right. Do what teacher says.” Now, if a kid fails, it’s the teacher’s fault. The inmates are running the asylum and the teachers are powerless to do anything. All discipline has been removed from the teachers, and the kids know it. Not to mention the rash of teacher assaults.

Pay: as recently as the 1960’s teachers, lawyers and doctors (the ‘noble’ professions) were paid on about the same level. Qualified college graduates would prepare equally for all three of these professions. With teacher salaries falling WAY behind the other professions, is it any wonder why our best & brightest are going elsewhere? I am not saying that there aren’t some GREAT teachers out there, there are, but MANY bright people are looking elsewhere. With jobs being cut, benefits being reduced, total lack of any authority to do any kind of classroom management, parents blaming teachers for their kids’ failure, and the pay not being commensurate with the tasks required, who in their right mind would want to go into teaching these days? Shrinking budgets, buildings falling into disrepair, instruments purchased in the 1970's, no money for repairs or replacements, music tattered and missing parts.....

PRO PLAYER, ETC.

In a word, fuggedaboudit! There’s no work.

Composer/arranger - For every John Williams composing and arranging film music, there are thousands of composers teaching private piano lessons. The only real hope you have to make a living is if you can write great band literature. Look at the successful models (not limited to these folks) – Ticheli, Ewazen, Camphouse, Stamp, Sparke. There are a few more. If you can’t write as well as these guys, seriously consider other options.

The conducting spots are far and few in between. Professional orchestra conducting is more about who you know, and being in the right place at the right time. You’ll be better off trying to be struck by lightening; you’ll have a better chance of success.

Being a pro player – when Ms. Jantsch won the Philadelphia Orchestra position there were (I was told) 197 candidates applying for the position (PLEASE correct me if I am wrong. I don’t want to seem delusional). I would guess the top FIFTY (or more) were qualified for that level orchestra. I would guess the next fifty would be just great in the job. I bet the next fifty could actually DO the job. Seriously, do you think you could win a position against those odds? Really, I wish you luck, but please, take a healthy dose of reality with your morning Malt-O-Meal. When I was on the audition trail (back in the dark ages), one of the options was being in the service bands. I can’t TELL you how many times I heard, “I can always get into one of the service bands.” Man, has the tide turned on this. Playing in Washington in one of THOSE bands? What a privilege, what luck! Good luck winning one of these gigs. Even the smallest bands, in the remotest areas have GREAT musician/players these days. IF there are openings.

So now, where does this leave this rant?

I have the answer: become a plumber. When the guy rings my doorbell, I pay him $129.95, just to show up. If he looks at my problem and can’t fix it, I pay him for his expertise. If he can actually DO the work, he adds a few bucks the to price of the parts, weedles a cup of excellent coffee outta me and he’s out the door in 20 minutes. If he does 5-7 of these calls a day, his gross income (figuring 5 calls a day, 28 days a month, 10 months a year) $182,000. Do the math: ((($130 x 5 calls) x 28 days a month) x 10 months).

But I LOVE playing my instrument!

You can still be out playing your instrument 5-6 nights a week. There are tons of community bands & orchestras. Chamber music is BOOMING. In our small area there are TWO British-Style Brass bands. Here in the San José area, there are a dozen community theaters producing shows. NO problem addressing your creative needs.

As always, your comments are most welcome.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Music Blog

I love playing and hearing new music, and sponsoring new music contests. One of the most exciting things in which I find myself involved, is new music. As I write this, there are EIGHT brass players sitting right next to me playing new music written in the last few months. Imagine being the first people to hear a BRAND NEW WORK. I sponsor a composition contest each year for brass chamber music. So far, we have generated over 300 new works for brass chamber music. The prize fund is $3,500. We have received entries from Japan, China, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Iceland, England, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Austria, Romania, Canada, Estonia and, of course, the US. Some of this stuff is really great!

The other thing I like is paying composers for their music. Like many freelance professionals, many composers & arrangers write stuff and don’t see much in the way of remuneration for their talent, hard work and intellectual product. Many people who play music (especially chamber music) think nothing of Xeroxing® parts. This screws ALL of us. If composers, arrangers and publishers don’t get compensated for their work, what is their incentive to continue to do so? We need to commission new works, hire arrangers to write charts for us, and most importantly, BUY MUSIC from publishers. I imagine a budding Mozart somewhere working fast food, because she, or he, can’t make money composing.

I only have one problem I am overcoming right now: Music Rentals. I will NOT rent music. I don’t care if it is the greatest work ever written, I HATE rentals. I will pay composers, arrangers and publishers for the music, but do NOT ask me for a rental fee. Recently, I decided to do a work with my Wind Orchestra (http://www.ohlonewindorchestra.org/). I contacted the composer with unbridled enthusiasm for the wonderful work and the opportunity to play really great music. He said, “Thank you very much. You can call so & so to rent the parts.” “No, I don’t rent music.” “Well the only way you can play the music is if you rent the parts,” was the reply. “I don’t rent music,” was mine. To make a long story short(er), we were at an impasse. Finally, I said, “Look, you are a composer. I like your music, and want to perform it. Don’t you WANT to have your music played? Please, I would like to give you money for your music, fine musicians will play it and enjoy the experience, and it’ll get played in public where many people will hear it. Doesn’t this sound like a good deal?” Bear in mind, at this time we weren’t negotiating a price, I didn’t care. I just wanted to BUY THE MUSIC. You know, I give you money; you give me music. Sounds pretty simple, no?

I digress -

So where are the really great composers hanging out these days? There are choice few making money in the film industry; Williams, Courage, Horner, Goldsmith, Broughton, you know the names. There are some wonderful composers writing for TV. One with whom I went to school, Jeff Rona, is extremely successful. And another I know from my summer at Disneyland, Mark Wolfram, is also doing VERY well. Where are the others? Writing for winds (band). Let’s say a composer is lucky enough to get a commission from a prestigious orchestra (i.e. LA, NY, Chicago, SF), the work might get one playing, or if it is a really outstanding work, it might get picked up in the pipeline and get a second playing with another orchestra. Write one decent band piece and it gets played at Midwest, or CBDNA and the composer sells thousands of copies. EVERY wind conductor I know owns Frank Ticheli’s Amazing Grace.

I LOVED playing the Cabrillo Festival, in Santa Cruz, California. In two weeks, that orchestra plays 30 new works (I would guess). For me, this was Nirvana. All that new music!!

With orchestras all over the US closing shop, it is time for us to try something different. Instead of playing music by a bunch of dead, white guys, maybe we can play some NEW music.

Waddya think?? I’d love to get your opinions on this……

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why we need the Arts in School

Recently I read an article that had me thinking:

http://gothamschools.org/2010/12/22/to-turn-her-middle-school-around-a-principal-invests-in-the-arts/

And thought about another article I had read:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hearing-the-music-honing

All the musicians and music educators I know accept this and other articles, as fact. Why is it that with this knowledge, school administrators continue to give the arts the axe, and insist on teaching to the test instead of educating our young Americans? To me, it seems like it’s the old “teach a man to fish” story. If the students garner the correct skills required, they should be able to excel at testing. They won’t garner the required skills by preparing for testing. You know that, I know that, why doesn’t the upper echelons know that?

There are a shocking number of students simply skipping school. They won’t learn, if they are not there. One of the best districts in my area, Palo Alto, reports a 70% truancy rate:

http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=11100

WHAT?? What is really shocking is that is just 44% higher than the state AVERAGE. State average is 26%. So our students are absent ¼ of the time, on average.

In my mind, the obvious question is NOT, “What can we do to get our test scores up?” but rather, “What can we do to get our kids to school?” I got news for you, it won’t happen by strong-armed tactics. It won’t happen by fining the parents. It won’t happen by sending a truant officer to scoop up the ditchers. We have to make the kids WANT to attend school. The 3 R’s alone ain’t gonna do it.

I know the answer since I am the POSTER CHILD of why we need the arts in school. I hated school. I hated getting up early; I hated trudging through the snow. I hated what is now called “terrorist activities” (we called it playground fights). I hated English. I hated social studies. I had a mild interest in science and math (only because there were really cute girls in my math classes). What MADE me want to go to school? Band, orchestra and chorus. THAT’S IT. I only got good grades in my solids, because the result was I would have gotten booted from band. The odd thing, to pass my classes, I had to study and keep my grades up. And oddly, I learned how to read, write and I am pretty good at math (can’t do trig or calculus, though). I can actually spell without a spell checker (this doc proves it!).

In high school, after I moved to California, I learned right away that I was getting a sub-standard education (NY is #2, Calif is #7 from the bottom). So I checked out. I hated, HATED high school. Where my mother dragged me to church, the masses were in Spanish, there were no Italians, I got bullied by some of the cowboys & Mexicans, and my Brooklyn accent all but made me an outcast. And I dressed weird. I liked getting dressed in “school clothes,” all the Oakies dressed in “dungarees” and t-shirts. But, boy, could I play the tuba! Thomas Downey HS in Modesto had an award-winning band, choirs that always got Command Performances and a really wonderful and eccentric orchestra conductor. When some of the stoner friends I made in French class, or math said, “Let’s ditch school.” My answer was always, “But I’ll miss BAND.” Stoner: “Tony, let’s go to the lake. We’ll take a few girls, get some beer….” Tony: “But I’ll miss band.” Different Stoner: “Dude, lets go get high.” Tony: “But, I’ll miss rehearsal.” OTHER stoner: “Man, I scored some great weed. We’re going to Modesto Reservoir Saturday.” Tony: “I have Marching band.” See a trend here?

Here’s another true-life story: Once there was this Jr Hi kid. In all kindness, he was just a big, fat, dumb kid. No one paid him much attention. He went to school, stayed out of trouble, got average grades. He was totally unremarkable. He played ‘the drum’ in band. Well, his band director pulls out a tune, “Surfin’ Safari.” It was a Jr Hi band arrangement of some 1960’s surfer tunes. In this tune, was the inevitable “Wipe Out” drum solo. Dutifully, the kid goes over to the drum set and plays the solo, THEE solo for all of us drummer wannabes. The Holy Grail, of drum solos (this was before “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and “Toad”). The kid does ok, and goes to back to class, another unremarkable day. The band schedules a school assembly, on which “Surfin’ Safari” will be performed. The band plays the assembly, and now suddenly, this kid is a hero. EVERYONE on campus knows who this kid is. People hang out with him, girls notice him, his teachers acknowledge his accomplishment. Grades go up, weight goes down, self-esteem up, and this kid is a new man. In HS, he goes on to marching band where he ultimately becomes a drum major and ends his HS career on the Honor Roll. Where would this kid have ended up without 16 measures of drum solo?

Where would I have ended up? I thank GOD every night for High School band.

The other thing: the lifelong friends with whom I have the most affection, and with whom I have kept in touch, were my band friends. As young adults, we need a place to fit in; a group of scared, inquisitive friends with whom we could huddle together and feel safe. Band was that for me. Not math, Not English, not social studies. My lifelong friends are band, orchestra and drama people.

We need the arts. Now get out there and tell EVERYBODY! Hold our elected officials accountable. Go to Sacramento (like the bikers!) and raise a fuss. Vote out the incumbents and vote in those administrators that promise to fund the arts. Get your parents to write letters to these fat butt superintendents that slash the programs that WILL keep kids in school. It’s all in our hands.