Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

The Future of School Bands: Wind Ensemble Paradigm

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

The Future of School Bands: Wind Ensemble Paradigm

Article excerpt


American school bands are a unique tradition not found universally around the globei and have contributed positively to the lives of millions of young Americans. Current educational priorities, however, are making it difficult for students to schedule band as traditionally conceived. The purpose of this article is to explore whether the school band, as historically conceived, meets the needs of our current and future students and society; and if and how it can continue to be a staple of school music departments. I will treat this topic as a professional concerned with the music education of children and what is best for our society at large, not as a member of the band tradition dedicated to maintaining the status quo absent critical examination. If the school band can stand critical scrutiny, it should continue. If it can't, it shouldn't: plain and simple.

As a profession we love exercises like this. We have piles of papers from colloquia discussing the future of music education that are filled with wonderful ideas. But, unfortunately, we have changed very little since the early 20th Century when we developed our current specialized music offerings. Instead of transforming music education to meet society's changing needs since the mid-ZOth Century, we have largely added new components to our existing offerings and advocated for maintenance of the status quo.2 That has been our modus operandi since music entered the school curricula in the 19* Century: always-adding more, never truly transforming, and always advocating for assumed benefits of music instruction in school without providing evidence that they actually exist. MENC's advocating questionable research and joining with the music industry in commercial campaigns only serves to cheapen us professionally. This low level of professional discourse does not serve us well in the current edu-political environment with MBA-educated school board members and administrators and a more educated and savvy general public. Education is serious business and we need to be serious professionals who offer curricula that serve real needs of students and communities.

It is important to remember that K12 schools are social institutions that serve the needs of society. There are many stakeholders who influence curriculum such as government, industry, and special interest groups. Curricular changes are not made in isolation from the greater society. Therefore, it is first necessary to understand the context for which school bands were designed in order to determine if they still meet the needs of today's society. Knowing the context surrounding their development will provide us with something to compare with today's context. This will help keep our discussion focused on education as a service to society rather than an entity unto itself. Therefore, I will begin with a historical review of how bands were brought into the school curriculum, proceed with an analysis of today's context, and conclude with implications and recommendations for developing a new kind of school band built on the wind ensemble paradigm.

Factors Contributing to the Development of School Bands

Although there were some isolated school bands prior to World War I, the war's end marked the beginning of the modern era and growth of school bands.3 This was a unique moment in history that included societal and educational environments for which school bands as traditionally conceived were a perfect match. Jere Humphreys, writing for the Ithaca College centennial celebration in 1992, identified two primary factors that supported the introduction of instrumental music into schools: 1) its popularity in society and 2) sweeping social and educational changes. To these he added two additional factors responsible for the evolution of instrumental music education: the music industry and the music and music education professions.*

Societally, urbanization, industrialization, massive immigration, and child labor laws provided a growing population base for K12 schools, which caused them to expand in scope and number. …

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