Imagine being a musician starting in your Middle School Band; you feel like everyone except your bandmates understands that you are tired of being called a band geek or a bando by people who were once your friends. Then your director shows you this presentation…
You are amazed by the spectacle, no one in the video calls each other band geek or bando, and everyone seems happy as they win awards, money, and scholarships to music collages! However, it comes at a price via your director and your parent's pocket change until your family cannot afford college for yourself. You are so far away from your family, you and your new friends live in tents or a gym and sleep there with very little food.
You work hard and perform constantly instead of learning new skills and how to be a good musician like you were taught in your band, even hear people say, “Don’t be a bando be a man!” “Don’t be a coward”. Latter someone gets hurt and you try to help them; instead of it being seen as an act of kindness your told you're ruining the show or being soft for helping him or her. When someone is abused or hurt you are still forced to do nothing and say nothing or else you are defaming your team. Then in the marching band, you see other people treat your friends in the Middle School band the same way, and yet again you are punished for helping your fellow peers with a look in their eyes that says, “Where have you been, you haven’t been the same. What has happened to you?”.
You like countless other young Middle Schoolers have been swindled by the marketing of Drum Corps International and Bands of America; two companies who prey on low-income schools and band programs like yours. The horrible truth is that it, not just your school that has been given false promises but many others that thought they were educators when they were marketers waiting to hook their victims. Our government should protect our schools from marketers and corporations in our schools; however, because they label themselves as a non-profit like the NCAA, they can look like they are helping schools and get away with luring directors, parents, and students away from their education and into the cult of the corps.
How did Marching Bands and Corps Become Competitive and Toxic?
Long ago in America, there was a diverse musical culture of all different genres of music being taught and spread to all manner of people. Jazz came out of African-Americans learning from German and Austrian American musicians and immigrants, Barbershop and Men's Glee Clubs came from German and Austrian vocal traditions such as Jodeln and the Gstazl, and Mariachi and La Banda came out of persecuted Germans and Austrians who influenced and enriched the Mexican people with their music. Even the churches had rich folk traditions in Gospel, Hymns, and in some German and Austrian churches jodeln was a form of Phrase singing or a call to prayer during a time when no internet or text was messaging. Even Blues music borrows notes and melodies from the Islamic call to prayer or differed depending on what region in Africa the slaves came from.
Music as an art form and a discipline no matter the culture was taught in the schools by people in the community who knew the folk traditions of their region and shared it with others. When the discovery of recorded music came along it gave more opportunities for people whose musical culture was hurt by xenophobia and anti-Semitism like the Irish, German, Austrian, and Jewish peoples who feared assimilation of their culture would harm their musical heritage. However, not everyone liked the progress of recorded music or music being taught to everyone; people like John Phillip Sousa whose music is played and recorded by everyone had feared that if people recorded music they would abandon listening to performed music.
Despite all of Sousa’s fears about recorded music people still played instruments whether it was a folk group, a school group, or a marching band and people did record bands playing his music which today makes his statements hypocritical and ridiculous. However, his fears resulted in the first band competitions which were not well received because back then music was not considered a sport but a sanctuary and a safe place where people expressed themselves without fear but support from their peers.
Now competitions meant that the musician had to conform themselves instead of expressing themselves and their folk music culture to get a new instrument and money to a music school where diversity of music was not embraced but the work ethic of conforming to dominantly elitist music culture. And backing up this culture was NBAM which was backed by the music industry and instrument manufacturers who feared progress and diversity as much as Sousa did and they were a monopoly on the instrument makers, recording artists, records, and bands of their choosing. More musicians became afraid of loosing first or second place than playing their instrument with joy, and teachers became afraid of teaching their students that trophies and money mattered more than the musician's core expression and how they sounded. A young euphonium player by the name of Leonard Falcone said this in a letter dated December, 20th, 1966
“The difference between the first, second, third, and fourth in the contest days was very little, but the disappointment of not receiving first place was most discouraging to the students, conductors, and the people back home”.
Later on, in life, he taught baritone and tuba and directed the Spartan Marching Band at Michigan State Univerity, and his fight song is still played in stadiums all over Michigan and the U.S. Leonard’s remark is a fear that still lingers around band students like me in High School where winning a competition and being in the Symphonic Band meant you got more respect and rank than the Concert Band. Even though I worked more than most neurotypical people as a person with Aspberger’s it still was not enough for our director who liked winning more than teaching.
The Band Directors vs. The Music Teachers
Whenever I hear someone say they're a band director it still gives me the chills of a toxic form of masculinity and grooming; but when I hear music teacher I feel calm, relaxed, and invited to be apart of something good in the world. The reason why is because most of the band director world is male donated along with the mass majority of people who join competitive bands and corps, and if ever a woman entered the picture she would be a walking token or a victim of assault or abuse by a director of a staff member. If you're a music teacher with a band according to a band director it means you are too soft and not tough enough.
I was discriminated against and bullied by a woman band director at the Community College level who made learning as a music major feel horrible than delightful. During a jury, I played a Mozart piece which I and my brass teacher who is my anchor and my lighthouse worked on. After the jury, I decided to read all the comments I got from each of the teachers including her; when I got to my band director’s comments it horrified me. It was threatening in red ink saying that if I did not have a proper tuba and a classically trained instructor that she would get rid of me. A few days later she shut the rehearsal doors in my face and locked them.
This experience will always mark me no matter how many people say get over it or just ignore it or let it go it still is painful to get criticism even from kind people who want to help me because I’m afraid they don’t actually want to help but harm me. I had to quit being a music major, but that did not mean I could quit music and the joy that comes from it, it took me a long time to find my voice again as a tuba player who loved Volksmusik and it made me wonder why such great and talented people turn into monsters or work with monsters despite being hurt by the monsters.
Then I remembered a lesson in sociology about the Stanford Prison Experiment where a group of mostly men was put into roles as Guards and Prisoners with horrific and traumatizing results on the young men; the reason why young men and women become band directors is that they were either abused, hazed, assaulted, or groomed by a band director in the past. In other words, become the monster to fight the monster until you yourself are the monster. I wanted to study sociology because with psychological and sociologically understanding the problems with competitive corps and bands and how they start we can stop the system before it begins again.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin the brass and drum corps Pioneer had a staff member who was a pedophile Morgan Larson; whom before he joined Pioneer was a director of an all-girls corps called Capitolaires Drum and Bugle Corps and was a member of the Madison Scouts until Scott Stewart offered him positions in Pioneer, Kilties, and moved him to a DCA corps where he performed in a Soundsport event sponsored by The Cavaliers. Not only did Scott Stewart and director of the corps Roman Benski allow him to be in proximity to young people they allowed staff members to give Roman expensive gifts like his own private bus and allowed an environment of neglect, injury, and abuse to happen. How DCI treats people like Morgan Larson is like how the Catholic Church treats its priest who are also pedophiles; with high regard and high secrecy if they have a high position.
This Tangled Web We Weave…
In the United States in particular art and music programs in public schools struggle with funding; this is why DCI, BOA, YEA (owned by Gorge Hopkins), DCA, and even WGI have the label of a non-profit to fool music educators, parents, and students into loyalty to their brand. Some educators are so loyal to the brand that when I have debated with them on their respected Reddit communities they tell me that they have done good things for their school because they were apart of a Music for All or Soundsport charity event or festival which was actually a competition in disguise. These charities are nearly tentacles in their monopoly and in 2015 a program called United Sound which helps special needs people like myself learn and enjoy music was traped by both BOA’s charity Music for All. When I wrote to the founder of United Sound Julie Duty about BOA and their monopoly it was like I talked to someone who drunk the BOA Koolaide, “We haven’t been “bought,” and in fact, we reached out to them for support, not the other way around.”. This is how all deals start out until you realize that it was a bad negotiation, this is why parents and fairy tales teach us never to take candy from people like Dan Acheson the CEO of DCI and Gorge Hopkins because we will be in danger if we do so and refusing the offer is something brave that befits all of us as performing artist.
We should as musicians and artists who have been victims of this culture warn people about it so that does not happen again. We do not need competition anymore to survive as a human being instead we need to support and help musicians who are vulnerable, instead of relying on Scientology for how to run a band or corps we need knowledge from psychology and sociology on how to do things right, we don’t need an audition to join a band we need an education that will last and rely on the good teachers of this world and not the director who wants to win.
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