I recently spoke with Mr. Dexter Bell, band director at Howard High School, and he told me about having a number of students that were unable to be in the band program this year because of a lack of instruments. A band helps to elevate the climate of a school and lift the spirits of all the students. It is a thing of pride the every school needs.
Having been a band director in both the inner city and the suburban county, I know many students in both areas would have been unable to participate without a school owned instrument. Over the years the state has reduced funding for local schools due to a formula that favors rural counties. Local funding for bands is not what it was when I was band director. And school owned instruments used year after year require costly repairs.
I think about how much money we are spending on studies to tell us we have gang problems and drug problems and how much money was spent when I was a teacher on workshops to tell us what we already knew. Consultants and experts walked away with thousands of dollars in fees and the problems remained.
There is a way to help Mr. Bell and any school needing insturments and that is to check your closets and attics for instruments you played in school but give up after leaving school. Or there may be an instrument your son or daughter used and didn't continue to play. Bands need them and it is a waste to let them mildew and rust for lack of use. They are also a tax deduction if you donate them to the school band. And if you really want to do something to help students, donate what you can to the fund the band has to make repairs because many of these donated instruments will need to go to the doctor before they can be used.
Band programs, ROTC, athletics, choral and drama programs give students a feeling of worth and belonging unmatched by the talk of consultants and the results of studies. My fellow band directors can tell you from their experiences of how much these programs benefit and enrich students' lives. Many of you who read this letter will remember how much being in band meant to you and I hope you will want to make that possible for others as well.
* * *
Is renting an instrument for a student an option? If so, how would someone go about this?
* * *
My first real contact with a musical instrument was back when I was in public elementary school down in Mississippi. We actually had a band with all kinds of instruments. We even had uniforms.
Parents didn't have to reach down in their pockets to pay for them, because the school system budgeted to take care of that. My instrument wouldn't have broken the bank, because I only played the triangle and not very well, but Mama and Daddy didn't have to pay extra.
Later, at their expense, piano lessons didn't turn me into a Mozart, and I wasn't very good with a guitar as a southpaw to play music upside down. I was a total musical flop, but at least I had the basic tools if not the talent to become a musician.
I think the Hamilton County School system is shameful that the Howard School doesn't have enough instruments for its band, that some students have to wait their turn and others are turned away from the program due to lack of instruments. Who knows how many young people could learn and master an instrument and go on to achieve college scholarships and then successful careers in the music industry? Who knows how many are just needing something constructive to do rather than just hanging out and maybe getting into trouble?
As much money that gets poured into building and supporting suburban schools for white kids, I guess it just doesn't have a penny or two left over to toss a crumb to inner city schools, predominately black kids, for their cultural enrichment. What a waste of potential talent. While the school board and administration ignore their responsibilities, I encourage people who care to either donate an instrument or make a donation to The Howard School, c/o Dr. Paul Smith, 2500 South Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408. Be sure to let them know it's for the band. Maybe we'll all be invited to see them in action, when the band plays on.
* * *
Ms. Bramlett, let me just ask where did you go to school? I am proud to say that I attended school over 40 years ago and when I and my two other siblings that are older than myself all joined the band our parents had to pay for our instruments then. Just as I have had to pay for three out of my four children's instruments when they were in band or music.
There as far as I know has never been a program that paid for instruments because music is an elective and not a required class. I wish the school luck, but please do not insult those who have paid for this expense themselves by begging for something for free.
* * *
As a former marching City High Dynamo, I vividly remember the candy sales, the concerts (Pops & Pies) and the car washes we held to raise money for the things we needed. I'm sure that there were dues paid by our parents and the budget added some, but for the most part we had to work for those things.
Being on the auxiliary for two years and drum major for two, I also remember having to work part time to get the money to buy the practice rifles we used and the decorations for our show rifles. My sister and I (the band also) were lucky I guess because our mother was an accomplished seamstress who made our uniforms. One year Mom made the entire rifle and flag squad uniforms and both drum major uniforms.
I wonder if there is a mom or grandmom or a family friend of a band member that could help in that area. Maybe it's time for this generation to learn that if they want it they are going to have to earn it. Donations are great and welcome, but that shouldn't be the only thing relied on. Not to mention that fact that the pride you feel when all the hard work pays off is unbelievable.
I hope it works out for the band members for the simple fact that back in my day the drum lines for Howard and Brainerd (yes, City too) flat out rocked. Good luck, "guide right" and hit the hash mark on eight.
Stacey Coleman Massengale
City High School Class of '83