I have been following the plight of the Howard High School Marching band and must say that it dredged up many memories of my own experiences from high school marching band. I do understand the challenges faced by smaller bands such as Howard's Hustlin' Tigers, a band that I always enjoyed watching. Lack of money and old, worn out instruments were a constant factor when I was in the band at Chattanooga City High. Most of our percussion equipment was over 10 years old and for three years, hardly a day went by that I didn't have to repair or rebuild some of it due to old age, over use, misuse and abuse. I got very creative at jury rigging our equipment. I used my own money for repairs and put many a mile on my Dad's El Camino transporting drums, tubas and field equipment to games. And then there was the year that we had to go back and use the old uniforms because the replacement uniforms wore out after only two years. The facts are, small bands have to "Make Do" with what they have and the band members have to give a little bit extra to make things happen. So I "Get It". I understand what Howard's band members are facing.
There were other constant factors that we had in the City High band, Attitude and Swagger. True, we were not as good as the big marching bands in the area, but we had Esprit de Corps that they couldn't touch. Many people from the other schools didn't understand why we loved our band so much or why we were so loyal to it. But we were a hard working family. Our pride came from all the hard work that we put into our band. Not just in practicing, marching, playing and being on the field, but also in all the work that we did off the field. All the fundraising events, all the band parent meetings, all the work that we did ourselves to purchase new uniforms to replace the replacement uniforms. Work that it takes to get the band out there, and keep it going. And, in all honesty, I have never seen any school or marching band in Chattanooga that has as much swagger, attitude and Esprit de Corps as the Howard Hustlin' Tigers have.
When I went to college, I was blessed to have Anthony J. D'andrea for a band director. He is still the best and my favorite teacher that I ever had. Mr. D taught me a lot about what is necessary to build a successful band program. And you have to have more than Esprit de Corps, more than successful fundraising events, more than a few motivated students and band parents, and even more than just lots of money. All those things are important, but it takes more. It also requires wisdom, forethought, long range planning and long term commitment. You have to think not only about the "Here and Now", but what's going to happen years down the road. Usually as a result of your actions in the "Here and Now".
Several years ago, a plan was put forth to tear down the old Howard High School building and construct an all new Howard School. The Howard Alumni, teachers and students organized and said "No". They wanted to preserve their old school building because of their family memories, its history and its legacy. So instead, the old building was repaired, and it was more expensive than building a new school. But, you saved your building with your family memories, its history and its legacy. No matter what the cost. So years later, in the "Here and Now", consider this. If you had allowed a new school building to have been built, it is quite probable that there also would have been funds for new band equipment, instruments and maybe even new uniforms. It's is usually easier to get people excited to help out with a new building project rather than fixing up something old. Basically: New School building = New Stuff to go in that building, while repairing an old building means you get to keep your old stuff.
As much as I can identify, sympathize and empathize with the band members at Howard, and while I think that Mr Miller's call for donations of old instruments is quite noble, I don't think that is the ultimate answer to the Tigers' problems for the future. The ultimate answer is this - the Howard alumni, teachers and students who organized and rallied to save their building, need to come together again as a community and a family and save their band themselves. You all need to work and raise the funds and give the physical involvement that will support your band for years down the road, not just here and now. It can be done. You cannot have true Esprit de Corps, nor will you have anyone's respect, if you beggar yourselves. Let your attitude come from the work that you took to get there, not just in being on the field with flash and swagger, that's just the fun part. Because if you don't, in a few years you will be right back where you are now. And the next time, no one will listen to your call for help.
Dynamo Drum Captain 1980-81