A high school band worth checking out

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I’ve been trying to figure out the Pembroke High School Band’s formula for success.  Every year, the band increases in size, significantly.  Every year, the band improves its sound, significantly.  I have a feeling it has something to do with the law of attraction:  when you enjoy what you do and do it well, good people and good situations are attracted to you.   More players and more good reviews have come their way.   Maybe the decision to go with a simple uniform plays a role in the band’s growing numbers.   As impressive as the traditional uniform looks in formation, it is not easy to be the person wearing it to perform for friends, family and strangers at a football game.  (I know.  I wore one thirty years ago).

PHS’s band uniform is entirely black (polo shirt, pants and shoes) except for a royal blue baseball cap embroidered with a white P.  At cold events,  they proudly wear a fleece-lined, hooded band jacket with their name and instrument embroidered on the sleeve.  I cannot remember if my band uniform of 1983 kept me warm at those chilly autumn football games but I am certain it would not have sufficed in this Thanksgiving’s frigid weather.  It was not fleece-lined, I remember that much.

It makes me happy that my son is part of Pembroke’s 130-person band ( including the color guard) that earned a two-page photo spread in a recent is of the Pembroke Mariner.  The front page story Turkey bowl a high note, by Mark Burridge, gave equal amounts of praise to the football team for its come-from-behind win and the marching band for its outstanding halftime performance.  I’m happy for the football team but I’m even happier for the band because it is evident that this band is finally receiving the admiration and respect that any hard working group should receive. (Praise and respect is motivating, is it not?)

Not that many years ago, the trend in Pembroke and most towns was students would begin to learn  instruments in the fourth grade and by middle school, many had lost interest (whether from boredom, lack of stamina or peer pressure).   Going by the size of the high school’s band participation — in Jazz Band, Freshman Band, Concert Band and Wind Ensemble –(all of whom participate in the marching band) that trend may be a thing of the past. To quote Bob Dylan, The times they are a-changin‘.

One of my previous posts focused on how common it is for students to be well-rounded today.  Whether this is a consequence of living in a  competitive world or thinking ahead to college applications or keeping busy to stay out of trouble, it’s normal today for students to be on multiple sports teams and clubs while taking challenging courses, volunteering and even working part-time jobs. Perhaps the increase in band members at PHS is a result of all that. Maybe the positive research about playing an instrument is making an impact.

But I sense it has a lot to do with Pembroke’s talented, dedicated and spirited music staff, particularly at the high school.   Students interviewed for that newspaper article reported that many of the different social groups at the high school  are represented in the band, including cheerleaders and football players.  The stigma that used to be attached to playing in the marching band no longer exists at Pembroke High School.  It takes great skill and leadership (and a good sense of  humor) to keep teenagers engaged and happy.  Somehow it’s accomplished.  Lots of bonding activities outside of the classroom have help, too, such as an annual tree lighting ceremony, a trip to Six Flags Amusement Park, a spot in Pembroke’s 300th Anniversary Parade, and of course a week of band camp.  If you catch a glimpse of this  band out in public, perhaps sitting in the stands at football games, it’s pretty obvious they are having a blast.

If playing in the high school band has truly gained acceptance and is even cool (just as girls playing sports became cool), I truly believe it could have a ripple effect, spreading to the rest of the teenage population at the high school.   I’m imagining more school spirit and more acceptance of and tolerance toward individuals and groups that also need and deserve it.

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In October, the PHS band was invited to UMass Band Day at Gillette Stadium where 72 local high school marching bands played together at the UMass/Miami (Ohio) football game. How impressive that all these teenagers chose to get up early on a Saturday morning to travel with their bands to Gillette Stadium. All day long until the 4:00 kickoff, this massive group of musicians practiced over and over the music, formations and sequence to get onto and off the football field for this spectacular halftime show.  I kept thinking to myself, how lucky is the relatively small group of Miami fans who traveled to watch this football game, to be treated to this halftime event.

And just when you thought nothing could possibly top that musical and visual treat, UMass Amherst’s 300+ member award-winning marching band performed its own halftime show.  It doesn’t surprise me one bit that this polished group of musicians (including some Pembroke High School alumnae) was invited to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.  Hard word really does pay off.

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NOTE:  If you’re curious about the benefits of playing a musical instrument, check out this great article:    http://www.effectivemusicteaching.com/articles/directors/18-benefits-of-playing-a-musical-instrument/

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