Lessons from Band Class

Posted by Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Sep 13, 2016 0 comments

The clash of cymbals, the beat of drums, and the exuberance of horns. That’s what greeted students and staff at many of the schools I visited on our first day last month, as Baltimore County Public Schools’ marching bands sounded an enthusiastic welcome back for our learners.

Beyond what we could hear, there was an energy that was contagious. You don't just see and listen to a marching band. You feel it. You feel the energy, you feel the excitement, and most importantly, you feel the synergy.

Students working together through music and rhythm perfectly symbolize the ideal climate we strive to develop at each school. A common goal is achieved by playing the song together. Each instrumentalist makes a meaningful contribution through melody, harmony, and rhythm. There is a sense of belonging and a spirit of cooperation among peers and adults. Everyone has a place and a purpose.

I felt this connection while learning to play saxophone, trumpet, and drums in middle and high school band. In the band room, I was able to let my guard down and get to know my peers in a positive setting. Band brought young people together across the vastly separate spheres of adolescent life.

The sometimes-harsh clangs and clashes produced during practice sessions may have concealed the beauty of young minds developing what educators now refer to as 21st century skills. We communicated about pitch and pace. We used critical thinking to read and listen simultaneously. We collaborated across woodwinds, brass, and percussion. And, ultimately, we created one sound from many.

This holistic nature of music education celebrates the whole child as a learner in several dimensions. I led and I followed. I applied feedback intended for the wind section to better understand brass and percussion. I pursued my own interests, while contributing to something bigger than me. I expressed music as a second language.

In these ways, at an early age, band helped me understand the value and importance of multiple perspectives. Each band member felt passionate about their own instrument. We idolized professional musicians who represented our own section. We cherished moments in each song when our section took the lead. But we came together to make the kind of magic that’s only possible when people cross boundaries.

I rely now on the band known as Team BCPS including the voices of parents, students, and residents, and the expertise of teachers and leaders. My ability to provide well-rounded learning experiences for more than 112,000 students rests on understanding the concerns and priorities of a diverse community, establishing common ground, and directing this engagement toward supports that will benefit every student. This outreach is the foundation for our efforts to transform teaching and learning, raise achievement levels, and close gaps.

Promoting arts education is extremely important to me. It’s why I drop in on a school steel drum band and play a few bars. It’s why I invest in a permanent collection of student artwork for the school system headquarters and for my home. It’s why every systemwide event—from professional development to celebrations—is punctuated by a variety of student performances.

I appreciate all of the arts, but band has a special place in my heart. Band will always be the place where I learned how to listen, how to lead, and what can be accomplished when people from different walks of life come together around a common purpose.

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