Burning Rome

So there I was, just minding my own business, watching the plethora of New Year’s Day bowl games and enjoying my final few days of Christmas break.  When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a tweet from Jim Rome that fired up the entire music education world.  “Is there anyone not in a marching band who thinks those dorks running around with their instruments are cool?” The radio and television sports personality was clearly referring to the ongoing halftime show featuring the bands of Oregon and Florida State.  Now, normally I don’t put much stock into what forgotten radio hosts have to say about anything, especially those who have no athletic accomplishments to speak of, and are best known for getting beat up on air by a guest of their show.  Also, to Rome’s credit, he did tweet out a half hearted apology later in an attempt to make amends, clearly realizing that dorks have the internet too, and some of us even like to watch sports.  Though Rome’s comments were asinine and uncalled for, the issue at hand is far bigger than Rome himself.  It is an issue that, at its core, shines a light on the way many people think. As music educators, we are constantly having to validate our own professions to colleagues, administrators, students, and parents.  “It’s just band,” and, “…Why is this important for my kid?…” are phrases I am sure that everyone in this line of work has heard once or twice in their career.  Though we are all very aware of the numerous educational, social, and cognitive advantages learning a musical instrument will provide, that data doesn’t always earn the respect for our profession that it should.  For so many of us, the constant battle against the “band is lame” crowd is exhausting and when that line of thought gets traction from the national media it’s very disheartening.

So why do people like Rome have such a distain for band?  Do they not enjoy music?  I have a hard time believing that anyone wouldn’t enjoy listening to music from time to time.  Is it the distaste for the uniforms?  Most marching band uniforms are kind of odd, I’ll give you that, but I don’t think fashion is the issue.  The perception is, of course, that studying music is non-competitive, and there for non-interesting i.e. “lame.”  This is clearly the farthest thing from the truth.  The obvious example is competitive marching band, but there are lesser known and equally cut-throat examples such as middle school chair try-outs, honor band placements, or graduate school auditions.  Competition, though vastly over-rated, is alive and well in the band world.  Maybe the distaste for band comes in not thinking the program is worth the monetary investment. True, band is an expensive investment, and in some cases not one that school systems want to take on.  But, is it any more expensive than funding numerous athletic endeavors?  Especially, when so many of those are non-revenue generating?  Also, when you consider the numerous educational benefits that were mentioned earlier, and the fact that learning an instrument is something that can be taken throughout the students’ lives, the return on investment is pretty decent don’t you think?

No, I think the opinion of Rome and so many others is one of ignorance.  As if to say, “We don’t really need the band for our events anymore.”  Someone of this opinion may be ok with the school fight song being forsaken for “Back in Black,” or “ Welcome to the Jungle.”  This person may also not see the need in allowing the band to represent the school or university at various civic functions.  Or, they may want to deny funding for the band in favor of re-allocating  money to other “more beneficial” purposes. What people like Rome don’t realize is that this attitude trickles down and can affect the beliefs of parents, which in turn, affects the attitude of students. It is these battles that we as music educators fight daily, and it is what we hear in Rome’s comments.  If that is in fact the case, I hope that the ever-growing empire of haters at least can appreciate the hard work that music students at every level invest, and enjoy the fact that they share their talents to better support their team and school.  This seems to be something that Rome, at least momentarily, forgot.  The true fact of the matter is that when it comes to high school and college athletics, the team on the field and the band in the stands are all part of the same culture, and the same atmosphere. Can you imagine Tennessee scoring a touchdown without Rocky Top firing up right after the score? Can you imagine an Ohio State game without script Ohio and someone dotting the I?  What if there was no “Tomahawk Chop” in Tallahassee, or no “Eyes of Texas” in Austin?  Hopefully this is something Mr. Rome, and those that share his opinion, realize sooner rather later.  Whatever your team, you have a song, and the dorks are playing it.

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