When my child is on stage, I want to be there

The Lafayette High School Marching Band’s sousaphone section and color guard have brief huddles after a rehearsal on Nov. 13 behind the school. The
band is practicing to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Tom Eblen.

Dec. 11 was a somewhat annoying evening for me, because there were two concerts I really wanted to see, and though I do struggle to lose some weight, I am not two people.

Now this happens on the job with some regularity. But this time, it was personal.

Both of my kids, who are currently attending different schools, had school orchestra concerts that night. So, my wife attended one and I attended the other. The next morning, I even got more grinched when I got a note from a friend saying my son had played a great solo … at the performance I missed. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my daughter’s concert which showed off what a lot of ensembles at her school are doing, and I know my wife would have loved to have been at that one too.

I recall getting all blubbery one Sunday morning in the middle of Manhattan, where I was on assignment, when my wife called and held up the phone so I could hear my daughter sing a solo in church.

Like many parents, when my child is on a stage, I want to be there.

So it was interesting when I got home from vacation this week and found several notes saying I needed to read a column by an area mom and school official critical of school band concerts.

Acaesia Johnson and Christian Turner played their violins during Nancy Campbell’s orchestra class at Picadome Elementary School, Aug. 31, 2011. This is the 4th grader’s first orchestra class. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Charles Bertram.

In TOPS in Lex magazine, columnist and Jessamine County Board of Education member Hallie Bandy wrote that she was happy she let her son leave his school band because that meant she would no longer have to endure the concerts. (Her column appears on Page 90.)

“Merry Christmas to me!” she concluded in a column that was derisive of everything from the musicianship to the clothing to the venues to the audience.

People who contacted me were far from the only ones upset. Response was so heated both Bandy and Tops publisher Keith Yarber issued statements of apology, Bandy writing, “I am genuinely saddened so many found my recent article in TOPS insulting to arts education. It was certainly never intended as such, and I am so very sorry many interpreted it in that light.”

Bandy says she writes a light-hearted column on family life, though her band concert critiques seemed quite sharp, and I hate to say I missed any clues between the lines to indicate, “Ha! I’m joking. I really love school arts.” The piece was also somewhat disturbing considering that as a member of the Jessamine County School Board, she is in a position to make very serious decisions about funding for programs like band and orchestra. She and Jessamine County School superintendent Lu Young said in the Jessamine Journal story that Bandy has been supportive of arts programs. But if you go sending a message that you consider these things to be of little value to your life, people will reasonably wonder if you’ll be inclined to make decisions that will allow them to be parts of other people’s lives.

And school music and arts programs are important parts of children’s lives.

As much as and in different ways from athletics, they teach the importance of dedicated hard work and collaboration to accomplish a goal. They sharpen minds and teach us about culture, communication and emotion. And they can lead to huge experiences. Note that one of the biggest stories in Lexington schools so far this year is that the Lafayette High School Marching Band is in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

I am constantly struck by how many of the most accomplished people I know were in school arts programs — the connection between music and the highly esteemed fields of math and science being particularly striking.

But school arts programs constantly struggle for respect and funding. Consider that Fayette County’s arts magnet school, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, does not have a theater of its own.

That’s probably a big part of the reason Bandy got so much grief. School arts teachers and directors already struggle mightily for funding and respect. So it’s kind of galling to have someone in a position of power write a snarky column that comes across as criticizing your program because it’s not the Philharmonic.

After all, if there weren’t school programs with musicians in occasionally ill-fitting pants sometimes playing an off note to a not-always attentive audience, there wouldn’t be a Philharmonic, or many of the other artists who go on to enrich our world.

If you are going looking for a sleek professional production at the middle school level, you really are missing the point. This isn’t about refined performances for arts aficionados, though they can be that. It’s about watching kids learn and grow, often amazing us with what they can accomplish, particularly when they are guided by extraordinary educators.

Yes, some nights can be a bit of a haul. So can some nights watching people who get paid for their efforts.

But if my child wants to perform, there’s no place I would rather be.

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