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Don’t Let JHS Marching Band Ride Into The Sunset

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, art. This example of this definition is something that is being compromised and questioned recently involving the history and future of The Jamestown High School Music Program.

As a thirty-one year veteran music educator, and proud alumni of the Jamestown High School Band Program, I feel compelled to pen this editorial. In reading recent articles, and editorials posted in the local Post Journal, it has come to my attention that a change may be headed to the Jamestown High School Music Program. In doing my research, and in speaking with many music professionals in the area, I understand that the change possibly entering the music program is based upon new ideas and creative solutions to fix a current problem that has been identified by music staff.

As much as I agree that change can be good, I want to express that a change in this specific situation may affect a culture that has been in place for several decades. My concern is that the change coming may dissolve a history of excellence that once was. When a student enters a music program in the early ages of their schooling, they not only enter a new learning environment, but enter a culture of students that not only learn music, but become part of a student body that continues to remain students of high academic levels, student leaders, and prominent members of future society. This is not to say other areas such as athletics do not create those types of students.

Here is my suggestion to all school leaders involved; If your current director feels the time commitment and all the extra work to have a competition program is something they cannot give 110% due to personal family reasons, I get it, you want to put family first, wonderful! I commend you! But in doing so, I think you should do the right thing and not change the rule that you have to be in marching band to be in the concert/symphonic program. That rule is and was designed to keep kids playing after the season to develop their skills and become better musicians, sort of like off season training in sports. I am not really sure that people realize that the high school marching band is a supplement to the job detailed as high school band director. What that means is an individual can be working at the high school as their ensemble director, but not be responsible for the high school marching program. This leaves a void, this leaves a position open for a program that can go unrecognized, and not willing to be taken on by anyone; That is a very sad situation, and the kids of this program deserve better.

I urge all members of the music staff and administrative teams to collaborate on a schedule and decide on a style of program that both promotes music education at the highest level, and gives the community the quality and excellence so many have benefitted from over almost 100 years. Do not make this about a personal life choice, or about demographics or socioeconomics, because what you will be saying is that those types of students cannot learn. All of us in education are feeling the pinch of student decline, non-involvement, and the challenge of commitment. Urgency is a necessity in this case, but patience is much more important in this type of situation.

As it stands right now, your current enrollment is down, and the band is marching 8th graders, but the unique thing is they still continue to sound fantastic, and portray pride for their program. If the focus becomes on the quantity of musicians you have over the quality, you have lost the fight. The focus all music staff members need to keep in mind is simple; what is best for the kids! If during all meetings, brainstorming sessions, and individual reflection you do not have the philosophy of what’s best for the kids in mind, then you need to rechange your thinking. Please do us former music alumni a favor and do not let this program ride off into the sunset. Altering it is fine, but do not change the rules and high expectations that made this band beyond great.

I strongly encourage all decision makers in this process to keep the focus on what will be best for the kids of the future. For as many people who speak negatively about our current education system, and that of Jamestown, I advise you to rethink your decision and look at the kind of students, like your music students, who have gone on to become amazing pillars of their own society, and leaders in present day communities. This program is, was, and always will be a place for kids to come together, make music, gain new style of learning, develop lifelong friendships, and a place to call home for a high school career that goes very fast.

I am of firm belief that this program has a spark left in them to rejuvenate what once was a dominating force statewide. I have been asked why I care? I have been asked why I am entering this fight when I do not live here or my own personal children did not attend JHS? It is simple, this place will always be my roots, my home, and if we as people forget where we come from, and what it took to get us to where we are today, then we need to question our own individual morality. I thank god everyday that my mother and father allowed me to do so many activities during my schooling, especially music. I am only hoping that the students of our future generations will continue to get the same kind of opportunities I was afforded, and have the same chances to brag about “home” someday as they enter their adult lives.

Dr. Michael Palermo is a 1989 Jamestown High School graduate.

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