Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Strike Out the Band? At Reno, This May Be the Case

This isn't the first time I've blogged on the subject; last summer, I reported on the impending loss of the marching band at Duquesne University (it was scheduled to be "downsized" to a small, seated pep band instead). But this story--courtesy of my fraternity's listserv, just like the Duquesne one--is even worse: The University of Nevada is considering doing away with its marching band altogether:
The University of Nevada, Reno marching band, a mainstay of the school's music department for more than 25 years, could be disbanded next June if state government budget cuts for the 2009-11 budget cycle are as severe as expected, university President Milton Glick said Sunday.

The university, which has announced that 40 mid-level administrators will not be rehired after June 30, 2009, is preparing for 14 percent budget cuts for the next biennium. If state officials demand cuts that deep, the band will be eliminated, Glick said.

"The intention, as we do our planning, is that the marching band will go," Glick said. "But we have not yet seen real numbers. Our priorities are to protect the core teaching and research programs. If I have to compare the teaching programs to the marching band, I have to give priority to the teaching programs."

Hopefully, the budget cuts won't be that harsh," Glick said. "If we don't see 14 percent, we will have a chance to rethink some of the programs."

The marching band leader, Associate Director of Bands, R. Alan Sullivan, was among the 40 administrators notified last week that they will lose their jobs, Director of Bands A.G. "Mack" McGrannahan said Sunday.
Ouch. Surely there can be something else they can cut, right? Sure, someone could ask, "What's a football team without a marching band?" But my question goes even deeper: What's a music education program without a marching band? Head band director McGrannahan agrees:
Losing the band would have a negative impact on the number of students who attend UNR to study music, McGrannahan said, adding the band costs about $200,000 a year.

"I think that we would see a significant reduction in our numbers," McGrannahan said. "They should ask themselves the question, if the want to study music and teach music, why would they want to come here because our offerings will be significantly reduced."

The loss of the band will have a trickle down effect on Nevada's public education system since many of the music teachers and band directors at Nevada high schools are former UNR students, McGrannahan said.

"This will have a devastating effect on the whole state of Nevada," McGrannahan said.

[...]No plans have been finalized on halftime entertainment at Nevada football games without the marching band, McGrannahan and Glick said.

"I guess they could play recorded music on the big Jumbotron up there but don't get me started on that," McGrannahan said. "I can't imagine what it would be like without a band at the games."
(FULL DISCLOSURE: McGrannahan is a fraternity brother and fellow UNT grad--from an earlier era than myself--and we serve on a large fraternity council together. But I'd be writing this post even if I didn't know any of the principal figures from Adam.)

President Glick seems to feel that bringing in local high school bands to perform would somehow take the place of an organization that serves so many purposes on campus: Music education laboratory, spirit organization, social club, and probably other things that are slipping my mind at the moment. Sure, the high school kids would probably be thrilled to perform on a bigger stage, but does anyone think that they'd be as emotionally invested in the game as the school's own band would be? (The football coach is reserving comment for now, but I bet he's not happy.)

Here's the quote from Glick that bothers me the most:
"Would we like to have a marching band? Yes. Will we have a marching band in a year? Maybe," he said. "But we have to take steps now in preparation not to have it. And I will still defend that. If I have to protect the English department or the math department or the business school or the music department, I will protect all of those things before the marching band."
Umm, President Glick: The marching band is part of the music department, and you're not doing a very good job of protecting it at the moment. Just because something is entertaining doesn't mean that it doesn't have academic value. (Ironically, Glick's son is a marching band alumnus from the University of Michigan. I'll bet he could explain the group's value to Dear Old Dad.)

As I said last year, in the Duquesne post, "As a music educator, it distresses me to see any arts organization be eliminated, especially by the axe of budget cuts." Not only are music-ed majors put at a severe disadvantage, but a lot of non-music majors will never have the chance to participate in a musical activity in college. To me, that's wrong, wrong, wrong.

I hope that Glick can find some fat to trim elsewhere; another mid-level administrator or two might be a good place to start (though it strikes me as bizarre that the marching band director is called an "administrator" in the Reno Gazette-Journal story quoted above). But with any luck, the Nevada legislature will trim its own fat in such a way that education doesn't suffer nearly so much. Again, there's bound to be some other places that can be pared down first.

UPDATE: According to a comment on the RGJ story, this is another situation (like Duquesne) where the marching band is evidently under the auspices of the athletic department and not the music department, which renders part of my above statement inaccurate in this case. If I were a music chair or dean somewhere, and my school were in that situation, I'd work to put the band in the music department where it belongs; maybe that would help the higher-ups see the academic importance of the group.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Bonnie Guari emails: "I'm moved to comment on your latest blog posting about eliminating marching bands. What an awful idea!

Several years ago, our school district (Edina, MN) wanted to eliminate 5th grade band and orchestra. In Edina, 5th grade marks the beginning of the instrumental music program. Students take group lessons with the band or orchestra instructors as well as have a group band/orchestra lesson during the week. All of this happens during the school day. Many elementary teachers complain about the disruptions in their classes as students come and go for lessons and band or orchestra.

Looking to save money (and aren't all school districts), the school administrators and school board finance committee suggested eliminating the 5th grade instrumental music program. (Edina schools have vocal music throughout the elementary years--K-6).

Naturally, there was an uproar. The elementary instrumental music is the foundation for the entire music program in the schools. The Edina schools music programs are always highly ranked. The school board held an open meeting to hear parent and student comments. The got an earful!

What made the most impact, though, was when the high school band directors, along with all of the other music teachers in the district, announced that they would rather eliminate the marching band program for Edina than eliminate the 5th grade instrumental music programs.

Well, football is also near and dear to the hearts of Edinans (although not nearly what football is to Texans!) and the idea of football games and the homecoming parade without the marching band was simply unthinkable. The administration quickly decided to keep the music program intact and look elsewhere for places to cut funding or increase revenues.

If alum groups at the colleges and universities would lobby the school administrators and pester the state legislators, maybe the schools would reconsider the value of the marching bands. Like you, I only see good reasons to maintain college level marching bands.

On a secondary note: The superintendent of schools in Edina makes himself available as a substitute teacher throughout the district. Naturally, he isn't an "on-call" sub; he has to schedule his days ahead of time. He wants to sub so that he remains close to what is actually happening in the various school buildings in the system. Bravo to him! I know he's already subbed in a variety of situations so far."

Agreed. If the "paying customers" (students, parents, alums) would make enough noise here, something might well get done.

And I love the part at the end of her email about the subbing superintendent; that's a subject that's close to my heart. What a great example he's setting for the rest of his district.

Redux-quesne: So what happened to the Pride of Duquesne marching band? According to its website, there is still such a band, but it's student-run and plays at "band festivals and local parades," though evidently not at school football games anymore. It's too bad that the university didn't have enough "pride" in itself to prevent this from happening (though I'm happy to see that they at least let the successor group keep the name).

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