While doing some research for my band curriculum story, I discovered that nineteen years ago, music educators across the country shared their views on the same issue in a 1990 Music Educators Journal article, “Point of View: Marching Bands at the Middle School level?”
The article is a compilation of viewpoints arguing both for and against teaching marching band to middle school or junior high students. Most of the educators refer to junior high or middle school students as being in seventh- and eighth-grade. None made mention of ninth grade junior high students. Columbia Public Schools is unique because it divides students into middle, for sixth and seventh grades, and junior high, which comprises eighth and ninth grades, schools.
The educators quoted in the article used almost the same language and made points similar to what parents and educators are saying in Columbia today. I found this extremely interesting because it shows that the debate over marching in middle or junior high level probably won’t go away any time soon.
Unfortunately, because I found the article by conducting an MU Libraries search, after finding out I must pay for access to the article on the Music Educators Journal Web site, I cannot link to it. For interested readers, I have summarized and quoted the opinions presented in it. The resemblance is uncanny.
Mark D. Babiarz, assistant band director at Roosevelt Junior High School in Selma, Calif., at the time, described how his seventh and eighth grade band students participate in a three-week marching season, marching in three local parades to learn beginning marching techniques. Babiarz, also the high school band director, saw middle school marching as “one part of a total program and wanted to introduce marching skills early.
“If not overemphasized,” he wrote, marching “can contribute to the musical development of students.” He believes marching improves a student’s sense of meter and tempo, which can translate into the concert band and small ensemble play.
Some educators do not see the time and money put into marching as valuable to students’ education. Lawrence R. Kursar, music teacher at Woodglen Middle School in Lebanon Township, N.J. at the time, is one.
“Because a marching band is less effective instructionally, is time consuming, is expensive, and lacks justification on a musical basis, a marching band is a poor choice for a middle school to include in its curriculum,” he wrote.
Kursar thought schools use marching band as a way to showcase student achievement and thinks there are better ways to do so. Babiarz, too, wrote that marching band often serves as a form of public relations for the school.
On Monday, Joy Piazza, mother of a ninth grade trombone player in the Viking Marching band at West Junior High School, told me she tried to image Columbia’s parades without the junior high marchers and she couldn’t. She said it is valuable to the community to have such highly attended, high quality parades and foresees a decrease in attendance if marching is removed from the junior high schools.
David Neves, supervisor of music at Scituate Public Schools in Scituate, R. I., at the time, wrote that middle school marching is a waste of time. He did not think teaching marching band provides students with a quality music education.
“We must be leaders in the fight to promote music education as much more than just a band at the local parade!,” he wrote. According to Neves, marching does nothing to “develop aesthetic responses and musical knowledge and skills in out students.”
What’s interesting is that he went on to write, “there is almost universal expectation of marching bands at the senior high school level,” which brings the argument back to Columbia and its system of teaching ninth-graders in a junior high building.
Leon Enneking, music director at Batesville Middle School in Batesville, Ind., in 1990, presented a viewpoint similar to Babiarz, where students were only introduced to beginning marching steps and very little class time was spent learning them. His view was that by marching, students could enjoy themselves and learn the concept of rhythm at the same time.
“Young students look forward to marching,” he wrote. “In order to capitalize on this desire, some marching experience can be valuable.” Enneking’s students started marching in seventh-grade after one year of introductory music education in sixth-grade. He too commented on how the community appreciates the young marchers’ performances in parades.
A music education major at the School of Music at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. at the time of the article’s publication contributed her opinion. Beth Mount, a clarinet player, wrote how important it is for a young musician to develop his or her musical skills in a concert band setting.
In her opinion, “the years before high school are meant for teaching students correct playing habits that will carry them through their playing careers,” not for marching. “Let the high schools prepare and exploit the marching band; let the junior high students learn.”
The final viewpoint stated middle school marching band justifies itself. Paul Dobson, Jr., director of bands at Hardee Country Junior High School in Wauchula, Fla. at the time, wrote that he thinks marching teaches musical, spatial, linguistic, kinesthetic, logical/mathematical and social skills. He wants to give students as many positive experiences as possible.
“So what if it is not the greatest single achievement of musical development in history?,” he wrote. “The kids love it, and I love to watch them as they develop and succeed.”
I am aware that these viewpoints are not backed up by research and don’t intend to present them in that way, nor so I see or intend for the reader to absorb them as fact; they are merely opinions. But I found myself intrigued by how similar the arguments are to what I’ve been hearing discussed in Columbia. I simply wanted those interested in this issue to have access to this article and see, just as I saw, how the same conversation played out in the Music Educators Journal nineteen years ago and how similar it is to today’s conversation.
Lawrence R. Kursar, Mark D. Babiarz, David Neves, Leon Enneking, Beth Mount and Paul Dobson, Jr. “Point of View: Marching Bands at the Middle School Level?” Music Educators Journal. 77.2 (1990): 46-48.