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Leader of the Nerds

Trey Reely | September 2010

   Television doesn’t do us band folks any favors. I was channel-surfing a few months ago when I came across the reality show High School Reunion. (I’m using the term “reality” loosely.) In this particular episode, there was a shrimpy little fellow who said, “I was the typical nerd in high school. I played trumpet in the band.” Typical? Are band members really seen as typically nerdy? I was a little perturbed at his description. (It serves him right that the attractive woman who he had a secret crush on in high school rejected him.)
    Then there’s the Taylor Swift video of her hit song “You Belong with Me.” The video depicts three high school students: a handsome football player, a cheerleader captain, and a nerdy girl with big glasses (Taylor Swift). In the video Taylor watches the football game while she is a clarinet player in the band. (Why she is standing by a trombone player and drummer in the stands I don’t know.) I just found it interesting that to complete the nerdy look she chose to wear a band uniform and hold a clarinet. There is some good news, however. In the end she gets the guy, albeit without her glasses. I wonder if he will attend one of her concerts; that will be the true test of their relationship.
    After seeing such depictions on television, I can’t help but reflect. Was I a nerd in high school? I guess to answer that question fully I would have to define the term “nerd.” I checked Wikipedia, my source for all research, and it says that the word “nerd” is a term “often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype that refers to a person who avidly pursues intellectual, technical, or scientific endeavors that are unusual for one’s age rather than joining in more social or conventional activities.” It goes on to say that the nerd “may be awkward, shy, and unattractive. As a result, he is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers or will tend to associate with like-minded people.”

    I did avidly pursue intellectual (and musical) activities and worked to earn the highest grades possible. I was very social, albeit in groups others might call nerdy: band, choir, math club, Spanish Honor Society, National Honor So-ciety, and my church youth group. I wasn’t awkward or shy; however, I wasn’t exactly a chick-magnet. I was a decent athlete, which was un-nerdlike. Also, I didn’t dress like a nerd – you’d never catch me with a pocket protector. Regardless of how I look at it, I have to admit there were definitely some nerdy characteristics in the mix.
    When I think of band students today I wonder what to advise them when it comes to their view of nerdiness. Basically, I see two options. First, encourage them to accept it and be proud of it. I have had students over the years who naturally embraced this idea. Ironically, it is often the student who doesn’t fit the classical description of nerdy. One of my proudest nerds was my drum major and a very popular basketball player. She had the self-confidence not to worry about what others said.
    The second option is to deny it and defend ourselves. However, the more I reflect, the more I believe that there is little sense to this. There’s no denying that one has to be at least a little nerdy to be in band. We do, after all, wear uniforms, play music from past centuries, and walk in step with each other down the halls.
    Maybe it’s not a question of whether band students are nerds, but to what degree. Since rubrics are in vogue in educational circles right now, it might be helpful to use one here. I’ve divided band nerds into three different categories with descriptions of each.
     Looking at this rubric I would conjecture that in high school I was a semi-nerd with a leaning toward uber-nerd. As for the present day, if you’re thinking that only an uber-nerd would take the time to make a nerd rubric, you’re probably right.