Understanding Band Directors

Trey Reely | September 2011

   Before establishing a long-term relationship with a band director, whether as a student, friend, or something more serious, it would be wise to make sure you know what you are getting into. Here is a helpful guide. (Disclaimer: Sometimes I refer to band directors as he because it is the only perspective from which I can write with some credibility. Individual experiences may vary.)

A band director has a very high level of concentration – he just may not be concentrating on what you want him to.
   A band director’s concentration level (i.e. obsession) is so high preparing for a performance that you could hit him with a ten-pound turkey and he would not notice. However, miss a key signature, and he may have a stroke. (Don’t try either of these at rehearsal.) What’s worse, he often thinks that students should be as obsessed as he is, but when hard-pressed he will reluctantly admit that it would not be out of line for students to think about food and water.
   When sharing a meal with a band director, you may be in the middle of a sentence when you notice a glazed look on your dinner companion’s face. You see fingers tapping and hear a soft humming sound when he suddenly interrupts, “You know, if I rewrote that fourth horn part for my second chair euphonium player, it would help with some of the balance problems we’re having on the overture.”
   Despite his best efforts to see the big picture, a band director often has a one-track mind and ultimately believes the world revolves around band. Although this is a drawback at times, he will be one of those great faculty members for whom teaching (unlike professional athletics) is really not about the money.

Band directors are in a different time dimension.
Defying all laws of physics, time moves faster for the band director in rehearsal than it does for students. For students, marching band rehearsals in 100° heat slowly while away, but time speeds by the director like a racecar in the Indy 500. What seems to students like ample time to prepare for a performance is totally inadequate for the rehearsal-deprived band director. A poor performance is, to directors, the end of the world as they know it.

Band directors are extremely sensitive.
   As a contest nears, a band director has a growing tension that builds right under his skin. It is somewhat like lava boiling right before it explodes through the earth’s crust during a volcanic eruption. Questions from students during this period cause him much pain, both emotional and physical. Treasure the few smiles that you see during this time.
   Band directors are heartbroken when students quit. Their love of music makes it difficult for them to fathom why anyone would dislike it. They see talent in students as something to be treasured and nurtured. When a student quits, it is like a diamond, however rough, spinning hopelessly down a drain. A student who quits is also a lost investment of time. Don’t worry though, band directors are also resilient. Students will come who restore their faith in what they do and why they do it.

Band directors believe that no one understands them.
   It is quite possible that no one does. The band director is the only person in the school district who knows what a European professional extended polypropylene double contra fipple flute is and shows great frustration when the school district does not see the need for it and will not buy it.
   A band director believes his jokes are funny despite all evidence to the contrary. If you could force a small chuckle at his lame attempts at humor this would improve his morale, although you risk having to hear more.
   This basic inability for people to relate to them is why band directors have such a tremendous time at band conventions; they’re like puppies that have escaped from the backyard and are running free around the neighborhood. Here, at last, are others who understand them – their ups, their downs, their stories, their jokes. They can sit in a lounge chair, convention freebies stacked at their feet, and talk for hours with band directors they have just met because they understand.

Band directors see almost everything from a musical perspective.
   This trait can be annoying but it’s best for you to just mumble in agreement in situations when you are regaled with their opinions. For example, if you have just finished watching a movie, expect a conversation like the following:
   You say: “I really loved that movie. I wouldn’t mind watching The Man from Snowy River again.”
   He says: “It wasn’t bad, but there’s no way that girl would have been playing that song on the piano. It’s not like they had a modern pop style in the 1800s.”
Or something like:
   You say: “Wasn’t August Rush inspiring?”
   He says: “The music was good, but a child isn’t going to be able to play a guitar that well in three weeks. It takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert.”
   Sporting events and entertainment provide even more opportunities for his expertise. While watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament, he may be the only one who actually listens to discover which university has the best pep band. During a sports movie he will evaluate how good the band is the few times it is shown or heard. (From my experience, most of them are bad.)

The band director does not believe his job is more important than his family, only less forgiving.
   There is a unique stress involved in being a band director. It is sobering to know that his ultimate success or failure depends on his ability to convince hormone-crazed adolescents that it is imperative that they perform Rocky Bridge Overture flawlessly. But convince them he must, even if it means spending more time with other people’s kids than his own. Even if parents can’t tell whether the music is flawless or riddled with errors, he knows. His pride won’t let him accept less than the best from his bands. Would you really want it any other way?
   Hopefully, these basic guidelines to understanding band directors will not scare you away from a relationship with one. Almost all professions have their particular idiosyncrasies and quirks; but few have the beauty of music to make them more than worth it.