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What Band Directors Like

Trey Reely | September 2012

   I recognize that not all band directors are the same, but there is no doubt that they have a lot in common. Please indulge me as I speak for all.

Loud metronomes.
   Band directors love loud metro-nomes – and the louder the better. Not content to torture only those under their care, some band directors hook metronomes up to amps, put them on wheels and take them outside so that everyone in the whole county could march to the beat if they so wanted. There is nothing like the rush band directors feel when they have the power to annoy so many people at one time.

A football team with a running game.

   It’s not that band directors are football purists who love the physicality of the proverbial “three yards and a cloud of dust.” They just love to see the clock running. The modern passing game has added many hours to the director’s workweek. Passing forty to fifty times a game is the norm now, and defenses still seem to have no idea how to stop the massive yardage and points that are accumulated by modern offenses. I have a colleague who took his band to an away game that ended with a score of 87-52, and this was without an overtime period. The game did not end until after 11:00 p.m. and the band arrived back at school at two in the morning. Out of respect for the defensive coordinators I will not mention the names of the schools.

Plaques and trophies.
   Of course any director will tell you it’s not about the trophy, it’s simply what it represents. Don’t let them fool you. What else will be left behind in the band room after a career move or retirement? Maybe something rude written on the bathroom wall, but the school will eventually paint over that.

   Conventions are a bonanza for the frugal band director. Free CDs, candy, pizza, pencils, and pens are just a few of the treats directors can collect. On the home front, if a director is lucky, band parents might provide free food at football games – but don’t count on it; those band boosters can be pretty tight. Often the best one can hope for is to get some popcorn right before it is thrown out.

Large tuners.
   Everything electronic seems to be getting smaller. Unfortunately, the smaller a metronome shrinks, the harder it is to find. I love my retro-biggie-sized Korg Auto Chromatic AT-12 Tuner. May it live long and prosper.

Patriotic songs and marches.
   Band directors are one of the last bastions of these endangered musical works. They feel great satisfaction when their students enjoy performing them and understandable pride when members of the audience begin tapping their feet.

A quiet bandroom.

   A bandroom is typically a very noisy place, but there is nothing like being there in the summer. Tasks that have been neglected for months can finally be completed: cleaning out the desk, finishing the inventory, straightening up file drawers, emptying the trash on the computer, painting over the graffiti on music stands, and even getting around to a little instrument practicing.

Public radio.
   One of the best technological innovations of the last few years is the podcast. This enables band directors to listen to NPR programs previously only heard in snippets when driving to and from work. The risk here, of course, is the director becoming an insufferable bore who has a little something to say about everything but can only remember that he heard it on “some NPR podcast.”

Fancy batons and baton cases.

   Most band directors have a trusty baton that has experienced many forms of abuse. It is often left abandoned all over the bandroom, sometimes thrust into a tile ceiling, and frequently banged mercilessly against a music stand, its fiberglass chipping. Then the final insult comes when the director pulls out a special baton for the performance. I have a baton given to me by the seniors several years back. I call it the “baton not touched by human hands.” It’s stored and protected in a hermetically-sealed tube that resides in a small case for extra protection.

Corny jokes.
   Students often wonder if there was a college class where band directors learned their jokes. No, but we all wish there had been. It would have been an easy A.

Music scores and parts with the measures numbered.
   Why more publishers don’t do this I don’t know. With the computer programs available today it is certainly easy enough.

   I have only played golf with other band directors one time; it was a best-ball tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. My foursome started out slow, but improved as the day went on, finishing with what we thought was a respectable two above par. Our ignorance gave us short-lived bliss. Out of nineteen teams we placed 18th and were at least 15 strokes behind the winner. I couldn’t help but jealously wonder if there was any correlation between golf and the quality of one’s band directing. Were the winners poor band directors? How did they have time to teach school and become great at golf?

When their own parents still come to concerts.
   The main reason I took a new position four years ago was to be closer to my parents. They had been coming to my concerts for years even though they lived some distance away. I thought that it was mainly to see the grandkids perform, but the kids have flown the coop, and my parents still come. They even converted much of their personal wardrobe to our school colors.

   Male directors like tuxedos, particularly if the tux has tails. Directors like the inevitable compliments from their spouse and students on their snazziness. It gives them the feeling that for at least one moment they are a Revelli, a Toscanini, a Reiner, or a Bernstein. As the director conducts his young charges in Pigeon Cove Overture, it will feel like the best performance ever if he is wearing a tux.