How to be a good band dad.
By Mark Harris
It is August, and the beginning of school is around the corner. For those with children in high school, and specifically those whose kids play music, school starts early in the form of marching band camp. Many marching band dads were band players themselves back in the day, but I was not. So, when child 2,3,4 and 5 in my family wanted to join the band, I was in for a shock. At first, since I knew nothing about bands, I kept them at arm’s length. But year by year I did more and learned more. Here are some band lessons learned since I started this gig in 2010.
- Marching band costs more than you expect. In addition to the band uniform, which is often provided by the school, marching band requires clothes for the show, instruments repairs, fees for band camp, and a pile of miscellaneous needs. It goes without saying that you bought your child’s primary instrument ahead of time, including lessons and upgrades (or replacements) as your young musician grows. When my daughter dropped her $900 piccolo through the bleachers, and later someone stepped on it, I was reminded of this fact.
- Marching band takes a lot of the student’s time. Estimate 2 hours per day during the school week for practice, plus 4 hours for Friday night football games and 6 hours every other Saturday in the fall for band competitions.
- Marching band takes a lot of your time. Except for weekday practice, you will probably attend games and competitions with your student. After all, honestly, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
- Fund raisers do not end, even when marching band season does. As a band dad, you will have a great opportunity to sell cookie dough, oranges, bingo tickets, yard sale items, and restaurant gift cards. Even better, you’ll be able to buy lots and lots of said items. When your child sells fundraising items to someone else, you will deliver them to purchasers when the items arrive. Once, my son sold a pallet of strawberries to a neighbor, but forgot to tell us when the strawberries were delivered to the school. Several days later, when my son remembered, we picked up the now moldy strawberries and delivered them to their buyer. Of course, only about half were edible, so my wife and I made up the difference.
- Games and competitions can be hours away. You can skip an away game, but you can’t skip an away band competition.
- Band camps can be relatively small-scale endeavors at the local school, or they can be weeks-long extravaganzas far from home in which 90 students go wild. Band dads can take some comfort at this point in knowing that for band kids, “going wild” is not the same thing as football players and cheerleaders “going wild.”
- Trumpets and trombones can be played underwater, but reeds cannot be. Remember to tell your kids. By the way, remove the pads from your trumpet, French horn, or tuba if you or your kid tries to play underwater.
- The band provides a social group for your child before the beginning of school so that they don’t feel all alone in a sea of new kids. This is especially important for freshmen. The band is usually small enough so that people will support and encourage them.
- The drum major’s stand(s), the platforms, the pit instruments, and the props for games and band competitions all have to be carried on to the field before the band performance and carried off again after the performance. Who does this? The kids and their parents (that means you). You’ve got to be quick, as either the football team or an opposing band at a competition wants to get on the field as soon as you leave.
- When your local high school football team wins, if the band plays well, you are happy.
- When your local high school football team loses, if the band plays well, you are happy.
- Sometimes you will have to miss large parts of the game because you are working in the concessions stand selling lukewarm pizza, hot dogs, hot chocolate, and candy to people who are getting to watch the game that you are not. Thankfully, my amazing-band-mom-wife does our family’s concession duty so I can continue my much-admired play-by-play commentary and analysis of the football game for whoever is sitting next to me in the stands.
- If the items in the concession stand are overpriced, you have to pay more for your snack. If they are underpriced, you are working for an hour and missing a football game, along with five or six other band parents, for $43 in profit for the band.
- The end of year band trip will likely cost over $1,000. Did I mention that band was expensive?
- Band judges are infuriating. After all, surely your child’s band was better than the one that won, and got the biggest trophy, and the most money, at the competition.
- Band instruments, except drums, must be pointed out, not down at the ground, during the performance. Remind your child of this every day. Also, remind your kids often that they should learn their music and their marching routine before the first football game.
- Someone has to have a big enough pickup truck to pull the band trailer to and from each competition and many away football games. This is usually a band dad. If you don’t have the right truck, buy one. Otherwise, set up and tear down the lunch canopies, tables, and coolers for the band. If your school band rents a moving van, learn to drive it.
- The band usually sits in the student section at football games, and parents like to sit as close as possible to their band child. The student section is filled with rowdy high school kids painted in funny colors and screaming at the top of their lungs for most of the game. The band section is filled with less rowdy high school kids wearing colorful band uniforms and playing good music at the top of their lungs. Ear plugs are a good idea.
- You get to hear all the inside scoop about the band, which honestly provides some valuable insight into your own child.
- If you play a band instrument (from the olden days when you were in a high school band), you will get lots of feedback on your level of skill, or lack thereof.
- A huge perk…band dads get to grill burgers and hot dogs at band competitions, band picnics, and other band events. And the kids are usually not tough food critics.
Thirteen years later, I love high school marching bands, and have made unforgettable memories with my wife and kids. High school marching bands combine musical development, exercise, teamwork, and fellowship. They encourage skills that will be useful for all of life. Bands get parents out of the house on Friday nights, when they might have otherwise been vegetating in front of a television.
Every inconvenience and sacrifice for my children and the band was a small thing compared to what my family and I have received in those critical years. My kids were blessed immeasurably by the band. Heck, I might have spent all that money on toys that I didn’t need and wouldn’t use anyway. My youngest child is a junior, so I only have two more years as a band dad. Hopefully I will become a band grandad someday. In the meantime, maybe I can become an honorary band dad.
If you are a band dad, be a good one.