Sunday, October 3, 2010

Listening to Tomorrow Last Night

Norwich Free Academy held its Fall Classic marching band competition last night on their campus. We live across the street from The Green, which is across the street from NFA so even though the speed of sound is much slower than the speed of light we could hear most of the warm-ups as well as the performances from our porch.

Our daughter, Michelle, herself (as well as her brother, our son, Patrick) an alumna of NFA and a former member of the Wildcat Marching Band attended the show to support the band and all those students in all the schools who take part in these fall competitions. We, my wife and I, were never 'band parents', folks who baked or sewed or pulled together sheet music or muscled the gear from one show to the next, but we were loyal fans of the band and spent two years (Mike's junior and senior years) travelling to Putnam, Montville, St. Bernard's, Fitch and a bunch of elsewheres for the fall season. Band was good for our Michelle and she was good for the NFA band.

Sigrid and I got to the corner at Washington and The Green a little after seven last night-the portable lights were already on and there were some color guards from a couple of the other schools getting last minute practice tosses in with their flags before whatever show time they had on the NFA football field.

The schools who compete are placed in various categories by size of the student body as I recall-so you can have a big high school and a tiny band, you still have to have it in a higher weight class, so to speak. The NFA bands Michelle was in were pretty large-not huge, but always full-sized with a drum line I think of as wide and deep. I mention that, because the youngsters I watched last night were probably just as talented as Michelle's classmates back in the day, but there were far fewer of them. As a matter of fact, the whole band seemed to be much smaller.

Looking around, the number of school buses carrying high school musicians seemed pretty much as I remembered them but I have no idea how full the buses were. I do know, because I read the papers where I live at least as well as you read the ones where you live, that as money has grown thin in recent years at the municipal level and cities and towns have started to economize by paring school extra-curriculars down or eliminating them entirely-and not just at high schools but also at middle schools and even elementary schools. Art and music programs have been casualties of budget balancing, which means kids of all ages are getting screwed.

It's not personal or intentional but it really is crap when it happens. In Norwich, the 'feeder' schools for NFA have been reducing and restricting music programs for years, along with foreign languages, art and other activities, in and out of the classroom. With fewer children having the opportunity to have music in their lives (and yeah, I know, 'parents can always pay for their kids to have lessons' if they have the money from their down-sized jobs), there are fewer musicians for the Norwich Free Academy and other high school music programs across the country to have as members. The programs get smaller, the lights get dimmer and the sounds grow muted until eventually it all fades to black and silence. Nothing Sigrid and I last night could do will stop or slow that but.....

Starting today, when I run into a Norwich No-It-All who wants me to understand how stupid they think I should feel because I want voters to approve almost eight million dollars in bond packages to prime the pump of economic development here in The Rose of New England, I'm going to remember the men and women (boys and girls really) of the NFA drum line I watched last night in the gathering gloom, practicing with a verve and a joy that every child everywhere should be allowed to experience in their lives for more than half an hour on the night her or his marching band is hosting a fall classic.

None of those children asked me to give them a chance, and expanded economic development will do just that for our kids and grandkids and they shouldn't have to. It's my job, and yours, too. Every grown-up should do what s/he can to make it easier for the generation who follows. Our parents did for us as theirs did for them and whining will not do, at all. There's a song I can hear playing right in my ear, That I can't sing but I can't help listening-and hoping others, lots of others, will join in when we get to the chorus.
-bill kenny

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