Band is old America

Band is old America. I’m a band director and I teach students to do something that used to be incredibly popular in America. But, how do I adjust to modern times?

John Philip Sousa

Nothing says band like, John Philips Sousa. He was a famous composer and band leader in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Bands still play his marches. He was incredibly popular and well known in his time. In fact, the Sousa Band toured for years and performed more than 15,000 concerts around the country.

In 1929 his band was broadcast on NBC radio. Kids knew about John Philip Sousa. They may have seen his band perform. Young people wanted to be in his band.

Glenn Miller

The best-selling recording band from 1939 to 1942 was the Glen Miller Band. He didn’t have a band like Sousa’s. His band was smaller. More emphasis was placed on the rhythm section. Big band needed a great drum set, piano and bass player. The trumpets, trombones and saxophones played cool licks. Sometimes they would add a vocalist to the mix. Their music made people want to dance.

This was the era of the Big Band in America and you heard Glen Miller and other big band music on the radio, and in the movies. Kids wanted to take a date to a big band show where they would dance the night away.

Miller was even a World War II hero who gave his life while touring to entertain our troops. He was cool. Yet, if you look at his picture and put him into today’s world, he would be the kid laughed at in the high school hallways. A trombone player with glasses?! He wouldn’t be popular.

Rock ‘n Roll

America entered the world of rock ‘n roll in the 1950’s. Once again, the band changed. You still needed a great drum set, keyboard and bass player. But, now the focus moved to guitars, lead vocals, microphones and amplifiers.

The young people ate it up. Rock has changed over the years, but the basic instrumentation of a rock band remains the same. The focus is on the lead singer with a limited amount of background musicians.

Flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, french horns, etc. These aren’t needed much for rock music.

Band and football

I’ve already written a post about the relationship to band and football, so I won’t go into great detail here, but the two share a great deal of history. And, their relationship has changed dramatically.

I’m writing this post on February, 11th. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Tomorrow, the world will be talking about the commercials and the half time show from the “big game”.

The first Super Bowl was played in 1967. And, the half time show featured two college marching bands. From 1967 to 1975 the ‘big game’ used marching bands for half time shows. This year, the half time show performance will feature Usher.

College football bowl games have even begun leaning toward removing marching bands from their half time shows.

So what?

Here’s my point. Kids join band and don’t even know what it is. I have kids that walk in the room and want to play guitar. Others want to play piano or drums.

So, I explain that we’re not that kind of band and I wrangle them into playing clarinet where they learn “Mary had a little lamb” and “hot cross buns”. I tell them we are going to perform a concert. At the concert, we’re going to sit in our chairs and play a march. Maybe the jazz band will play a big band tune. The audience isn’t going to dance.

The kids don’t get it.


I feel like culture has changed and left band behind. You still hear bands and orchestras in movie soundtracks. But, much of that can be done with a keyboard and the right computers.

I love band. I believe in it’s value. It positively effected my life and continues to be a positive influence on the students who tough it out.

How do we move forward? I’d love your help in the comments.


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