Hey friends, I’m back!

New year, new marching season, new look for the blog.

I’m going to try something new this season. Since I haven’t been keeping up on this blog like I really want to, I’m thinking I need to do shorter posts. So that’s what I plan to do.

This season is already not the same, because my dear friend Zach Lincoln (a frequent poster on this blog) has passed away. Man I wish he was here to yukk it up with about who is cranking and who is fishsammachee.

He would have had a lot to say about last weekend’s Queen City BOTB. He would have probably thrashed my beloved A&T. And there wouldn’t have been much I could say to debate it. I love my school and they sounded good but I’m telling you, that show was a bit…busy.  Hopefully they can take the criticism they’ve gotten and correct some things for next time.

This marching season is dedicated to Zach though. I’ll never forget you.❤

zach

PS. I told yall in an earlier blog Tennessee State was the business. Yall gonna listen to me one day.

Homecoming 2015

My parents met in the band in college. My mother majored in music. My father was band president. Our alumni band has been in existence for 39 years. Both of them have marched in the alumni band at homecoming for 39 consecutive years.

I say this to let you know that my mother asked me what I would think if they were to stop marching after next year. She said since 40 is a nice round number, they could stop after saying they have marched 40 consecutive years.

I can’t even imagine them not going to homecoming or not marching in the parade. When I was a pre-teen and teenager all the way up until college, I would actually walk the parade route with the alumni band into the game. Of course when I was in college, I was in the university band. The first homecoming after I graduated, the 3 of us marched together. We even got interviewed in the local newspaper for being the first father/mother/child in the alumni band.

Yeah, I know I look like my mom.
Yeah, I know I look like my mom.

I think that this is really boiling down to the fact that my parents are getting older, and I have to face that one day they will not march in the parade. As an only child, this is a hard pill to swallow.

Alumni band was interesting this year. It was not like any other of the years that I have marched. The alumni band was much smaller this year. There were only 3 clarinets that marched, and a small woodwind section as a whole. I was the youngest one in my section. The next oldest to me graduated in 1984. I just couldn’t believe that nobody who marched in the 90s or 2000s or 2010s was there. I truly hope that people don’t stop marching. It would be a shame.

On the opposite end of the spectrum. I ran into some of the newer (2000-2010ish) clarinet alumni and they referred to me as “Ms. Walker”. I know I’m not fresh out of school – being called Ms. or Ma’am usually doesn’t bother me. I work at a university – I’m with 18-22 year olds all the time, so I understand that they are just showing respect. But whew, that took me aback when someone said “Ms. Walker, come and pose with our section in the picture”.

A girl (woman) that I marched with in college now has a daughter in the band. In fact, she has 2 daughters in 2 HBCU bands.

Maybe my issue is that I have to face the fact that *I* am getting older.
Believe it or not, my most meaningful relationships in college were NOT with band folks, and my best friends from college don’t even go to homecoming. One of them said that she didn’t really see anybody she knew there, so she didn’t get a lot out of it. Well, my issue is the opposite, I know plenty of people at homecoming because of the band, and some I would consider friends, but most of these are just surface-level relationships. I hug them, we do the small talk (How are you/where do you live/you look good/really nice to see you), maybe take a picture here or there, and then separate. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to see them, but it’s not like we are going to hang out that night or anything.

I missed a small on-campus memorial for a classmate of mine (we had the same major and took most of our classes together) who passed away last year. On the way home, all I could think was – man, if I was at the memorial, I could catch up with the people in my major. But of course, I missed it, because I was on the other side of campus with the band. The band members with whom I have just passing relationships.

My love for the band as a whole will keep me marching in alumni band. It was such a huge part of my college life, although it did not define my time in college. Time will only tell what will become of the alumni band and my family’s role in it.

Sometimes I wish I could be cloned for homecoming alone.

aaron

Rest in Peace, Aaron.

Songs of the Season (so far)

I can’t believe we are already done with week 6 of the marching season. By this time, bands should be in prime form. If you don’t have your stuff together by now…..

housewives-roll

…at any rate, I would like to share my picks for my favorite songs of the 2015-16 marching season (so far).

This is NOT in rank order.

Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N Roses (performed by Southern)

I love it when HBCU bands play outside of Top 40/Hip-Hop.

Southern has had some good and bad spots this season, but they continue to innovate in their song selection, and I am here for it! You cant tell me you didn’t think of the opening credits in Lean on Me when you heard this song. Or maybe it’s just me.

 

Nas f/Lauryn Hill – If I Ruled the World (performed by Southern)

Yeah, Southern has 2 songs on my list. I gotta give credit where it’s due. I think this replaces Nobody Does it Better as my official “SU crank in the car” song. I may or may not have listened to this several times today before posting this blog entry. I may or may not have made the stank face when the percussion dropped out.

 

Snoop Dogg – Gin and Juice (performed by Tennessee State)

Also a good crank in the car song. Tennessee State has always been a consistent program but they are giving me all I want this season.

 

Foxy Brown/Spragga Benz – Oh Yeah (performed by Jackson State)

I used to love this song by Foxy Brown back in the day on the bassline alone, and Jackson’s tubas definitely deliver.

 

Taylor Swift– Bad Blood (performed by Alcorn State)

I find that Alcorn State does not get a lot of love in the HBCU band world. Some see them as inconsistent, but every time I’ve seen them live, they have been good. Anyway, I never thought I would see a HBCU band play a Taylor Swift song, then again, I think of that year everybody was playing Toxic by Britney Spears…but I digress……

 

Honorable Mention:
This Could be Us – Rae Sremmurd (performed by Miles)

I do like this arrangement. They went a little crazy on the sousaphone part, but overall, it cranks.

What are your favorite songs this season so far? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

I think I might have a problem.

These things may or may not have happened to me in the past few weeks:

  • Not getting anything on your to-do list done because you are watching or sharing feeds
  • Not being able to make your next move for waiting on the infamous whistle
  • Hearing the whistle and jumping to your phone like Pavlov’s dog
  • Sharing a feed, only to have it end or disconnect as soon as you hit that “share” button
  • Getting upset because someone cuts off their feed (or gets a bad connection) as soon as it pops up. Classic bait and switch.
  • Getting upset with people who don’t label their streams
  • Making the decision of which game to watch when multiple alerts are popping up
  • Clicking on a feed that ends as soon as it pops up on your phone, which I compare to turning on the radio just as your favorite song goes off
  • Realizing there’s a feed at a game you want but the person on your list didn’t alert you, so by the time you realize they are live, you’ve missed the best part
  • Having the internal debate: Do I know this person? Are they reliable? Should I share this?  This is my reputation on the line here — they better have a decent provider.
  • Getting alerts within watching a feed and having to make the decision whether to stay on board or jump ship to the new feed
  • Having your battery die just as soon you pull up the stream (this may or may not have happened to me yesterday at Michael’s, sorry Morgan vs. Del St.)
  • Passing the time by watching bands you are just meh about, hoping the game you really want to see interrupts the feed
  • Feeling a bit of pity for someone streaming a meh game, because as soon as that good game starts, everybody’s gonna jump ship. Poor lambs.
  • Feeling more than a little let down when you hear the whistle, look at your screen, and realize it’s for a feed not related to band. Especially on a Saturday.
  • Considering unfollowing non-bandheads just so the above won’t happen
  • Not really caring about a game, but you pull it up when you get the alert anyway just so you can have background music as you go about your Saturday
  • Turning off your music in the car when you get an alert, opening up the game and using that as music as you drive to your destination
  • Being irked by those who beg for hearts, use Periscope as their personal reality show (shut up about your day, we wanna see the bands!), or worse, have side conversations as if nobody is watching. In the middle of a 5th.
  • Thinking to yourself “I’m just here for the comments”.
  • Seeing dozens of bands including those you haven’t seen live in a decade while in your PJ’s

Weeks 1-3: Winners and Losers

WINNERS:

Periscope – The band world has been changed. Get ahead or get left behind. Really, you are doing a disservice to yourself as a bandhead if you don’t have it by now.

Verizon and AT&T – If you stream at a game, these are the only carriers that will get you somewhere.

Portable Chargers and Unlimited Data Plans – If you know like I know, you will have a portable charger for all the streaming. And unlmited data plans are a periscope life-saver.

Young(er) Band Directors – Let me tell yall, these younger HBCU band directors (and assistant directors) are really doing their thing. I am not knocking the older directors, but it is a new era for HBCU bands, and I’m here for it. They are breathing new life and energy into the craft.  Hampton, Morehouse, Southern, AAMU, Tennessee State initially come to mind.

Small(er) bands with BIG sounds – Elizabeth City, Virginia Union, and NCCU just to name a few. And ECSU and VUU have FEMALE band directors — I see you!!! You ladies are making me proud.

FAMU – This may be controversial, but I consider FAMU to be a ‘sleeper band’ this year. Do yall notice nobody (in a large sense) is really “checking” for FAMU outside of alumni? I never thought I would see the day when FAMU was considered a sleeper band. But I think they will be sneaking up on some folks.
See yall at the Honda, because I know they will be there this year. That’s just how Honda rolls.

Piccolos – It feels like for the first time, my beloved woodwind brethren gets some shine.  Even in brass-heavy bands like Southern and Talladega, they are making an impact.

LOSERS:

Periscope – Yeah, they are winners AND losers. Losers, because now that everybody wants to stream in the same area, it impacts the quality of the sound and picture. I’m still here for Periscope, though.

Sprint, T-mobile, Virgin, Cricket, US Cellular, RayRay’s wireless, et al. – If you have one of these providers, just go ahead and give it up. Just stop.  See, I know I have Sprint, I know I’m losing. That’s why instead of streaming, I just share streams of other bandheads. I stay in my lane, and you should too.

Shrinking bands – Now, I will take a powerful block 96 band over a messy 128 any day.  I am definitely NOT against small bands. But what is going on with Virginia State, Howard, Clark Atlanta, JCSU, Lincoln, just to name a few? They used to have decent numbers but have declined in recent years. Shoddy administration, shrinking budgets, lack of alumni support, dried up scholarship funds….I can’t even.

ESPN3 – I’m so over them and their false promises of showing halftime. Hello!!! Halftime consists of showing more than a song, which oh-so-coincidentally is the one song where the band forms ESPN on the field (what a surprise).

Talladega – Once a sleeper band, now they underwhelm me. Every time I have seen them this year, I have been let down. They are loud though.

Small bands with small sounds – Interpret that as you wish. There are too many of these groups out there, many because of circumstances beyond their control.

Trumpets – Why are so many trumpet sections getting buried by low brass this year? Southern, Jackson, Dega, Bama State, etc… Used to be trumpets came a dime a dozen, but now you can barely hear them. Jackson State’s version of Jupiter without a strong trumpet line hurt my soul.

Musical chairs of HBCU band directors – I have noticed that certain schools have a certain group of band directors that rotate few years. At least it seems that way. How is your program supposed to get some stability with these director musical chairs? I’m not mad at the directors, they gotta pay bills. But dayum.

What an interesting 3 weeks. Can’t wait to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

On the eve of my birthday.

I had this long winded blog entry prepared about how I’m turning 40 and how I said in my 20’s that I wasn’t gonna be a bandhead at 40, as if 40 was the magic cutoff age to have a hobby. Or this particular hobby.

But then I got over it, and I got over myself.

Tomorrow I’ll be a 40 year old woman.

I like HBCU bands – a lot.

And I have nothing to be ashamed of.

birthday

Real Talk – The State of our Bands

Sometimes I come across HBCU-band related content so good, I cant help but share it.

This “real talk” comes from Taylor Whitehead (Virginia State Alum/MTE Staff Member/High School Director). It’s a long post, but it’s worth it. He did a really good job with summing up what is going on with our bands. Enjoy.

———–

This post is for all of my HBCU friends that are into marching bands. This is a long post but it might be worth your read. I am sure that some of the numbers I have from my research are off but you should get the point:

Since the beginning of this band season, I have posted quite a few videos of HBCU Marching Bands. Many of my HBCU Alumni & VSU friends have been inquiring about why certain bands are so much bigger than other bands. For quite some time bands in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) & Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) have been much bigger than bands in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) & Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAC). This is nothing new. There are however always a few exceptions.

The biggest question is always why or how? There are a few factors that have a tremendous impact on size. Working as a high school band director and at the collegiate level, I have seen both sides of this issue as students make their college selections and especially for those going to be in the band. I will tell you that probably the overall biggest factor is MONEY, so if you want to see the band at your school become larger, start getting out those check books. Find out does your school have a way that you can contribute to the band scholarship fund or the band in general. Most band programs have seen tremendous financial cuts in the last few years. Bands that use to be big are now quite small. Some are almost non-existent. If we are to save our HBCU Marching Bands, we have to understand what is going on at these institutions.

These are the main factors that I see affecting the overall size of band programs today:

1. COST OF ATTENDANCE – The bottom line is if students can’t afford the University of their choice, they won’t be there.

2. SCHOLARSHIP BUDGET – There are a few HBCU Schools that are known to have huge scholarship budgets (Bethune, Talladega, Jackson St etc). This means that they can offer top dollar to outstanding players and have enough funds to spread lower scholarship amounts for dozens of mid-level players. On the other hand in the past schools like Fayetteville State have much smaller scholarship budgets and can’t compete in the bidding war to get top musicians. Certain schools have virtually no budget for scholarships. There are those schools like North Carolina A&T that still do exceptionally well with the limited scholarships available. Additionally, the best high school seniors now want to go to the highest bidder because they know the money is out there at certain schools.

3. ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT – Some administrations see bands as a financial burden. However, if the band grows, that means more students are at the school. Those schools with larger bands generally have outstanding administrative support.

4. RECRUITMENT – Many HBCU’s are doing an outstanding job recruiting year round. Recruitment can come through various ensemble performances, visiting schools, social-media campaigns, mailings, band events, phone calls etc. Schools like North Carolina A&T and Southern University are on top of the recruitment game with their social-media campaigns now. Every high school percussionist knows who “Cold Steel” is just as every high school auxiliary member knows who “Golden Delight is. At smaller institutions with virtually no band staff other than one full time band director, recruitment is often times at a stand-still and the bands can only hope that they will get the band students that are attending their University for some academic program.

5. SCHOOL ENROLLMENT – Larger schools have more students on campus to pull from. Chances are larger schools already have many musicians already on campus. However, schools like Talladega are a true exception to the rule as their enrollment is very low but they have a huge scholarship budget. At many institutions enrollment is dwindling very fast. Virginia State has almost 1,000 less students than it had just four or five years ago.

6. HOW GOOD THE BAND IS – Who wants to be in a band that is looked at as not being good and always small. Smaller bands have to work twice as hard to try to get numbers while the larger bands normally have huge amounts of incoming freshmen yearly.

7. THE BAND DIRECTOR – There are some band directors that students are eager to be a part of their program. These directors are visible and have great relationships not only with the students in their programs but also high school band directors. If students don’t like the director, chances are much slimmer that they will stay in the program.

8. RETENTION – Many bands do well with recruiting new members yearly but struggle to keep the current member after a season or two. It will be impossible to grow if you are only replacing the students that are going out. Additionally, if the band practices all night long all marching season, students won’t be able to keep their grades up and eventually fail out of school

9. HIGH SCHOOL BANDS IN THE STATE – The further north you go, there are less high-stepping marching bands as well as many of the northern high school bands are a lot smaller than southern high school bands. When recruiting in your state, there is a huge difference for a Delaware State versus Southern University. Now by no means do all of our students come from high stepping high school bands but it has generally begin the largest HBCU recruiting ground.

10. FOOTBALL SCHEDULE – In the SWAC, week after week, you are going to have exciting games with most likely another good band across the field. In the CIAA & SIAC, chances are you might see at best 3-4 bands the whole season and only 1 or 2 are good match-ups. Poor band schedules particularly are hard to keep the interest of band students.

11. MONEY – Even if you get the student in school it takes money to keep them there. Listed below is the cost of tuition and enrollment for some of the more popular HBCU Bands by conferences. Tennessee State University, Southern University & Jackson State University are the two cheapest. All of these schools have large marching bands. Norfolk State University, Prairie View A&M & Virginia State University are the most expensive. Prairie View’s band is growing while Norfolk State & Virginia State are quite a bit smaller than they were just a few years ago.

SWAC
Prairie View (In State) $18,496 (Out of State) $29,963 (Enrollment) 6,979

Jackson State (In State) $16,440 (Out of State) $22,952 (Enrollment) 9,000

Southern (In State) $15,833 (Out of State) $17,477 (Enrollment) 6,730

Alabama St. (In State) $15,472 (Out of State) $22,678 (Enrollment) 5,365

MEAC
Norfolk State (In State) $18,472 (Out of State) $30,865 (Enrollment) 6,000

Florida A&M (In State) $16,279 (Out of State) $27,651 (Enrollment) 10,229

North Carolina A&T (In State) $13,615 (Out of State) $26,375 (Enrollment) 10,561

Bethune Cookman $24,070 (Enrollment) 3,787 Students

SIAC
Miles College $22,270 (Enrollment) 1,880

Clark Atlanta $21,334 (Enrollment) 2,700

CIAA

Virginia St. (In State) $19,430 (Out of State) $28,686 (Enrollment) 4,900

Shaw $25,928 (Enrollment) 3,126

Winston Salem (In State) $15,105 (Out of State) $24,634 (Enrollment) 6,400

Elizabeth City (In State) $12,359 (Out of State) $24,034 (Enrollment) 2,661

Independent
Tenn St (In State) $6,776 (Out of State) $20,132 (Enrollment) 8,816

Talladega $20,213 (Enrollment) 700