Anderson Cooper, Fake News, and #54!

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Right now news, political and otherwise is so hot, we don’t need an oven to cook the turkey. 

I read that 40% of American’s will avoid discussing politics this holiday season for fear of it escalating into a fight. Heck, my family doesn’t call it Thanksgiving UNLESS there’s a political argument and a fight. 

Yes, politics gets my family going. We have some tree hugging liberals, constitutional conservatives, and everything in between. You name it, we got it, and there is NEVER a dull moment during a Lang family gathering and I suspect tomorrow will be no different. 

I don’t care where you stand on the spectrum, we can all agree that the news is questionable at times! Forget Russia. Forget Gropegate (I just make that up, you can use it if you like). Forget MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN. Yes, especially CNN! Sure Anderson Cooper is unusually handsome and has a boy next door quality to him, but you still can’t trust him! Don’t believe me? 

Just yesterday, the Coop (another original) and CNN reported on the top 100 jobs in America. Do you know where "Music Teacher” landed? FIFTY-FOUR! Yep, smack dab in middles-ville! Talk about FAKE NEWS! 

Apparently, despite our lack of ability to telecommute, CNN gave us high marks for "personal satisfaction, benefit to society", and wait for it... "lack of stress?" 

WHAT? Lack of Stress? What music person did they interview? Jerry Garcia? Bob Marley? 


By November, every teacher I know looks like a cast member of The Walking Dead. What was it that made music jobs seem so carefree? Was it the 90 hour work week? Was it the lack of personal time and space? Was it the abject humiliation of being rated and reviewed in front of an entire community? Was it dealing with dozens of emotionally stunted, pre-pubescent, half-grown persons that made what we do so appealing? 


#54? FAKE NEWS! 

Yes, of course it’s fake news, because REAL news wouldn’t be talking about the bad behavior of a few over the good behavior by the many. REAL news would focus on our real and overwhelming successes in America’s public schools. REAL news would highlight the people like YOU who teach our children each and every day, who give them a creative outlet and a reason to smile. It would talk about teachers who provide opportunities to connect with something other than technology, who challenge their minds and nurture their students' souls.

Another thought, as I look at that list: 

  • How many of those jobs get to change people's lives?
  • How many of those jobs positively impact their society at large?
  • How many of those jobs have their workers go home knowing they made a real difference?
  • How many of those jobs promise kids will learn better, have better life coping skills, have a better chance at further education, have a real impact on graduation rates? 
  • How many of those jobs lower drugs, alcohol and crime in their communities? 

How many of those jobs have kids come back to them 30 years later to say, “Thank you, Mr. Smith, for being my database administrator. It changed my life!" 

Listen, I can easily make a case why teaching music should rank #1 on the list of America’s Best Jobs. The impact we have and opportunities we provide young people are life changing. Our profession leaves a legacy of impact that is unrivaled and cannot, and should not, be underestimated. But to be clear, I can also make just as good of a case that we should be dead last. This profession is a personal, emotional, and physical beat down that also should not and cannot be underestimated. 

I have always said, “Teaching music is a life-draining, soul sucking activity… That’s because participating in music is a life-changing, soul enriching activity.” You can’t have one without the other. 

Yes, on our good days this profession is certainly #1! And on bad days, we are likely dead last.

But we sure as heck aren't #54! 

Now someone go get my musket and gun powder, cause it’s Thanksgiving and I got a score to settle with Coop! 

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. 

Pay for Pun and My Onshore Outsourcing Idea! 

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Teachers have long hung their financial hat on the adage that “money can’t buy happiness.” Given their dismal salary, it's hard to know whether they did this out of true belief, cognitive dissonance, or to maintain some semblance of sanity. 

And while the sentiment is admirable and hopefully rooted in truth, there are some exceptions. 

In a recent experiment conducted by Harvard University and the University of British Columbia, 6,000 study participants from seven countries were give $40.00 to do with as they chose as long as they used it to provide themselves with some semblance of happiness. After spending the money, the participants were asked to complete a survey about their purchase(s) and their general level of satisfaction thereafter. 

What did these blissful people buy? Fine wine? Tech gadgets? Clothing? Well, some people did, just not the happy ones. 

It turns out that the key to answering this much-debated question lies in whether you used the money to buy products or services. Researchers discovered that those persons who spent their money paying someone else to do something they didn’t want to do achieved a much higher level of satisfaction than those who bought things. 


Your new mantra: 
“If it doesn’t take a Bachelors Degree in Music to complete the task, then it shouldn’t be done by someone who has a Bachelors Degree in music." 


In other words, people who used the money to hire someone to mow their yard or clean their house were much happier than those who bought a new shirt or bluetooth headphones. 

The lesson learned here applies to our profession and our jobs. 

We all have part of our jobs that we dislike. And as unappealing as those parts may be, they still need to be done. No one signed up to be a music teacher to copy stand tunes. No one ever went to college dreaming of inventory management spreadsheets or successfully completed bus requests. But these things have to be done. However, that does not necessarily mean that it has to be done by YOU!

As music teachers, we may not have access to a large pool of money, but we do have access to eager workers who are wanting and willing to help. In the coming days and weeks I encourage you to think through the many simple tasks that add tedium to your day. Think of the things that, while not monstrous in nature, turn you into a monster and then assign them to someone else! It’s not child labor, it’s onshore outsourcing (I should trademark that).

So to the answer to the age-old question, “Can money buy you happiness?” The answer is a resounding YES! That is, if you know how to spend it.

Speaking of which, if I paid you $40.00 would you write next week's headline pun?

Expense Accounts, Envy, and My LinkedOut Profile

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My buddies are all highly successful people. Mergers & acquisitions are a part of their regular vocabulary and they are well skilled in the art of corporate speak. 

They are good guys, great friends, and have been a valuable sounding board for me on many occasions. They are the very model of professional success. 

I must say though, that I amazed by how often they change jobs. Truly, it seems that every time I talk to them they have a new title. new job, or even a new company. With each new opportunity comes a bump in salary, better benefits, and “unlimited growth potential.” Yep, the sky’s the limit... That is, until the phone rings again. 

I am amazed how often they are contacted by recruiters who found them on LinkedIn or some other such site. They are sought after because of their experience, their skills and what they "bring to the table.”

It all seems a bit icky to me, this constant pursuit of something better. It's like Tinder for jobs. It's hard for me to understand because in my seventeen years on the podium, the only people who ever sought me out were people I was trying to get away from! 

To be honest, part of me is a little envious. Their world seems so exotic and interesting. While they attend corporate events in five star hotels, dining in fine restaurants located by the ocean, I am staying at the Hampton Inn, next to the freeway, eating a Subway sandwich. 

Yes, in some respects, they have what I want. They are the “it” people and sit at the corporate "cool table." They are at the top of their game and are highly sought after. 

So if they have it so good, why do they hate their jobs so much? 

As I write this, I am wearing a tee shirt and jeans. I am unshaven, and not for a cause. I am unshaven because I didn’t want to shave. My calendar this month does not contain a single conference call and I have not sent or received anything that contains the word “memorandum” or “360 review” well... EVER

I have work to do, but it is work I created and in a field I choose to be in. 

True, I don’t have an expense account but, then again, eating with my family does not require one. I don’t have a car allowance because I don’t drive anywhere that I don’t want to. I don't have car service to the airport, but I don't have to travel unless I choose to. And yes, while my buddies are by the ocean, they are likely stuck in a conference room with cranky adults, while I will work in a concert hall crafting a musical phrases with some really nice kids. 

It occurs to me that maybe the reason my buddies are always changing titles, jobs and companies is because they don’t like the ones they have. And conversely, maybe I should stop chasing what they want and appreciate what I already have... HAPPINESS. 

Perhaps it's time for me to understand that my worst day on the podium is better than their best day in an office and that while they are LinkedIn, I would much rather be LinkedOut!

Enjoy making music today. 

SIRI, A.I., and My Impending Obsolescence! 

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Whether you're a techie or not, you can’t help but be amazed by the wave of innovation that is transforming our lives. Artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, and the inter-webs (that's a super technical term) are changing the way we think and live. 

Computers, with no help from humans, can now schedule appointments, order groceries, make movie recommendations, monitor your home and unlock your front door. If you get hurt and no one is home to help, a computer driven car can now take you to the hospital where a machine will operate on you! 

Our classrooms and music education are not immune from this technological metamorphosis. As we speak in America's rehearsal rooms computers now taking attendance, tuning our instruments, charting our drill, managing our inventory, fixing wrong notes, and even grading our students. Yes, computers, and their 1’s and 0’s, can do all of this and more instantaneously, automatically, and BETTER than you and I! Don’t believe me?

  • Which charts drill better and faster, you or the computer?
  • Which has a better ear, you or your tuner?
  • Which keeps better time, you or Dr. Beat (well, he is a doctor)?
  • Which does a better job of managing your music library, you or a computer?
  • Which grades with more accuracy, you or a computer?

To add insult to injury, students are now doing online lessons, electronic masterclasses/courses, and are participating in ensembles via the world wide web. Put Dr. Beat on the podium and I am convinced that I am becoming more and more useless with each and every day. Something my kids are all too quick to attest to. 


Seriously? What possible value can a teacher add to the mix? What can a human do faster or better than a computer?

  • Teachers can elicit a smile and scowl. 
  • Teachers know when to push and when to back off. 
  • Teachers know whether a student needs a kick in the back side or a high five. 
  • Teachers can convey disappointment or pride. 
  • Teachers have intuition and insight. 
  • Teachers can hug and high five.
  • Teachers listen with empathy. 
  • Teachers can inspire. 

Teachers can teach. 

Yes, I will HAPPILY and confidently let a computer drive me to work, make my coffee, take my attendance, and record grades in my grade book. And yes, I will gladly ask SIRI what the weather is for my next rehearsal, to remind me to requisition a bus for our next competition, and what the best route is to get there. I will let her/it do all of this and more… 

So I can teach. 

Yes, we are experiencing a revolution. Yes, computers are replacing humans in ways we never imagined. But through it all, I will smile, because I know something I can do better than SIRI.

Have a great week and remember to pick up a couple of bags of deeply discounted candy today. Nothing does more harm AND good than free candy!

p.s. So a friend sent me an email asking for my favorite holiday tune and I thought I would share my response below:

Hey Brandon: My favorite holiday composition is “The First Noel” arranged by Jeff Simmons. It combines the First Noel with Pachebel’s Canon in a way that is as accessible as it is moving. It is a great piece for any ensemble and features soloists and sections in a meaningful way.

For my personal little twist, at measure 65 (2:15 in the recording), I would place my best trumpet player in the back of the concert hall and have him play those eight measures antiphonally. I get chills just thinking about it.

After a holiday concert one evening, my principal came to me with tears in her eyes and said, “That was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.” From then on it became our little holiday tradition. 

Suffrage, Scandal, and the Servant Mindset!

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Hey Scott

Women’s rights have been at issue in some form or another since the inception of our country. Whether it is the right to vote, to serve in combat, or to receive equal pay, the fight for gender equality has been around for a long time and I don’t suspect will be going away any time soon. 

But recent, and very public, announcements of illegal and immoral behavior by some in the public eye have emotions running high on the subject. And rightfully so!

To be clear, I have little standing on this topic. Being a 50 year old white male, and no threat to unseat George Clooney as the world’s handsomest man, has had me squarely in the majority my entire life. In fact, my demographic profile has me far likelier to be the transgressor than the victim. 

What made these men behave in such awful ways? Was it power, vanity, arrogance, stupidity? Was there no fear of accountability or recrimination? Were they never taught the value of human life regardless of race, color, creed, or GENDER? More over, do they not have spouses, mothers, or daughters? 


One of the relatively unique benefits of music education is that it not only gives all students opportunities to  lead, but perhaps even more importantly to be lead by people very different than themselves.


In particular, I am speaking of women. While I have no empirical evidence, my anecdotal and experiential data suggests that in high school music ensembles, females hold a disproportionately high level of leadership positions. 

Statistically speaking, virtually every student growing up in America today will have a female teacher, instructor, or administrator. But, will they have the opportunity be led by one of their female peers? Will they have the chance to see themselves as a subordinate to a strong and capable women? Will they see that gender has nothing to do with one’s ability to lead? For many students outside of music, the answer is likely no. 

In sports? No, those activities are typically separated by gender. In academics? Not likely. Academics are more of an individual pursuit. Student council? Perhaps, but I am not convinced it is really leadership that is happening there. Work? Definitely possible, but studies show that fewer and fewer students are taking on part time jobs. Where will young people gain these valuable experiences to lead and be lead by a diverse group of people? 

In music! 

During the teen years, in which norms and behaviors are being established, music provides one of the very few opportunities for students to not only lead but to be led by people very different than themselves. Whether it is leading from a higher part, higher ensemble, or higher position, music provides students with very real experiences both receiving and delivering leadership to others very different from themselves, including women. I can’t help but believe that it is has to have some impact on how people learn to lead and how to be led. 

Keep in mind, this is not to say that those who do not participate in music are misogynistic misanthropes. I am simply pointing out that those who are these things probably weren’t involved in music.

Something to think and talk about.

Sonic Booms, D.A.R.P.A., and Dangerous Sounds 

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Hey Scott:

While America’s best minds, military and otherwise, are transfixed on tensions in North Korea, Africa, and the Middle East, unwitting American embassy workers in Cuba were evacuated from their posts after an attack on our consulate. 

While the investigation is ongoing, we now know that in an August attack twenty-two embassy workers were medically confirmed to be injured during what appeared to be an “acoustic attack.” Yes, that’s right, our United States diplomats and their co-workers were assaulted with (wait for it)... 

SOUND!

Unknown assailants used pitches and frequencies to disorient and sicken the workers. To the ear, the multiple frequencies can sound a bit like dissonant keys on a piano being struck all at once. Plotted on a graph, the sound heard in Havana forms a series of “peaks” that jump up from a baseline, like spikes or fingers on a hand. Symptoms range from nausea and headaches to issues related to loss of balance and hearing. It has come to a point where we have weaponized sound. Scary stuff. 


Political and military implications aside, by using sound as a weapon we are tacitly accepting that sound has properties which can alter us in physical, intellectual, and emotional ways. And whether you use them for good or for bad, it is hard to argue that sound (and music) can impact the mind and body in significant and meaningful ways. 


Think about that for a second… If sound can be used to harm, can it also be used to heal? 

As music teachers, we have always known and believed that music had transformative powers. We espouse that music can transport us to another place. We even have some understanding that when combined with other courses of treatment, music can be beneficial. 

I imagine the in a lab somewhere, our friends at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) are working on, or have already mastered, some version of their own ominous acoustical devices. I just can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t also ask them to explore the possibility of musical medicine. If it can harm, I am certain it can help. 

Something to think about. Have a great week!

Scott

p.s. If you would like to hear a “sterilized/safe” recording of the attack, it is available on the web for your listening (dis)pleasure. Out of an abundance of caution, I am not hyper-linking the recording. However, should you desire, it is easy to find if you let Google do the searching for you. 

p.p.s If you want to hear my version of sonic warfare, click here.

Teaching and proof positive that you make a difference!

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Last night I received a call from a colleague and friend who said, “Teaching music… it’s just not worth it!”

This is not the first time I have heard these words and will most assuredly not be the last either. 

Frankly, I have heard them far to often from people who I KNOW belong in a classroom, working with kids, and changing lives, but are struggling with the day to day reality of this profession.

It's hard to know what to say in these circumstances. To be honest, having left the classroom after 16 years I feel somewhat disingenuous doling out ANY advice on this subject whatsoever. After all, these are REAL people with REAL feelings and REAL lives at stake.

When confronted with moments such as these, I try to do more listening than talking. Whether out of respect for them, or lack of knowing what to say, it has been my experience that people in need are not really searching for answers so much as an opportunity to unload some of their burdens. 

After our somewhat lengthy conversation, I wished my friend well, told him to get some rest and hung up the phone. I rattled around the house in the dark for a bit longer, wondering if I had said or done the right things. How do you respond to someone who tells you that his life's work is no longer worth it? What do you say to make him understand that he matters and is making a difference?

Wanting closure but needing sleep, I turned off the lights and crawled into bed.

People like him need answers. They need affirmation. They need proof that their struggle is real, but that it is worthwhile.

I awoke the next morning and went in search of proof and proof is what I found. As proof positive that music matters:

  • I give you Ashley, who confessed to me having issues with eating disorders and personal self esteem but then said, “Music is the one class that always allows me to be expressive. It is the one class that has never failed to make me proud of myself."
  • I give you Elizabeth, who said, “When my father died unexpectedly, my band family was there for me. They supported me unconditionally and gave me a place to both grieve and celebrate his life.”
  • I give you Andy, who said, “I have been dealing with depression since middle school, and orchestra is the class the fuels me to deal with the rest of my day."
  • I give you Mattie, who said, “Before I joined band, my grades were awful and there was no way I was going to college, now I am headed to a four year university with a scholarship."
  • I give you Matthew, a band director, who during “Senior Night” he walked three of his band members down the fifty yard line because he was their father figure.
  • I give you the hundreds of people and programs who offered to adopt a band program in Houston and the Florida coast when they are barely able to sustain their own music program.
  • I give you the 800+ applicants to the Be Our Guest at Midwest program, who wanted nothing more than to spend a portion of their holiday break on professional development.

We all want to believe that our effort are yielding some gain. We want to see evidence that what we do matters, but most of life’s most important qualities: faith, love and integrity are often without evidentiary proof. We have to know them in our hearts, and see them in our mind’s eye, as tangible and tactile evidence although it is not always readily apparent. 


As you wade through your competitive season, ratings, accolades, and awards are evidence of teaching and learning but not necessarily of impact. Music (and you) are so more than rubrics, numbers, and trophies.

I often tell my workshop participants, “If you know what you are looking for, than you know what you are looking at.” And I know what I am looking for, so I know what I am looking at, proof positive that YOU make a difference!

Have a great week!

p.s. Thanks to everyone who sent me selfies last week as a part of my "connection challenge." If the line at your local Starbuck's a was a little longer than usual, please accept my apologies.

Recent tragedies, coffee, and collaboration!

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Recent tragedies, natural and otherwise, have had a galvanizing effect on our nation. In the aftermath of these transformative events, there’s a little less bickering, a little more caring, and a general sense of empathy for what others are going through. Despite all of this human connectivity, health experts from all across our country are warning about a new and equally dangerous threat to our humanity, loneliness. 

Yes, that’s right, loneliness is now a very serious national health concern.

Despite all of our modern “connectivity,” Americans, and their children, seem to be more disconnected than ever before. Despite living in the most communicative country in the world, reported cases of loneliness have doubled since 1980. More concerning is the fact that in a recent study, more than 40% of American’s reported being lonely, and the research suggests that the real number may well be higher.

This would normally be the place and time where I would pontificate on how music connects kids in a very real and meaningful way. I would talk about how students involved in music have lower rates of risky behaviors associated with loneliness, i.e. drugs, alcohol, etc. I would talk about the physical, mental, and emotional bonding that goes on in a child’s mind and body as a result of their shared musical experience. Yes, this would be the place in the newsletter I would do all of that and more. That is, if I were talking about our students. But, I’m not. I’m talking about YOU!

YES, YOU! 

The work you do can be all consuming, and demanding on a level that few other professions can rival. There is little time to spare and too much work to do. This, coupled with the ease of electronic communication (email, text, social media), leaves many of us without any meaningful personal interaction with our peers or other adults. Yes, you spend your days surrounded by a sea of humanity, teens and adults, but are doing so in emotional isolation from people who really understand what you do and can empathize with the challenges you face?


Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity. 


When I was a teacher I distinctly remember feeling this way on many occasions. I remember interweaving the hopes and dreams of my profession with the hopes and dreams for my life, losing a little bit of me in the process. I remember being at work before the sun came up and leaving after the sun went down, for weeks at a time. I remember feeling isolated while in the midst of a sea of teenagers, and I suspect that many of you remember feeling, or are currently feeling, the same way right now. I have always believed that a happy teacher is a better teacher, so it’s imperative that you make time to be happy.

So let’s do something to make us happy!

I am challenging you to meet up with a musical friend/colleague in the next 72 hours, someone who understands what you are going through and can empathize with your experiences. Too busy you say? MAKE TIME! Pick up the phone (NO TEXTING), call a friend, and meet for coffee. If you are willing, I am buying. Yep, that’s right! If you text me a selfie with a colleague drinking coffee, tea, a smoothie, or other beverage, I will respond with a gift card to cover the cost of the drink. I’M NOT KIDDING!

You can text me your selfie to (480) 577-5264. If you are willing, you can even tell me how it went and if it helped.

I don’t care which colleague you meet, or what you talk about. Just talk!I dare you to take me up on this. Please!

I am waiting to hear from you.

p.s. This event is not sponsored by Starbucks, but should be.

p.p.s. I reserve the right to limit this offer to a reasonable amount, should making my mortgage payment become a concern.

Good times, ba(n)d times, and what we really remember! 

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Hey everyone:

"BAND ISN'T FUN ANYMORE!" This is the clarion call of late September. Gone are the fun-filled days of band camp where team building and bonding activities were paramount and smiles were aplenty. The energy of new faces, new music, and new drill have been replaced with the drudgery of cleaning the opener while simultaneously trying to get the ballad on the field and teaching the closer. 

The repetition and drudgery associated with daily rehearsals are starting to take their toll, but the energy and enthusiasm associated with contests and competitions are a ways away.

Add to this homework, tests, jobs, and the other responsibilities associated with being a teenager, and your students might be right... Band might not be fun anymore. Here's a secret:It’s not supposed to be fun. It 's supposed to be meaningful and memorable.

Don't get me wrong, music brought me more joy than any other of my high school or college experiences. It connected me with quality friends, gave me opportunities, and created memories that have had a profound impact on my life. But, these moments and weren't always FUN!

You know what I remember about band?

I remember being so hot that I thought I was going to die, but running back to my spot anyway. I remember being so exhausted for early morning rehearsals, but crawling out of bed anyway. I remember being so sick of marching and playing the same three songs each and every day, but playing and marching them again anyway. I remember those things like they were yesterday. I remember the good, the bad, and perhaps the most important part, the people I shared it with.

Perhaps you could have your students take just a minute and write down some of their favorite memories from their band experience. This will hopefully help to remind them that the difficult times are a part of what makes this activity so special.

In fact, the experiences that had the greatest imprint on my life, were the ones that made me work and persevere through difficult times and arduous moments. 

Keep in mind that FUN times make us feel good, but the "BA(n)D times teach us to BE good. When choosing between "feeling good" and "being good," it is often the latter that does the "most good" for our lives. 

Yes, I remember band, and it wasn't always fun! You know what band is?

Band is worthwhile. Band is life-changing. Band is working hard with the same people, fighting through the bad days, and celebrating the good ones together. Band is memorable.Band is family. Band is sleepless nights and never-ending days. That’s what band is.

And I remember it like it was yesterday, because it taught me to BE GOOD!

Have a great week!

Music, Marching, and Our Connective (HE)ART Form!

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In a recent, and beautifully illustrated, article on the impact of the arts on our brains, the Washington Post eloquently and evocatively explained the effect that movement and music have on our cerebral cortex. 

Using the ballet Swan Lake as their course of study, the Post explored the impact on performer and audience members alike when music and movement are combined to create a symbiotic and unified message. 

The article explains, “When you go to the ballet — or any other show — you’re entering into a highly controlled experience. If everything works as planned, all the elements contribute to a kind of shared consciousness. In effect, your billions of brain cells are interacting with billions of other brain cells, busily making the microscopic connections that join together the brains of those present with an almost inescapable force.”


The combination of pairing emotion filled movement with emotion filled music changed the body responses of not just the performer, but the audience member as well. In short, the two actions in combination were more powerful than when separate.


“As an audience, we’re watching a story unfold that connects us with the performers, vicariously feeling and making meaning out of their actions on stage, responding to the magnetism of specific visual cues, experiencing heightened emotions as music and movement entwine and even bonding with those around us. It’s just as the artists — choreographers, directors, playwrights, composers, performers — intended. And this magical transformation starts within the architecture of one brain.”

It turns out that the audience is not just connecting with the performers, but with other audience members as well.

For the brain, and the heart, music and movement are the perfect partners, Which makes me wonder if there is something more to this thing called marching band.

Perhaps the draw to this activity for performers and audience members alike is not just the music and the pageantry or the precision and the pride. Perhaps its appeal is something far more neural and biological. Perhaps we do this for the sense of connection we feel with one another when we share in the experience. Perhaps it makes us feel less alone. 

Perhaps we are drawn to marching band as much for the HEART form as we are to the ART form.

Just sayin… 

Have a great week!