Why are high school band directors so driven?

As a former hi-school student, parent of students, and son of a hi-school teacher I’ve had ample opportunity to interact with a variety of teachers. IME, none are so maniacally driven as the band directors. Every performance is treated as though a worldwide audience is watching, and every aspect of the music, marching, uniforms and accoutrements is regarded as though the future of the planet hinges upon it.

What on earth drives them so? No other teachers seem as crazed about the actions of their students.

This thought occurred to me as I’ve spent the week helping prepare for this year’s marching performance. As a traveling entourage, my kids’ band currently consists of 9 buses, 1 van, a variety of parent vehicles, and a full-sized 18-wheeler (with smaller vehicles inside it which scurry down ramps pulling equipment at arrival). A typical weekend contest involves over 250 people including parents, band, road crew, and cooks; and we’ll often serve over a thousand meals. I’m currently in charge of procuring, assembling and driving yet another large trailer to carry huge field props (I get to build them too :rolleyes:). Of course, this must be painted in school colors, so I’m now negotiating with paint shops, and trying to find a small 4-wheeler to pull this contraption off the trailer and out on the field with the rest (we only have a few minutes to assemble and disassemble, lest we’re disqualified).

It occurs to me that this massive logistics operations is repeated with dozens (hundreds?) of other bands on contest weekends, and for football games; all so we can perform an 8-minute show. If we win, the directors get a trophy that no one will remember or care about in a few years.

Why? What on earth drives the directors to this insanity?

You might also wonder why the hell I’m doing all this? Because my wife really really wants me to (and I’ve been married long enough to know when to say “yes, dear”).

When I was in school the band all rode on 1 bus, drill team and cheerleaders on two more. No other vehicles.

They have the largest team at most schools, and that team requires militaristic precision in order to win the competitions they enter. They spend months preparing, they spend months training the band, and if it’s a bad show they lose face. Marching band does not suffer from accidental goals or busted plays, if it’s a bad show it is entirely on the band director and his assistants. There’s no time for mistakes, there’s too much to do, so they go right to the whip.

You can’t tell me that the football coach wasn’t as intense. Hell, my soccer coach was more intense than my band director. It’s a common coaching trait.

Yeah, but in this context they’re not teachers, they’re coaches. And don’t you try to tell me coaches of other teams aren’t every bit as intense and driven, at least the ones with winning teams. My brother played football way too many years for me to buy that.

Don’t try to tell me there’s greater payoff for sports teams, either. Every game weekend they load up multiple buses full of players and equipment and cheerleaders (I mean really, a whole team devoted to talking up another team and you think band is OTT?) and boosters and lord only knows how many parent and student cars, all so these guys can play 1 game where the winner doesn’t even get a trophy.

A speculative WAG theory, if I may?

Them as can, do. Them as can’t, teach. (And them as can’t teach, teach P. E.)

High School coaches and band teachers are the ones who didn’t make the Big Time. They are spending eternity living in a particular circle of Hell, in which they are forever compelled to live that down.

I’m coming at this from the other end. I was in the high school philharmonic, but we didn’t have serious sports teams.

My first impression is that the whole band adventure is about proving that teams can accomplish things if they work seriously, etc. Our band director used to say that ya gotta take pleasure in work, not drown the work in pleasure (loose translation).

I’ve never understood the whole football thing we’re shown in movies from the U.S., but I’m now noticing that it’s the same kind of commitment. The band director was also one of the music teachers (along with his wife), so it’s not just a question of “not having made it to a teaching position”.

Nailed it.

I’m not sure why coaches and band leaders would be more tormented than anyone else who doesn’t reach the peak of their field. Most science teachers aren’t Carl Sagan. Most math teachers aren’t Stephen Hawkings. Most art teachers aren’t Salvador Dali.

Because coaches and band leaders don’t teach anything.

I was a Music minor, my friends in college were music people. I know many band directors and assistant directors. I have trouble thinking of any who wanted to be anything other than a band director. To say that they are ‘stuck’ being a band director because they didn’t ‘make it’ is completely false.

You have to make a decision pretty early on whether you are going to major in performance/ed/comp etc. There is a lot of time invested in a Music Ed. major, it’s not a mistake or default.


That’s the kind of reasoned argument I’d expect from a coach or bandleader.

Bull. Maybe I was incredibly lucky but all the band leaders I had in school were excellent teachers and loved their jobs. Now I get to observe the same quality of instruction from the band leaders my children have. I’m convinced that’s the rule, not the exception.

And that’s the kind of response I’d expect from a moody, nihilistic emo high school kid who had bad experiences with organized scholastic activities.

Or, just someone who wants to threadshit.

Bandleading isn’t teaching. A bandleader might also be an excellent music teacher, or teacher of any other kind. But a high school bandleader is just a cat herder.

It’s because competitions and a role in sports are important for band programs to exist at all. Lots of schools shut down music entirely during the past 10-15 years because of anti-tax initiatives. Now music has found a place for itself (and an instructional style closer to coaching) that communities value much more. Kind of sad, if you believe in music for music’s sake, but true.

Let’s simmer down, everyone. This can be discussed without various “horseshits” and denigrating comments.

Another thing comes to my mind - live music of any kind has been slowly retreating from American life over the past half-century. Canned stuff is cheap, ubiquitous, perfect, and popular - so of course live music is a fading tradition. Where it survives, it’s necessary, but secondary, to social rituals.

Not all band directors missed out on the big time. Of the four I had, I know of one that even wanted to be a professional musician, and he was an excellent teacher as well (any music theory I know today is because of him, and that was in our junior high band.)

To the OP - if you were in charge of that sort of production wouldn’t YOU be driven? Why would anyone lead such a monstrous group half-assedly?

I can’t understand why you think the guy who runs that group is over-the-top compared to, say, a math teacher.

(My band wasn’t like that btw. Just 3 busses and one little van. We were still motivated, though. It was our goal to put on a show … why would we be anything* but *motivated?)

Note the OP’s location, and bear in mind that band is an adjunct of football. There’s your answer.