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The response was immediate when Amber Vincent and Olivia Logsdon contemplated how this year’s band camp differed from last year’s.
Long, loud laughter was directed at the absurdity of such an obvious question. Of course this summer’s band camp was better.
“Everything’s a lot more calm,” Logsdon said.
Band Director Mark Webster also has noticed a change.
“I don’t know what it is, but they’re happy and that means the world,” he said.
The Elizabethtown High School marching band is becoming a non-competitive program this year, because of difficulties in attracting students interested in committing the time necessary to compete in marching band.
Band membership has grown since the change and Webster hopes it will allow for more time to focus on music education.
Webster began to notice the number of band students in middle school were higher than the numbers he would see in the high school program. When it came time to schedule band classes this year, of the 45 incoming freshmen who were eligible band students, only 15 planned to continue, he said.
The main issue for most students was competitive marching band. The attrition rate was about 60 percent, he said.
“That simply didn’t fly with me,” he said.
He began considering his goal of creating a “high quality musical experience” and discussed the possibility of moving to a non-competitive format with students, parents and the administration.
The decision would free the band of competitions but still allow them to perform at football games, parades and in their own shows.
He also had conversations with directors at other non-competitive programs, including Bowling Green High School, Scott County High School and Boone County High School. The reasons for their decisions vary, but many also cited a significant attrition rate and financial issues, he said.
Students had mixed reactions when the decision was announced.
Logsdon, a junior, was excited about the change, as she had begun considering leaving the band because of the time it filled in her busy schedule.
“It was just going to lighten everything up,” she said.
Vincent, a senior, wasn’t so happy. She enjoyed competing and didn’t want to lose that part of the program.
Webster said he lost a lot of sleep over the issue.
“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t an easy decision to make,” he said.
He lost about 10 students for this upcoming year. Most left because of class scheduling, but a few left because they didn’t agree with the decision, he said.
He is now working with 47 instrumentalists on the field, up from 37 last year. He is including a few middle school students this year, as opposed to the dozen he needed last year to fill out the band, he said.
Without competition, the schedule for the upcoming band season changes drastically. The band just completed its one week of band camp, instead of the typical three weeks.
Instead of some type of practice almost every day, rehearsals are on Tuesdays and Fridays before home football games. Competitions on Saturdays no longer will be an issue.
There will be less drill to learn for the two shows being created, which will allow time to learn more music, he said. He plans for the additional time to bring more focus to programs like the jazz band and individual music lessons for each student.
The band fee was reduced by half to $200, he said. The money now goes to things such as lunch and dinner for camp participants.
Webster said it will take about five years to see if the new format attracts more members, but he feels the decision focuses on educational aspects.
“I didn’t make the decision because I did not want to compete,” he said. “I made the decision because I wanted to teach my kids.”
Once Vincent heard the reasons behind the decision, she saw that band might not have been able to sustain itself otherwise, she said. She’s happy with the change now, especially after seeing the convivial nature of band camp, something that everyone used to hate, she said.
“It’s really a smart move,” she said.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.