Thursday, February 5, 2015

N-Town Rhythm - Coming Soon

I want everyone to look in their closets and attics and under your beds. What for? Marching band instruments that you or your kids don't play anymore.

A group of local marching band enthusiasts are organizing a Greater Norristown community marching band for middle school-aged kids. Sort of like the plot to "Music Man" without fast-talking scam artist or barbershop quartet.

The motive behind it is that our high school marching band is dwindling in numbers. Music's been cut so much from the lower schools that a band can't be sustained by the time the students reach high school age. In these days when everyone's saying that we need youth programs more than ever ("Oh, we got trouble right here in River City"), a community marching band is an idea whose time has come.

"Why?" you might ask. We have lots of youth sports activities. We have youth theater. We have STEM classes. We have dance and art classes in town. Those are all great, but we all know that not every kid gravitates towards sports or academics, and that some kids won't get up on a stage to perform. Marching band teaches kids the same kind of teamwork and positive social skills that they get in all these other activities, with the security of performing in a group, in a setting a bit less intimidating than under a spotlight on a stage. They get exercise and they get to make music. Not only that, but this kind of marching band experience can eventually lead to college scholarships.

Hey, I was in marching bands for 7 years and I more-or-less turned out okay, didn't I?

HBCU style
So here are the details. The new band will be called "N-Town Rhythm" and will teach both corps and HBCU styles of marching (I've done both and the latter is definitely more fun). Once up and running, they'll perform at local festivals, parades and sporting events. Recruiting of students will begin this spring.

In the meantime, the committee is seeking donations of marching band instruments, as well as dedicated volunteers from the community to form N-Town Rhythm's staff. At present, the committee meets the 1st Wednesday of each month. If you've got any marching band experience (preferably collegiate-level and HBCU-style) and you're interested, contact Ernie Hadrick at Ditto if you want to donate an instrument.

When I was in Norristown High, our band rocked. We had maybe a hundred students in the band and band front. We marched at every football game (parading down Astor Street from Eisenhower to Roosevelt and back afterwards). We went to competitions. We went on band exchange trips. Let's give our youth those kinds of experiences again, and give Norristown another youth organization we can brag about.


  1. So why not support the current band director?

  2. Why does the marching band experience have to be HBCU-style? Is N-Town Rhythms not intended to be diverse?

  3. Since this blog was posted months ago, I'm going to answer the above comments in a new blog in the coming week. I will say, Daniel, don't judge until you have all the facts.

  4. Elena, who's judging? I'm asking questions. In the interest of full disclosure, I taught vocal and instrumental music in some of America's most impoverished districts for over 12 years (Edinburg TX, Plainfield NJ, Philadelphia PA).

    First,there are many reasons why high school band numbers diminish over time (and not just in Norristown). First, testing takes an inordinate amount of time in the school year. When I taught elementary band (4th and 5th graders), there were periods of 2-4 weeks at a pop when I did not have the opportunity to teach my students. No teacher no matter how good can succeed to the extent necessary with elementary and middle school instrumental and vocal music education classes without the requisite dedicated time.

    Second, I will heartily agree that the HBCU-style marching bands that I have witnessed--Delaware State, Florida A and M, Grambling among them--put on a visually and musically spectacular show that is the result of hundreds of hours of hard work dedication, and unity of purpose by members, directors, and staff. However, I am convinced by a lifetime of work with and around young people (and as a former student musician) that the best use of the middle school years is building of performance fundamentals. If Norristown as a whole TRULY wishes to grow its instrumental music program, it will start in the homes and families and hearts and souls of those musicians by mastering those music reading and playing fundamentals that will get them--and by extension the instrumental music program in the NASD--to flourish and excel. in the long term.

    Third, when I was a middle schooler, I could barely walk and chew gum at the same time. We had marching band, mostly parades in 6th thru 9th grade--and I will freely admit that our marching was not anywhere near as complex as what is being discussed here. We looked good, we sounded better, but it was more or less understood that we were getting ready for high school band--football halftime shows, local parades, the occasional trip to a band day at one of the colleges, and of course concerts, festivals, solo competitions, and for those of us who were advanced enough, a local youth orchestra. It was a part of performing with that group that we were active participants in our local high school ensembles. I am truly hopeful that that will be the case with N-town Rhythms, and that "east will meet west" here..