Monday, June 1, 2015

N-Town Rhythm--Making Music Fun for Our Kids

HBCU or show style marching band 
Back on February 5th, I posted a Diary Entry entitled "N-Town Rhythm - Coming Soon." A couple weeks ago, when I was busy working the election and preparing for Fourth Friday, a Mr. Daniel De Kok (who is a music educator) posted some questions under that entry. I didn't have time to answer that week, and moreover, since it was an old blog and I didn't think anyone would go back to read the comments, I decided to post answers in a new entry.

To jog everyone's memory or inform those of you who haven't heard, a group has been meeting for at least a year now, with the goal of starting a community marching band for middle school students. I didn't make it clear in the last entry (I apologize), but the main reason to do this is to help spark interest in music and band and band front in our middle school students so that when they reach high school, they'll join the NAHS Marching Eagles.

This is NOT to replace the middle school program, but to help support it in many different ways. As probably everyone knows, funding has been cut to public school music programs, which means staff and rehearsal time is limited. N-Town Rhythm would help get instruments into the hands of kids who want to play, give them an opportunity to play outside school and extend the activity through the summer months. When I was a student, NASD gave me all these opportunities (and I became a music teacher, thanks to them), but these days, it's a struggle for our district's music teachers just to keep the band together, through no fault of their own.

The 1st question Mr. De Kok asked was "So why not support the current band director?"

Military style band 
I'm not sure if he means the middle school directors or the high school director. As N-Town Rhythm was forming, the committee (of which I was a member) had meetings with two of Norristown's music directors: Mrs. Laskey and Mrs. Blum. These two have, in my mind, possibly worked harder than anyone else to keep the marching band going in the district. They both expressed enthusiasm for the N-Town Rhythm project and thought it might help eventually increase the size of the high school marching band. They freely offered good advice. So no assumption should be made that N-Town Rhythm doesn't support the music directors. It was developed with their help.

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

The word diversity is usually used when talking about race so when I read this, that was my first thought. This would be like suggesting that white musicians shouldn't play jazz and black musicians shouldn't perform Italian opera and no one but Latinos should do Salsa dancing. But probably I was wrong and the question has nothing to do with race--only the diversity of marching styles.

Let me explain those styles to anyone who hasn't been in a band.

Corps style band 
There are 3 marching band styles -- military, corps and show (which is also called HBCU). Military style is regimented--straight lines, and every step should cover the same amount of distance. Stiff legs when marching, raising feet 2 to 4 inches when marking time.

Corps style is more relaxed--you walk rather than march, rolling on the outside of your foot so it seems like more of a glide. When you mark time, you don't usually lift your toes off the ground. You form arcs and other shapes.

Show (HBCU style) uses high steps, fancy turns and dance moves. Visually, the show style has more energy. It's favored by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, hence the name, but also by a lot of other colleges and high schools.

When I was in Norristown High, I learned show style with a little military style mixed in from the best band director I ever studied under, Brent Hentzel. At West Chester U., I learned corps style. Of the three, show style is the most fun and, even though it takes a  lot of effort, it doesn't feel as much like work as the other styles.

If I were teaching a middle school marching band (or even high school), I'd definitely use show style. The other two are too formal and not entertaining or energetic enough for that age group. I think the kids will get more a boost to their self-esteem from show style. They need to associate marching band with fun or you're not going to get students wanting to continue in the high school band.

Mr. De Kok wrote another comment that was so long, I can't reproduce it word-for word here (go to the link above to read the whole thing under Comments), but I wanted to address some of his thoughts.

He says "...the best use of the middle school years is building of performance fundamentals..." and "...when I was a middle schooler, I could barely walk and chew gum at the same time..." I think he's basically saying that he doesn't believe our middle-schoolers are capable of anything more than possibly walking onto a field, playing a few tunes and walking off.
Easton Area Middle School Band doing Show Style 
I taught middle school music and chorus at Stewart, taught folk dancing to Girl Scouts that age and younger, and I've worked with middle school and younger kids in theater. What I've learned is that if the students really want to be there, you can ask them to go way beyond their comfort zone. They'll surprise you. Once when my middle-school chorus was singing in an assembly and the accompaniment suddenly stopped, I had them continue a capella. They weren't expecting it, had never done it before, but they opened their mouths, sang in 2 parts, stayed in tune and sounded musical (as opposed to scared). And they walked around like proud peacocks the rest of the day because they knew they were good. I've also seen kids that age dance beautifully. You might not persuade them to solo, but they'll do it if their friends do.

I should add that when I was at Rittenhouse (when it was a junior high), we also had a marching band. We sort of marched onto the field, formed an "R", played our alma mater, formed an "S" (for Stewart, our sworn rivals--it was the only game we performed at), then played their alma mater. That was it. Boring. I might not have joined the high school band if that was all I expected, but I'd seen my brother in the high school band, doing show style at halftime shows, and I couldn't wait to get there because it looked like fun.

The director of N-Town Rhythm leaned show style at her university so that will be her primary focus, but she's also said she wants to mix styles so the students learn a little of all of them.

Honestly, even if all N-Town Rhythm accomplishes is to walk onto a field, play a few tunes and walk off, IF they do it in an entertaining style that will make their parents smile and make the kids feel good about themselves, I think you're going to find more kids sticking with band into high school and more of their parents showing up to be band boosters.

Instruments have been donated to N-Town Rhythm, but they still need volunteers. If you'd like to help, or you want to find out how to get your student involved, email Ernest Hadrick at or Jocelyn Hadrick at


  1. I stand by my original statement. Cherry-picking phrases out of their original context and drawing off-base conclusions isn't responsible writing. To accuse me of belittling Norristown's children is simply wrong. Make certain you read my ENTIRE comment, not just a few fragments.

  2. The article in the May 6 issue of the Times-Herald (print version) stated that for the adult volunteers, HBCU-style marching experience was preferred. For some reason, that section of the article was edited in the online version. Apparently I did not make myself clear in my question regarding diversity, and I am sorry.