Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sincerely, The Band Director's Daughter

And no, my dad didn't tell me to write this.

Anyone remotely connected to band or education has seen all the articles. We've all seen the facebook posts about "What Band Really Is: The Importance of Music Education." "Why AP Music Theory is the Most Difficult of All AP Exams." "Music Makers = Better Test Takers!" And the infamous line that all pregnant women are told in their first parenting class: "Mozart Makes Babies Smarter!" And music is important. We should come to its defense. But we're tired. We've heard from all the band directors. We've heard from all the music teachers. We've heard from principals and administrators and school board members. Shoot, we've even heard from professional instrumentalists and band kids themselves. But there's one role we haven't heard from at all, the one quite possibly most affected and most overlooked by band in its entirety: the band director's family.

So hello! It's nice to meet you. My name is Bethany Harper, though most of you in the band community and Fayetteville, Arkansas know me as "Harper's Kid." I've seen band first hand since the day I was born, and I am going to tell you a story.

I was nine years old on a charter bus in Pasadena, California. The Fayetteville High School Band had just spent the day in Hollywood and was driving to the Santa Monica Pier before going to Universal Studios the next day. We were there so the band could march in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Years Day, and the band kids wanted to watch Family Guy on their short bus ride to the beach. It might have been appropriate for high schoolers, but my dad deemed me too young (as most dads would for their nine-year-old daughter). Then we heard it; the comment from the high schooler we chose to ignore: "It's not our fault Harper brought his daughter on the bus. We shouldn't have to change what we watch."

News flash buddy: I might have been little, but I wasn't deaf. I could hear you. I remember you even today. And the reality of it is: it was your fault Harper had to bring his daughter on the bus. Band trips are one of the only perks she gets as the director's daughter, and it was the only way she would get to ring in the New Year at her father's side.

Because here's what band is from the eyes of a band director's daughter. Here's what you don't see.

My dad spends two nights a week (at least) away from home, preparing you for a competition or concert that you probably won't practice for. We spend holidays on charter buses and marching parades with you rather than at home with our extended family. Our dinner conversations aren't about our day; they're about you, and how he worries about your future. My knowledge about football was gained from spending every Friday night watching him work rather than enjoying it as a family, and my knowledge about the stupidity of high schoolers was learned at age seven by watching you disobey him. If I acted the way you do towards him, the wooden spoon would be the least of my worries. The truth is, he spends more time with you than he does with me, and when he is at home, he's grading your papers and responding to your emails. Because that's the life of a teacher: it's a life of pure sacrifice. He watched his only child grow up in the old high school band room rather than in his own backyard because he was always there for you. The least you can do is turn off a TV show that he deems inappropriate.

Let's prove a point here.

Here's me sitting front row performing at Carnegie Hall under my dad's direction. Cool huh?
Here's a crappy quality photo of me in a band uniform next to my dad at the Veteran's concert.

That's what people think being a band director's kid is like.

Here's what it's really like:
Yeah, that's me devouring mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving with my mom. My dad wasn't there. He was with the high school band leading them in a parade at Walt Disney World. Prior to this day, he was forced to miss two father/daughter dances at cotillion for all state clinics, a couple more holidays for celebratory parades, and even judged at all region auditions while I was in the hospital over Christmas break. And I'm not upset about it. You shouldn't be either. I'm proud of how much he cares for his students. I just wish they'd be more thankful.

Band director's kids are a lot of things, but here's what we're not:

We're not automatically future band directors. Yes, I was a band kid under the direction of dad and no, it wasn't weird. It was all I'd ever known. But it wasn't a life I wanted to create for myself. If anything, I tried to create a life far from it because I've seen how hard it is. I will never forget a total stranger asking me if I was trying out for All-State. "No... Why?" "I dunno. Cause you're Harper's kid." Harper's kid has a name. Harper's kid is Bethany: a theatre loving, Disney quoting, child adoring, future elementary teacher. She writes to vent about the high school world she was labeled in, and she reads to escape from it. Bethany is so much more than "Harper's kid." She didn't just learn music from him, she learned to hold a spoon from him. She was potty trained by him. She learned how to impersonate celebrities and quote movies because of him. Band director's daughters are not always future musicians, but we're always daughters. We are separate people with separate talents for separate God-given purposes. We are not to be defined by our father's job. We are who we make ourselves.

We're not your messenger. "Hey Bethany, can you tell your dad I won't be in class today? I have a field trip." "Hey Bethany, can you give my trip money to your dad? I forgot." "Hey Bethany, you should drop a hint for next year's trip! I know you know what it is." Are your vocal chords broken? If you want to know, ask him. Because when we're at home, we don't talk about you. We watch movies. We go out to eat. We're not a band director and his daughter. We're Bethany and Bethany's dad.

We have a separate email. Why is this important? Because our school district sets up school emails for each person in the district. My dad's email was barry.harper@example.com. Mine was b.harper@example.com. You can imagine where this is going. I was in keyboarding class minding my own business when I received a colorful email from an angry parent proceeding to tell me everything I was doing wrong with the band, and how I had shorted her son of his potential and skill. I was in jr. high, forced to read a parent's opinion on my dad's imperfections. My perception of him wasn't changed. My perception of band parents was changed forever. I emailed back, Hi you've reached Bethany, Mr. Harper's 12-year-old daughter. I attached his email address to the bottom of this message. Feel free to take this up with him. I hope you have a nice day. My dad never heard from that parent again. Funny how that works...

We're no more special than you are. We make first band because we practiced and you didn't, not because we're the director's kid. We get A's on our music tests because we learned about music since birth, not because daddy gave us an undeserved A. And no, we don't get to pick the trips we go on, and no, director's families don't travel for free. They pay what you pay, and you travel where you get accepted to perform, not where the director's daughter wanted to go. And it's a shame you blame me when you didn't get the trip you wanted, when you should be thankful you have a director willing to sacrifice his time and effort to take you on a trip at all. A lot of directors don't.

So we've thoroughly covered what band director's kids aren't. The question now becomes what band director's kids are. 

Band director's kids are often the most selfless type of kid. Because we grew up on charter buses. We attended concerts that weren't ours. Half of our vacations weren't completely enjoyed because our parent was working. We've been dragged to football games when we'd rather be doing anything else, performances when we had too much homework due the next day, and to the high school at random parts of the day so dad could lock up, or let someone in for a lesson, or meet a truck driver to pick up equipment. We were raised on quick dinners and arts based approaches to homework help. We played in the band room rather than our living room. We colored in the band office rather than our desk at home. We are some of the least entitled, least needy, least high-maintenance kids because we have sacrificed since day one.

Band director's kids are intelligent, and not just smart. Yes, we have all that music-makes-better-tests-scores knowledge, but we also have seen first hand how band shapes aimlessly wandering high schoolers into social and mature adults. We have seen it teach how to use common sense. We have seen it teach perseverance through practice and teamwork through performance. Band kids handle criticism better because they were raised on the benefits of it. They are always looking for new ways to improve so they not only prove themselves to parents and peers, but also to the world. Recovery. Determination. The ability to improvise in the midst of a crisis. Band kids have it all. And so do band directors' children. Because it wasn't just knowledge we learned in band, it was knowledge we were raised on.

Band director's kids are their own person. I touched on this earlier, but it's important so I'll say it again. No, I'm not trying out for All-State. No, I'm not going to be a band director when I graduate. No, I don't play my instruments anymore, and no, I don't regret that. I'm doing my own thing, and I'm loving it. I have kept my ties to the band world by competing with an open class winter guard and instructing a high school guard of my own, but outside the band world, I am studying to be a teacher. I live the glamorous life of a daycare worker. My emphasis is in English and Literacy because I love to read and write. I am a preschool intern. I am a blogger. I am a theatre enthusiast and a Pinterest addict. I speak fluent Disney. I'm in love with New York City and if I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, I'd put down the french fries faster than you could clap your hands.

So next time you meet a band director's daughter and she says, "Hi, I'm Bethany," do her a favor and don't respond with, "Oh yeah! Harper's kid!"

Respond with, "Hi Bethany, it's nice to meet you," because she's just a normal person. Continue the conversation by asking for her interests, or her passions, or her fandoms. But for the love of God, don't resort to band because you instantly have something to tell Mr. Harper. You aren't talking to Mr. Harper. You're talking to her. And she's not next in line to major in music, or make All-State, or take over her dad's position when he retires. She's just Bethany. She loves kids. She eats too much. She laughs when she's happy and cries when she's sad. She might also be a band director's kid and a top crusader for performing arts education, but that's just one aspect of her identity. The truth is, she's just a girl, and that's all she wants to be.

So what is band to me? Band is what you make of it. To you, it might just be music class. It might be team building. It might be where you travel to new places and hang out with friends. It might be an opportunity for your kids and a lot of money from you. I get that. But to me, it's something else entirely. It's sacrifice. It's hard work. It's a label and an identity. It's not just my dad's job, it's his life. And it goes overlooked and is made fun of every single day. I don't want your opinion of what my dad or the school system is doing wrong in the area of music education. Honestly, I don't really care. I don't want your support or your funds (though if you want to send a donation, I bet my dad would take it!). I want your appreciation. I want your gratitude. Because band is worth it.

That's what band really is. Worth it.


The Band Director's Daughter