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.

Sincerely,

The Band Director's Daughter

34 comments:

  1. Awesome writing!

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    1. Oh can I relate as well. I am now a 62 year old woman, happily married for 37 years...and I grew up the daughter of a basketball coach, who also taught History and Physical Education. Had him those classes, as well as played basketball under his coaching for a short while...my brother was the athlete. I can so relate....and at the same time grew up admiring him so much just as you did your dad. I grew up on school buses sitting with my dad and mother up front right behind the driver, while the high schoolers had fun behind us doing what they do. All of those things you mentioned I have experienced...only just not in music...which I might add I became a professional singer and toured Europe with the famous Boxcar Willie, and did many recordings for Wayne Carson, and several recordings in Nashville. Dad and Mom were always my biggest fans. You and I were so very lucky. Loved the read. You have a gift.

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    2. Hi Jolene! Yes, you and I are very very lucky to have had such amazing, talented, and supportive parents. Thanks for sharing your story, as well!

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  2. Thank you Bethany from a band person who sat on the bus with the cheerleaders because her section watched Monty Python movies that she detests, and will still tout "Doc" who now runs a brewery instead of a band, and loved every moment she worked with him, but now as a "non-music" teacher herself greatly appreciates the sacrifices he and his family members made every year. Thank you Bethany from a member of the band. Know your dad made an impact on many lives, even though I never knew him, and those who he impacted most probably fondly remember you as well. Good luck with your teaching.

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    1. Thank you so much! I am so glad you were able to relate. Band is most certainly impactful, and I want to thank you for being so appreciative of music and non-music teachers alike. Thanks so much for reading.

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  3. Oh Bethany, it's crazy how much I relate to this only both of my parents are band directors. My name is Kaede Wilson or better known to ever band director, assistant band director, and every counselor at every band camp in the state of Arkansas as a Gordey kid.. Yes I'm one of you as well, and sister the struggle is real! I have so many wonderful memories of family vacations + 200 other kids, but that's just what we did.. It was funny that we actually went on a family vacation (just my family) when I was 19 and it was so weird that my parents actually got to hang out with us and ride rides and not have to carry a 1st aid kid and a clipboard.. Thank you so much for sharing this! From a kindred spirit, nice to meet you Bethany, (not Barry's kid) from Kaede (not Greg and Sotonyas kid)

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  4. Hi Kaede! I'm so happy you were able to relate so much to this post. Turns out there are a lot more like us! Thanks so much for reading.

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  5. This is absolutely wonderful!!!!! I'm Kimberly aka Mr. Bell's daughter - who grew up to be a 6th grade English teacher even though I fought off teaching for a long time because I saw how hard and thankless it was (my mom was an elementary music teacher) but teaching was just in my blood. I grew up before email but I was told to my face how horrible my father was by a parent who didn't know who I was while we were out fundraising for a band trip. Mind you, I was out on a Saturday going door to door in my band uniform asking for donations not only because I wanted my entire band to be able to go on the trip but also because I had to. And yes I made first chair because I practiced!!! I gave up my Sunday afternoons to drive 90 miles for horn lessons and you didn't. I could go on and on but you've already said it perfectly. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Kimberly! I'm so happy you were able to relate. There are several more like us! Thanks so much for all your family's sacrifice, and tell your dad we are so thankful for his impact!

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  6. Thanks for sharing this! My two year old won't be my student, but it's nice to have the hope that maybe she won't resent me too much for the things I may miss and the extra events she'll have to attend.

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    1. Of course, Amy! No, I doubt she'll resent you. Most teacher's kiddos who have responded to this are really quite proud of how much their parents care for their students! Thanks so much for all that you do.

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  7. Preach girl! Only insert.... band director is my mom and School System Administrator is my dad!

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    1. So happy you understand where I'm coming from!! Tell your family we appreciate all they do!

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  8. Oh Bethany, you tear up a pregnant band director! (Though to be fair most things do). My husband and I are THE band directors in town. He's the high school director, I'm his assistant, I'm the middle school director and he's my assistant. I'm pregnant with our first child. I can only hope that our child who will have us together in class for years can be as happy and well adjusted as you. I fear some things may be even worse though since we will be there starting in 5th grade as teacher, but then again maybe I can train the middle school students out of saying and doing some of those things before high school, who knows. In any case our child will have to be at EVERY band event in order to be with either parent. Luckily we aren't a competive marching band and only go on a trip every four years. That means only one evening rehearsal per week and no weekends during marching season! It's possible that can change in the next 18 years, though. This gives me fears and hopes and ideas of what to try and prevent. Right now it's so adorable to have sixth grade students come into class and say hello to me then lean down and say hello to "Baby Bopp." This kid will have sooo much love from them as they grow up with our baby at all of their events! Thanks for this, I'm pinning it (fellow Pinteret addict) to re-read as our child grows!

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    1. Hi Sarah! First off, congrats on your pregnancy! I'm sure your child will grow to love and appreciate you even more than you think. I'm so glad this post is reaching so many parents and directors. The band director kiddos are relating a lot, and parents seem to be so impacted. Here's to your future 18 years of being a band director momma! Thank you and your husband for all that you do. Music education is SO important!

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  9. This deserves a standing ovation!!

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  10. Bethany, I greatly appreciate your article. I have seen this for years! I have 2 sons who were four years apart in age. When our oldest son started band in middle school, we as his parents were very involved. Being both of us and 2 of his grandparents were all school bus drivers we were always driving the band to football games, competitions etc. you name it, we went. I was also a substitute teacher, so when any of the directors needed a sub, they called me. As years went on we were band booster officers and then booster presidents. At our school we also ran the concession stands at all ball games. Lining up workers and chaperones was our tasks, but we loved it. When son #2 joined middle school band, we were already at the high school, so for 3 years we did double bands! To shorten this story, we followed one college band 5 years then the next son also majored in music then 5 more years of college band. Now, both our daughter-in-laws were in the band. As of today both our sons are band directors in the same school system and all 5 of our grandsons are directors kids! And now dad and I are still following our sons bands with their sons. We'll be band parents and grandparents the rest of our lives. Band has been a family affair for us @ 25 years and hopefully more to come. Our sons are strong individuals in their communities and church. It has been a way of life for us all. It has been good for the whole family So, Bethany, we understand where you're coming from! Thank you for article.

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    1. Joycelyn, thank you so much! I love hearing all these stories from around the world. Be sure to tell the teachers in your family that I said thanks for all that they do. We have a big impact on the world!!

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  11. I am Mr. Neely's wife of 25 years, this coming August. I have two girls, 16 and 23. You totally nailed it. We were just talking today about how only when we eat out of town do we get to eat a hot meal. After teaching 30 years in the same county, it seems everyone has been my husband's student, or a student's parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, aunt/uncle or neighbor. Each and everyone must speak to us, but we don't mind. I'm actually quite proud of my husband's legacy and the lives he has touched. It's like being married to a local rock star in a way. And as a band wife, it's nice how the entire county is a constant chaperone. Our kids can't get by with anything super heinous - everyone recognizes them!

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    1. Hi Susan! It definitely can feel like being royalty sometimes! Everyone in town knows you, for sure. I'm so glad you were able to relate... Tell your husband we are so thankful for all he does!

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  12. Bethany- thank you for this. I'm the director at my school and my son is in 6th grade at my feeder. I cannot wait for him to read this and for my band kids to read it before he gets up here. You are an excellent writer and I wish you the best in your career! Michael Oubre, Jasper, GA

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    1. Hi Michael, thank you so much! Tell your son I said hello, and can definitely relate to the life of a band kiddo! Thanks so much for all that you do. I truly believe music is one of the most important aspects of education and its overlooked every single day!

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  13. What a great article! I'm an active musician (accompanist and church organist), so my daughter followed me from rehearsal to performance to rehearsal to rehearsal....well, you probably get my drift. Everyone wondered if she was also going to be a pianist. I never forced the issue because I didn't want her to hate music. As it turned out, her artistic talents went another direction and I'm very proud of what she accomplished in other fields.

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    1. Absolutely!! Any advice I can give to readers is to NOT force your kids to follow your footsteps. They turn out appreciating it more and surprising you most with how they use their artistic heritage! Tell your daughter I said hello, and that I'm definitely in her corner. Thank you, thank you for sharing your music with the world!

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  14. Hi! I enjoyed reading what you wrote and could relate to a lot of it. I'm a band director's daughter who also became an English teacher. And I also rarely (though still occasionally!) play my French horn...which, while I enjoyed playing it for years and even played it in college, I started playing because my dad had no French horn players in his band! XD

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    1. Hi Ashley! I got your personal information moved. I'm so happy you were able to relate!

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  15. Hi I just want to say I can relate because me and my sisters are the daughters of a band director too. I agree with you.

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    1. Hi Kara, thanks for reading! Crazy world, isn't it?? So happy you were able to relate. You certainly aren't alone! Tell your family I am so thankful for all they do. Music education needs a strong presence in schools, and it needs strong educators to present it well!

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  16. Hi Bethany,

    Beautiful, insightful blog! I had tears in my eyes. I do want you to know that I, personally, am very thankful for all your father has done. I am 39, but still feel the impact of his sacrifices, effort, and work he put into us. He was one of the first people who recognized and genuinely believed in me when I was an awkward, shy kid and that has shaped who I am today. I am pretty sure that most of his students feel the same. Your father is a special person. Thank you so much for sharing him :) I saw that you are looking to be a teacher. Think of the impact you will make! Eveyone remembers their teachers forever!

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    1. Hi there! Thanks so much for reading! I'm so glad you were so positively impacted by him as one of his students. I'm so glad I am able to share him with so many who love and appreciate him as well. You are correct, I am studying to be a teacher and can't wait to work and plan for my own special group of kiddos each year. Here's to the teachers!

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  17. Well thank you for turning into a lovely young lady while your father spent his time with us band kids. Your dad is a truly awesome guy and he made band so much fun everyday. I have the best memories from that old band room and from Hollywood, what a great trip that was! Thanks again for sharing him and congrats for becoming a teacher, you'll be a positive impact on your kids just like your father was to so many! 😁

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  18. Thank you so much. I truly enjoy teaching more than I ever thought I would... Even more than I enjoy writing! I'm so glad to hear that you're so thankful for the experiences you made in band. Thanks to the responses on this article, I even switched my emphasis to Arts Integration because I saw how many people were positively influenced by the arts. Thanks for reading and dropping off a comment!

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