by Debbie Laferty Asbill

“My band’s not ready for BOA.”

Band directors sometimes say this to me and to my Music for All colleagues when we talk about their band performing at Bands of America Regional or Grand National Championships. This idea puts the emphasis on the outcome of the competition, whereas Music for All, with our Bands of America and Orchestra America programs, emphasizes the pursuit of performance excellence and the educational experience of participation.

Why compete at all? How do you use competition in your band program?

“For us, competition serves as a barometer on the excellence level of our program,” says Ron Hardin, Director of Bands at Bellevue East High School, Bellevue, Nebraska. “We teach our students to realize their own performance stands alone and is never validated by a win or negated by a loss, rather, competition is a tool to observe what we are doing well and where we can improve our process.”

Hardin says that he competes in Bands of America Championships because the experience is impossible to duplicate at the local level. “To get commentary from the most skilled judges and educators in the country is a huge asset for us,” says Hardin.

“Also, for our students to have the chance to watch the very best bands in the country and observe their level of programming and execution has done so much for the growth of our program.”

Bands of America Fall Championships divide participating bands into four classes based upon school enrollment, grades 10 through 12. The classification system is designed to separate participating bands into recognition groups where the bands in “class” competition with each other have the same size general student population base from which to draw.

The audience and performance environment is a key piece of the Bands of America experience. Parents and fans have their own role to perform, which they undertake with enthusiasm. The atmosphere of good sportsmanship, mutual support and appreciation for all of the performers on the field creates a positively life-changing experience for the students, as well as the parents and supporters. Meeting and engaging with parents and fans from other programs creates opportunities for networking and provides an extended voice in support of music education.

“Bands of America’s judges’ commentary provides educators and students with commentary and meaningful assessment,” says Gary Markham, Music for All’s Senior Educational Consultant and Bands of America Chief Judge. Markham is the Supervisor of Music at the Cobb County School District in the Atlanta area. Cobb County School District is the second largest school system in Georgia and the 26th largest in the United States.

“The assessment band directors get from Bands of America is meaningful because it is much more than simply selecting a winner or placement,” says Markham. “The commentary provides information on how directors and students are doing and what they need to do to improve – each judge has a little different responsibility in this, but all pointing to the same mission.”

“As someone who has brought his band to BOA events for 20 years and has been adjudicating events for several years, I often speak to my colleagues about the value of the experience,” says Joel Denton, Director of Bands at Ooltewah High School, Ooltewah, Tennessee. “For many bands, there is not another experience that can provide the quality of critique for the director and students, the thousands of outstanding fans to cheer on all the bands and a philosophy that challenges us as directors, boosters and band members to think out of the box, to commit to excellence and to applaud everyone as we seek to become the best we can be.

These are truly life-enhancing and life-changing experiences for many, many students.”

“We compete in BOA Championships because it’s a great resource to learn our strengths and weaknesses,” says Tom Case, Director of Bands at Adair County High School in Columbia, Kentucky. “It allows us to set goals and, as a result, contributes in a positive way to self-motivation and discipline. Most importantly, it allows us to continue to keep evaluating and be reflective individuals.”

“For me, it all stems from my general teaching philosophy,” says Case.

“I want my students to be productive members of our global society once they graduate. It does not matter to me if that’s in medicine, law, business, education, etc. Competition is a real life experience, coming ultimately from a desire to succeed.”

Case says he uses competition in his band program because it promotes cooperation, teamwork and individual accountability. “Although it’s nice to win, the main reason for competition is that it motivates us to be the best we can be. That’s all I ever ask for.”

– Debbie Laferty Asbill is Music for All’s Director of Marketing and Communications and a member of the Bands of America Hall of Fame.