Well, chances are, you may or may not want to be an actual “band parent” but maybe your child is interested. There are a number of routes to getting here. If you’ve played in a marching band while you were growing up, you’ll probably already know much of what I’m talking about and this is probably not meant for you. But if your child comes home clutching an application to join the band and you don’t really know what you’re in for, I want to share some of my experience over the past three years to encourage you to say, “Yes, absolutely you can join!”
A little background: I’ve always been musical, but I’ve never played in a marching band myself, so almost everything I came across was new. Everyone who knows the Calgary Stampede knows of the Calgary Stampede Showband, but I wasn’t sure of the relationship of the two or how Calgary Round Up Band or Stetson Showband fit into the mix. I knew they were in the parade each year, and they popped up all over the place during Stampede. I also know that musically, they’re pretty good performers and you have to be talented to play with them. Beyond that, I filled in a lot of the detail with supposition.
Going to the parent orientation meeting helped me and if you have a child remotely interested in band, attend one if you can. A couple meetings have just wrapped up, but ask the bands if you’re interested, there will probably be more over the summer. You’re going to hear glorious stories about how wonderful of an experience it is for the students, you might not hear how great it feels to be a Band Parent, too.
Participating with a marching band is not (and should not) be for everyone. It takes a lot of time and effort from your child and if they lose their desire to be part of it, it’s completely fine to say, “That’s okay, let’s find something else that is for you.“ As a parent, please understand you’ll probably see the most apprehension over the first three months. If it’s totally not for them, you’ll both recognize it quickly. However, by the time you get to about Christmas the butterflies start settling out, you all start understanding the rhythm and flow around you, and it becomes more enjoyable and the waffling tends to go away. In our case, I knew my son loved it once he started talking about what it would take to audition for Showband. There has been no looking back, and I’m grateful he stuck through the early apprehension.
Practising at home
Part of commitment is the desire to become good at what you play. My musical career ended when practice became unenjoyable rather than just playing what I loved. I never have to tell my son to practise. Usually I’ll hum along and he’ll correct me when I get a part wrong. Or he’ll stick a melody in my head and catch me whistling one of his songs while I’m washing dishes. Playing his instrument is fun - it is play! The people who go are interested in bands will find it within themselves to practise. The rest of the band rallies to help everyone around them get better. Let that encouragement come from the band, all you need as a band parent is a little patience and willingness to let them play the songs in their heart. The squawks and screeches you loathe vanish quickly when they love what they’re playing.
Flutes are pretty easy on the ears played at home. The brass instruments can use mutes to keep it bearable in the house. I feel a little for drumline parents who don’t like constant drumming. Personally, when I rode the bus with the drumline, I slipped into the groove and bopped along all the way home. It can be comforting having a steady rhythm tapped out around you. Find enjoyment in your son or daughter’s practise. Which leads to:
In my case, my son had to carry his instrument up a steep hill every day so he chose something light. Smart kid. There is an instrument and role for every child - leave it up to them as much as possible to choose what they like. It leads to better commitment and makes the practising easier. Choosing an instrument might happen in school, long before you have any input. That’s a good thing! Let your kid find something that works for them.
Rent your instrument through the school program, at least to start with. Give your child the flexibility (and the safety) to change instruments as their interests change – or even grows! Multi-instrumentalists are fantastic musicians, but there’s no way you can afford to buy everything up front. When they settle on a favourite, buy one if you can. There are some great beginner’s instruments available. Don’t settle on the cheapest either, they’re going to have to sound good out there. In our case, we got a beginner’s flute and we’re currently saving for an upgraded model. It’s been a bargain for the amount of time he’s got on it.
And most importantly, I’ve heard of a band member deciding to stop playing an instrument and join the Colour Guard. You do not need to be a musician to be part of a marching band, Colour Guard is an essential role, too. The work put into choreographing the Guard got my attention early - they work every bit as hard as the musicians into honing their craft. The visual effect during a parade or a field show makes the difference between a good band and a great one. My stereotype was crushed early: Colour Guard is not for girls in goofy outfits. They carry replica guns for good reason! Boys in Colour Guard can massively increase the range of things Colour Guard can do. If your son is interested, encourage him to try it!
As an aside, this post is very much inspired watching the Stampede Showband’s Colour Guard come off the field beaming triumphantly after a performance, then I saw them go through 30 seconds of recovery realizing they spent every ounce of energy they had, then forming up and proudly leading the band to their muster area. I will never think of Colour Guard as anything but gifted, graceful, talented, and elite endurance athletes. Which leads me to:
I have always believed that everyone needs to do one sport passionately throughout their entire life. Sometimes the sport will change, sometimes you’ll do more than one or play sports seasonally, but one’s physical and mental well-being requires a sport. If you’re concerned about raising a console crazed couch potato because they’re not interested in sports - encourage them to join a band. To paraphrase Matt Dunigan, “Nothing goes together better than marching bands and football!”
Marching band fully qualifies as a life sport. Those kids are working hard, not only exercising chest and lungs but also stepping in time, sliding to one side or walking backwards - all at the same time! They don’t just walk a parade, they are walking a parade blowing full tilt into a tuba! When’s the last time you walked a couple miles? How about doing it at a set pace, carrying something heavy, while modulating your breathing and embouchure? (Your embouchure is basically using your face muscles to provide a good sound.) They are all athletes.
I touched on it a bit when I talked about practice, but much of what I’ve observed is the band improving by supporting other band members and a growth of the people within it. If I told you that in just three years your 12 year old kid will turn from awkward and apprehensive to a solid, upright person who is proud of who they are and confident in their skills would you be shocked and amazed or clamouring to sign up? All adolescents are going to grow leaps and bounds over those years, but kids in Round Up are light years ahead of the average kid. Having been around Round Up these past three years makes me proud of each and every one of them. They are well behaved, polite and decent people - it is my honour to know those people.
Okay, you’re child’s interested, you’re convinced it’s a good idea to give it a shot. What are the practical things to know?
Calgary Round Up is for students Grades 7 through 9 and Stetson Showband takes students Grade 10 through 12. Both bands will accept any student, and you can (and should!) join even if your child missed the first year of eligibility. Stampede Showband requires auditions, and I see a lot of interest in wanting to eventually play with them. Round Up and Stetsons each have great pages on joining the band and I’ll send you there to answer your questions. The instructors are mostly people who have been through the program and are professional and top rank musicians. This is a Grade A, top class organization from instructors to support staff to parent volunteers. In my experience, the board is always thinking about what’s best for the band families.
Fees this year are $850 for both bands. On top of that you’ll be paying for tour and some incidentals like show tickets. Tour varies each and every year - my recollection is Round Up tours have cost $1200 - $1500 depending on the year. They have optional fundraisers to help defer tour costs, they have been high quality fundraisers and I usually buy plenty of burgers, Spolumbo’s sausage and steaks to help me get through performance season. The fundraisers helped me out on several levels.
Call it around $2500 that I spent last year on band. I’m not wealthy by any stretch, so that’s a significant cost to me, however the outright value behind that has been immeasurable. Not only has it been a weekly (and towards Stampede, daily!) activity, but it’s been a fantastic way to plug kids into events in and around Calgary. Parent’s don’t go on tour as a rule, but the kids have gone to fantastic summer adventures where they become better musicians and fantastic people. I think most band parents will tell you they get extraordinary value for what band costs.
Time-wise you’ll have to get back and forth to practice every week. Thursday for Round Up, Wednesdays for Stetsons. The bands try to keep it as central as possible for parents across the city and you will learn the venues very quickly. Most months they will hold a band camp over a weekend. Band camps are often centrally located, but treat them all as special, weekend-long events you could potentially chaperone (more on that soon!) You will also need to set aside time to work 7-10 Bingo’s, possibly a casino, and one day during Stampede to help with Kinsmen lotteries. If you have a flexible schedule, it’s easier to pick up Bingo’s on short notice. I try to book about half my bingos early on, and half later in the year on weekends or evenings (if possible). It has always worked out, so far. Extended family helps a lot (and I thank them for the help!), but if you’re like me, you’ll find all of the Round Up community becomes an extended family in it’s own right.
The performances are incredible. Yes, there’s the Calgary Stampede, but there are also parades in several towns around Calgary that are also fun and fabulous. There is an annual Christmas concert at the Jubilee. There are several “Field Show” competitions in and around Calgary where the bands put on a themed performance. They’re a joy, and bands compete against each other - usually as a way to test their own progression. You’ll regularly see six or seven really great bands playing one after another. You’re going to want to attend as many as you can to watch the band play.
It all takes volunteer time and effort to put the whole thing together. You can offer as much of your time as a volunteer or chaperone as you wish. I really enjoy being around the band and love being a parent chaperone on weekend band camps and as many performances as I can hit. “Hell Week” occurs just before the band puts together their final performances, and the kids work incredibly hard to polish their show and make it as wonderful as possible. The final opportunity of the year is to chaperone on tour. I haven’t made it yet, but I know a bit about how much work and fun those tours are by the photos and the stories. Show your kid how proud you are, go volunteer and make it possible for them to be part of a magnificent band.
My son is moving up from Round Up to Stetsons this year. Ultimately, this is a thank you letter to everyone involved with the Calgary Round Up Band for the incredible program they’ve put together. I sincerely hope that I can encourage other parents to let their kids enroll and be part of something historic in Calgary, current in song and style, and one of the best things imaginable for your child’s future.
Let them try it. It’ll be magically for them and you.
Join the band.