The Point

In Music Education, we tend to award large trophies.  It has become a system that feeds on itself. Universities and music festivals started buying larger and larger trophies. Music teachers wanted them. Kids wanted them.  Festivals need to attract bands to survive.  Soon all of the trophies had to be huge. Most marching band trophies are larger than the NBA Championship trophy.

Back in my early teaching days, I attended a session where the band directors in the state discussed changing marching band contests from a placement format to a standards-based format. In other words, there wouldn’t be a first, second and third place team in each division; rather, bands would be assessed as to whether they met standard criteria. Band would get a Division I, Division II or Division III for their performance.

During the discussion, one director from a prominent high school said, “I’ve been watching, and I’ve been looking at the big trophy case in our hallway. I notice that the kids never look at the trophy case when they walk past it, but I do…” The pause was a powerful one.

At that point, one of the smaller colleges in the state announced their competition would be using the criteria format. While the group commended the college for doing this, I don’t know of anyone who changed their schedule to include this small college’s competition.

I know I didn’t.

I once asked a class, “What if a student plays clarinet in 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade and quits? What has she gained from that?” One student answered, “Nothing.” Everybody in the class gasped, but I praised him. He was honest, and the fact is that nearly everyone in the class would have no real answer at the time. It was my job to teach them that answer. That’s what’s fun about being a professor.

Today’s video comes from P.S. 22. The video site they use now is As you can see, this is a low-budget production, including the free web space from Blogspot. It takes a guitar (or keyboard) and a bunch of kids willing to sing. I’m not sure how the YouTube channel went viral, but I’m glad it did. People wait for the next video to hit the page. Important civic and music groups have brought P.S. 22 to perform at their functions. I haven’t heard anyone call this a mis-education of children. Still, it looks like nothing else in music education.

The teacher takes great pains to make sure the content of the songs remains positive, even if that means adjusting the song’s lyrics, form or character. It works. The kids learn. They learn to love music and use it to positively express themselves. There were no giant trophies involved, although famous musicians and movie stars come by for visits. The video quality has improved, and there are lots of pictures of famous people saying nice things about them on their site.

They have trophies now. Like Grammy awards. Grammy awards aren’t giant trophies, though. Any marching band taking 2nd place at a regional competition has won a much bigger trophy. What’s most important here is that the trophies weren’t the point. They just came after the music education focus started this whole thing.

Are the trophies that important? At some point, you need to assess yourself and not just the students. Why are you doing this? Why are you working so hard? What is your point?

My youngest daughter was frustrated that her older siblings had trophies and she did not. We asked her why she wanted a trophy and how she planned to get one. She thought they looked cool and had no plans to earn a trophy. We bought her a trophy that simply read, “KATRINA!”

She was happy. She’s the best in the world at being herself.

Were that we all felt that way about things.


About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.
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