Members of the Troy High School marching band perform in a homecoming parade in 2014.

Members of the Troy High School marching band perform in a homecoming parade in 2014.

File photo by Victoria Zegler

Following the beat in high school

Benefits of band abound

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published January 23, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Increased problem solving, better listening, mastery of memorization and enhanced coordination.

All with a built-in family for the four years of high school.

How can students take advantage of a program that gives them all that?

Join the band.

“It keeps kids engaged in school. There are higher graduation rates in high schools where music is offered,” said Brian Nutting, who has been the band director at Troy High School for the past 19 years. “There’s a culture here. There’s a community ... that is a safe haven for students. It’s a four-year family.”

Kelly Schwartz, of Clinton Township, is the mother of a 2018 graduate from Chippewa Valley High School. Spending four years in the band there, she said, taught her daughter teamwork, responsibility and social skills that still serve her in college today.

“If one person doesn’t show up for marching band for a couple days, that actually negatively affects everybody in their section, which is then going to affect the whole band,” she said. “You’ve got to count on your partner to be there. You’re learning how to work with a team, and the benefit you get, too, is the support from your band members.”

Nutting, who has been named the Troy Teacher of the Year, the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association Teacher of the Year and the University Musicality Society Arts Education Teacher of the Year, said that music is soul food that he has seen transform his students.

“There are parents over and over at parent-teacher conferences who will say, ‘Had it not been for the performance opportunities and the social connection.’ ... The leadership opportunities that were provided to the students were transformational,” he said. “Their student, by choice, would have just sat in the back row.

“When they become part of such an organization and they’re provided opportunities to learn and grow and gain confidence, they blossom and grow in ways that amaze parents.”

Band cultivates a culture of respect that shows students that it’s OK to make mistakes and take risks in order to arrive at the right decision, musically, Nutting said. It also provides students with a means for face-to-face self-expression that they might not have otherwise. With long trips together on buses for competitions and events, students get a chance to spend time together socially that they might not have otherwise.

It makes the transition to high school easier for some students, as well.

“Chippewa (Valley High School) is such a huge school. That could be very scary as an eighth-grader going into ninth grade,” Schwartz said. Band camp began before the school year, however, giving her daughter an opportunity to meet hundreds of new people before her first day of high school.

“Already being a part of a large group kind of gave them that security of, ‘I already know all these people; I’m not alone,’” she said.

Music students tend to learn more patience as they practice their instrument, according to Jim Kubinski, the band director at South Lake Middle and High schools in St. Clair Shores.

“The biggest advantage I see these kids having is playing an instrument is not an instant gratification thing. Playing an instrument takes time,” he said.

The students in his class are usually among the top students academically, and the band has often produced the valedictorian and the salutatorian of the graduating class. Plus, he said, students in band often don’t have behavior problems.

“The kids do a pretty good job of keeping themselves in check,” he said. “They’re just good kids, so any issues that happen, they tend to squash it on their own.”

Nutting said that, more and more, colleges are looking for well-rounded students who are not just solely focused on academic achievement.

According to the College Entrance Examination Board, students in music appreciation classes scored 63 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 44 points higher on math than students who didn’t participate in the arts. In addition, the College Board recognizes the arts as one of the six subject areas that students need to thrive in college.

Nutting said that several colleges are looking beyond ACT and SAT scores in choosing their incoming freshmen and have limited the number of letters of recommendation that students can submit. Now, he said, many colleges require one letter to come from an academic teacher and one to come from a nonacademic teacher.

“I think, more and more, we’re valuing the student who is well-rounded, who has nurtured not just the mind, but the spirit and the soul to create a sensitive, thoughtful (person) who appreciates the beauty in life, whether it’s music, art, dance or drama,” he said.

That may be because participating in an artistic group like band seems to bring benefits beyond graduation.

“It’s that family-type bond that is formed. Moving into college, my daughter can cultivate that in others and find people of the like mindset,” Schwartz said.

Kubinski said that band students nearly everywhere share the same qualities.

“You put all those kids together, and they get along,” he said. “It’s kind of funny how that happens, but everybody gets along. Even though we’re all different, we’re all the same.”

Being part of a performance group gives students opportunities for travel and performing that they wouldn’t get elsewhere in high school, Kubinski added.

“One of the biggest things is just the fact that they become lifelong lovers of music,” he said. “Nobody’s getting rich doing it, but they get a really big amount of personal enjoyment. They get to perform.

“They’ve had really cool out-of-classroom opportunities.”

In the course of researching his doctoral thesis, Nutting said that he came across a medical study that showed that when musicians engage in playing music, there are more neurons firing in the brain than during any other activity.

“We don’t value music simply because it may make students smarter, but just because we value art and the effect of art on individuals’ lives,” Nutting said.