by Jason Duckett, President, Florida Bandmasters Association

I won’t read this article when it comes out.

That’s not because I am too busy with band camp.  Or percussion camp. Or guard camp. Or leadership camp. Or whatever camp you think they need to be better.  Instead, I will be somewhere in Europe…. again.  I might be hiking in the Swiss Alps, shopping for Christmas ornaments in some tiny German village, or relaxing with a pint inside a pub during a cool Irish rain shower.  June isn’t about band for me…. it’s about my own balance and blend- I’m improving my own performance fundamentals one blissful non band day at a time!

I love being a band director. I am certainly not the best one in this state, but I am pretty good at it.  This fall will start year 27 of my teaching career.  I don’t know it all but I do know this:  You MUST find time, no, MAKE time for you! That cell phone battery will fade out, especially if you have too many apps running.  You will too.  Turn off the director app a while and charge the battery that is your soul.  Balance and blend are essential to a quality band sound.  Balance and blend your time on the podium with some absolutely non-musical things AWAY from the school.  If your diet is simply bandbandbandbandband….. you’ll get sick! 

Tell me if this is sounds familiar.  You have band camp set for 2 or 3 weeks before school starts.  You have a lot of kids there, but 5 or 10 are out of town and will miss camp completely… she has to leave after 3 days for a family reunion…. He can’t come until Wednesday maybe… that girl was here the first day but isn’t here now and won’t pick up the phone.  That drill you overpaid for has to be rewritten because you’ve lost kids.  The momentum on day one is struggling by day 6.  You’ve got half the show on the field though by day 10.  Success! Except…. You have to teach the thing again once school starts anyway to accommodate all of those out of towners and the rewritten drill you overpaid for now has everyone in slightly different spots.

But what are you supposed to do… NOT have summer band camp? That’s crazy!  Well…. I’m crazy then because I have NO summer band camp at all.  NONE!  I wait until the first weekend of school.  Everyone is back in town.  Those 2 kids that moved in now can actually have a spot on day one (probably they will get the spot of the 2 kids that promised they would stay with you in band but then got a job or made the club lacrosse team).  Those rising 9th graders I met in May BEFORE school got out.  They had some marching basics training and one on one time with those new super motivated leaders in my program.  They have a complete fall practice schedule in their hands and I’ve looked those new parents in the eye to make sure they understand my philosophy about the need to be at every practice.  We don’t have many rehearsals after school because I respect their time. In return, respect the bands time and be at practice.  For the returning kids (and their families) they have the peace of mind to have their vacations when they want- that is a valuable thing I didn’t fully appreciate until I was a dad.

I started this no band camp thing a few years ago.  Guess what?  The band was actually BETTER than they were when I had camp!  We had 100% attendance at camp (with a band of over 200 members). We still got half the show on by the first game. We still had all the successes during the season but had more energy- the show stayed fresh all season. Best part of all?  I had the whole summer to myself and so did the kids (because they need a battery charge just as much as you do). 

This balance and blend for healthy band directors thing isn’t just for summer by the way.  I work my tail off during the school day and when we have rehearsals I go at it with intensity and drive- just like you do.  I never ever cancel rehearsal or compromise a performance. But, when the performance is done I take a mental health day (or two).  I head to Disney, wander around in St. Augustine, get to a spring training game, or just simply sleep!  Even in the busy times of the year I distract myself with other things.  I have taken up running in the last couple of years and find it to be a great way to clear my head (and lose some pounds).  I love poker too.  It really doesn’t matter what you find to keep your head away from the band- but find something to balance!  Don’t worry- the band will still be there tomorrow.  You may even find that those things you’ve been trying to fix magically get better.

Because- YOU are better. 

I’ll probably be in Europe next summer too.  Let me know if you want me to show you around.  Have a great restful summer everyone!