So you want to be a Calgary Band Parent?

by Mark Zaugg 18. June 2016 22:01

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.

On commitment

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:

Instrument choice

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:

Sport

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.

Personal development

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.

The practical

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.

To Gordie and the Hip, with deepest love.

by Mark Zaugg 4. June 2016 19:58

Gord Downie will almost certainly never read this, but if he does, what I’d most like to say to him is this:

Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean.

Well, in fact I don’t and never really did.  But I’d love to tell you something special and precious and as dear to my heart as I can possibly get.  For years I have heard people discussing what “New Orleans is Sinking” really meant.  Mr. Downie (forever “Gordie” to me, although we’ve never met) I need to tell you what it meant to me.  Not want, this is a need.

In the early 90’s I was just out of university, typically underemployed, working extremely hard, and struggling to find a way to a career that would sustain myself and my fledgling family.  I was working in crop research not too far from where the Great Plains ended, and there was never a day me and my crew didn’t go out into the field without the Hip keeping us company.  There were the radio hits, and the songs off the albums that meant just as much to each of us.  For me there was especially Bobcaygeon, Thompson Girl, Wheat Kings and Fifty Mission Cap which was the first song I sang to both my kids.  But there was particularly a song so powerful and so special to me that it changed my entire life.

My memory is muddled, what’s this river that I’m in?

I was 32.  I had a two year old daughter and an unborn son on the way.  I was not in a happy place for a guy that wanted nothing more than to be a Dad and a family man.  New Orleans is Sinking took a very special place in my life.  One day, my ex-wife happened across me out of context just as I was singing, “Hey North, you’re south / Shut your big mouth” and shot me the foulest dirty look I ever got in my life.

The joke’s on her.  I wasn’t telling her to shut up.  "Now Orleans is Sinking” was a metaphor for my marriage to me.  It was going down, and I really didn’t want to go down with it.  As my world eroded around me, one of the very basic things that kept me going through literally one of the very darkest moments of my life was the realization that as my marriage / New Orleans sank, I didn’t have to swim it out.  I could, and did, take another route through life.  It hurt, it sucked at times - and still does on several levels - but I tried as hard as I could to be true to myself.

 

“Ain’t got no picture postcards, ain’t got no souvenirs,
My baby she don’t know me when I’m thinking ‘bout those years.”

More than just stuff, I left behind a whole lot of hopes and dreams in that time.  And I’ve accepted that no one is going to even care about it beside me, so I need to stop caring and move on.  No bullshit, this is a man alive because of words you crammed together.  More than just alive, I’m trying to make my corner of the world a hell of a lot better than the New Orleans-in-my-mind that I left behind.  Not to be confused with the real New Orleans which is definitely on my list of places to visit.  I’ll pay my dearest tributes to you once I get there.

Today I’m in a much better place.  If you will, my hands are in the river and my feet up on the banks.  I’m feeling pretty good.  Good enough to scream.  That’s okay by me.

I’m definitely sad I won’t see you play live.  I won’t go knowing some profiteering fuckbot scalper took advantage of us.  Gordie, please understand that my heart’s there.  My heart will be working backstage and doing all it can to ensure you and the boys put on the best show of your lives.  I would do almost anything to be there live.  But not that.

I don’t swear much on this blog, but fuck the scalpers.  Fuck Ticketmaster for their shitty process.  Fuck the unadulterated greed.

Please Gordie, you make sure you and the boys put on the show of our lives.  Let’s get the last one televised.  And I swear to ghod, I won’t be there in person, but I’ll be there in spirit to say thanks for everything you’ve given me.  You know you mean the world to Canadians.  You mean my very life to me.  Rock on.

A long road trip for a short view of an old piece of sheep skin.

by Mark Zaugg 27. December 2015 08:42

Today after my son and I woke up, we packed ourselves into the car and headed on a three hour drive north of here to visit Edmonton.  A copy of Magna Carta is on display for the 800th Anniversary of its first signing.

Magna Carta means “the Great Charter”.  It’s sometimes oversold and sometimes undersold in terms of it’s historical meaning.  It is not, as sometimes told, the foundation of all of English Law.  Most of the provisions have been repealed or diminished in importance.  However there are four incredibly importance principles that trace directly back to Magna Carta.

First, no one, not even the King, is above the law of the land.  Every single person in the land deserves equal treatment under the law.  Always and without exception.

Second is the principle of habeas corpus - the principal that one’s self should not be held without charge. 

Trial by a jury of one’s peers was established and is still held today.

And a woman could not be forced to marry against her will, forcing her to cede her property, one of the earliest examples of women's rights.


It was not a magic document that made life better for all people.  But it is a document that is foundational to building our current law.  Unquestionably we, as citizens, draw benefit today.  No one can properly claim immunity to the law.  No monarch, prime minister or president can abrogate a law at their  whim.  There are rules by which we change our very rules, and Magna Carta is one of the earliest of documents to establish those rules in writing.

Habeas corpus is still debated, as recently as the G20 protests in Toronto or with respect to prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.  On the whole, in Canada one is not hauled to prison without charges laid in a timely manner and the courts, although grindingly slow at times, at least make attempt at a speedy trial.

Trial by jury remains today.  Juries remain imperfect, sometimes rendering incorrect or skewed verdicts.  But all in all, I believe a jury trial remains a proper and beneficial tool in our justice system.

The life of a woman did not instantly change and become a life of equity and abundance in 1215, and our society continues to struggle with equality in gender balance.


So…  WHY?


Why travel three hours to see an ancient text written in Latin that I could not even read?

If you value even some of the above values, you have Magna Carta to thank.  Should you be aggrieved by bad law, you should remember Magna Carta and consider that binding every citizen under the law will survive bad kings and rulers - in this case for 800 years.  Bad laws will be overturned and together we as citizens will forge a better future for ourselves.  Every citizen in every country that holds credence to Magna Carta derives some of their freedom to a group of English Barons forcing King John to accept an unpalatable agreement.  This is not a document derived from a Kumbaya moment, this is literally the peace and freedoms won from war.  When Canadians talk about defending freedom and liberty in war, this is precisely the earliest of the agreements we talk about.

Your life as it is stems directly and indirectly from a parchment signed 800 years ago.  If that is not compelling, I don’t know what could convince you.

Secondly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a copy of this magnificent document.  The truth: I’ve had two opportunities in my life.  In the late 1980’s a copy of Magna Carta was displayed at the Nickel Museum at the University of Calgary and I missed it.  I have regretted it ever since.  I was determined to not miss this opportunity.  Even better because I was able to take my son and I’m sure it had a positive impression on him.

Go if you can, and go quickly because it will not be here much longer.  It is at the Federal Building on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature until December 29, 2015.  If you can make it in the next two days, seriously go.


You may face a line up to get into the hall.  It’s worth the wait.  We were in line about 30 minutes, the line was somewhat longer by the time we left.  I salute each and every person waiting.  I saw a true assortment of every Canadian in that line today, and every being there deserved the equal treatment meted out from Magna Carta.  Only 50 people are allowed in the theatre in order to keep temperature and humidity proper for the parchment.  You will enter and circle clockwise, seeing a display explaining the times and circumstance when the charter was signed.  I knew the story, I just wanted to see the parchment itself.  Don’t touch the cases, don’t take photographs, just go to enjoy being bathed in history.

First you’ll come across the Charter of the Forest - in it’s own right a document probably as practical if not moreso than Magna Carta.  You’ll see Magna Carta to your right, but we held off and circulated.  The next section speaks to your values and invites you to consider which are most important to you.  Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest are ultimately about values that bind us all.  Take a moment to reflect on what bridges 800 years. 

The translations are posted, but I have already read it (and planned to purchase a translated print) and there was an opening at the case showing Magna Carta, so my son pulled me towards it and I admired the script.  It remains ancient and beautiful, with significance even today.  There and then, my eyes took in 800 years of justice and core values of our society.

It was so worth the trip.


A few notes:  There are many existing copies of Magna Carta.  The one I observed today was from Durham Cathedral.  This copy was made in 1300 and is beautiful in it’s own right.  My humblest and deepest gratitude to Durham Cathedral for allowing us this great honour.  May I see it again in situ.

Lastly, if you are one of my British friends reading this, if you have never taken the time to visit a copy, please do so.  Magna Carta is a treasure beyond value and a gift to mankind and deserves to be honoured as such.

As a bonus: The Legislature looked beautiful today under a cloudy sky.