A few years ago, the band program at my high school was eliminated due to the district’s budget cuts. Noble County voters (or maybe southeastern Ohio voters in general) are somewhat notorious for voting down school levies. In grade school art classes, I remember decorating brown grocery bags as part of a class assignment, in an attempt to pass one levy; we were instructed to write “Please Vote Yes” on the bags and decorate them, and then they were handed out to Saturday morning shoppers at the two grocery stores in the county. Maybe it was a little unethical, but I think teachers felt they had to do everything they could to get the job done.
I graduated from Caldwell High School in 2004. I wasn’t in the band but about half of my friends were and I know it was really important to them. Some time after my class, yet another ballot initiative failed. And then three months later, another. The school board threatened a number of things, while time after time voters turned down crucial school levies. They condemned half of my high school; voters still said no. Finally programs had to be axed, and that is what happened to the band.
Our K-through-12 band program (which I suppose was really a 5th-grade-through-12 one, like most?) was taught by one person, a respected and much loved teacher affectionately called Mr. P. He was the special kind of teacher who really paid close attention to individual students and knew their strengths and weaknesses. He made sure each kid could contribute to the group and he did his job well. When the program was cut, so was Mr. P.
That fall, a spirit band was formed by would-be school band students. Active parents organized and supported them, and that year I attended a football game where a volunteer band played, of their own accord. I remember talking to one of the parents about the levy and what it had finally come to. I was inspired by the students, all younger than me, who stuck around. They loved band so much that they volunteered to be in one that would not get them a grade or a GPA boost or fill one of their empty school periods. They loved it more than I can imagine loving much of anything.
Halfway through the year, that damn levy finally passed and the band program was restored. By some miracle, they were able to tap Mr. P. for his job again and he returned to his position.
Years later, I’m writing a creative nonfiction piece about it. I start interviewing folks tomorrow. I remember thinking way back when I went to that football game how inspiring of a story the spirit band was, and that story went on to have a happier ending with the program’s restoration and Mr. P.’s return. It’s been a long time since I did a series of interviews I really, truly cared about.
I can’t wait.
Who knows what I’ll do with it, but I can’t help but try to write it. This isn’t a story about how arts programs are always the first to go and sports are the last, although I may touch on that. It’s about making lemonade when life cuts your favorite school program. Or something like that.