Despite success, scheduling still poses band program challenge

by Jim Boyle

Timing can be everything.

Representatives of the Elk River High School band program were feeling pretty good about the timing of their chance to tell of their program at the June 25 meeting.

It was a light agenda, and they were able to hold the floor for more than half an hour. Better than that, they even got to field questions from the School Board.

“We’re so thankful for the chance to come and tell them about all the program’s accomplishments,” said Jill Griffiths, the incoming president of the band boosters. “It really means a lot and feels good that they were engaged and asking questions.”

District 728 Cadets performing at a parade.

The band program’s toughest obstacle remains scheduling issues that make it tough for band students to take four years of band. The significance is that some students fall away from the program even though they would like to stay with it.

“Being a four-year band student at ERHS takes a tremendous amount of dedication, planning, sacrifice and determination,” Griffiths said. “It does not happen by chance.”

The Elk River Area School Board committed last year to make an effort to rebuild the band and choir programs that had fallen off in recent years. They took a first step, adding in an exploratory music source for sixth-graders — removing sixth-grade study hall to do it.

Griffiths asked the board to consider additional options and alternatives for other elective credits, specifically the two phy-ed credits and the health credit.

“Your support will not only assist the students, but ensure a strong, quality music program for the future,” she said.

Band directors like John Rosner at Elk River High School get nervous when they lose senior leadership in their program. Students who want to complete four years of band often have to resort to summer school or taking classes online to get all their necessary gym and health credits.

Years ago kids didn’t have those obstacles, because the district was better staffed and a seven-period day opened up more elective options.

“I never had those challenges when I was in high school,” Rosner said. “I wonder how it would have influenced me?”

Rosner, however, has not dwelled on the challenges. Instead he has plowed ahead in every direction possible to build the band program as much as he can. He sets high expectations and he encourages students to pursue all kinds of opportunities, whether it’s jazz band, honor bands, marching band, drumline, pep band and/or band council, Griffiths said.

Everything feeds everything, Rosner says.

By assembling and building a successful marching band from scratch, the band program is better off. Students benefit from the rigor of playing outdoors during the summer and come back in the fall much more prepared for the year. Those on band council develop leadership skills. Honor band students meet other top band students around the state, and professional conductors as well.

“I want Elk River High School to be the best that it can be,” Rosner said.

The immediate future looks bright. Numbers are up for next year. But there’s no telling what the future will bring, he said.

He said he’ll continue to do all he can.

“The rest is up to community support and the direction the district wants to go,” he said. “Hopefully, its good for the program and offers kids lots of opportunities.”