Sunday, August 14, 2022

IMEA 'exploring options' for contest-like events


The board of directors of the Illinois Music Educators Association is said to be “exploring options” that would fit its “education philosophy and also meet members’ needs,” according to Darcy A. Nendza, IMEA’s executive director, who responded to questions Tuesday about the possibility that the Illinois High School Association may develop a state championship series in marching band and show choir.

Last month, the IHSA said it could move forward on organizing a state series in these events if at least 10 percent of IHSA’s member schools would participate, based on a survey the IHSA will conduct in November. The IHSA includes almost every public and private high school in the state.

The response from IMEA was notably vague, intended as such to indicate that no specific structure had yet been determined for any future IMEA events. In fact, IMEA has made no decisions as to what input the organization might have regarding any future marching band or show choir championship, or even if these “contest-like events” would take any specific form or involve any specific genre of music.

And although music directors have contacted the IMEA, Ms Nendza said, regarding the association’s possible participation in or development of “contest-like events”—i.e., events involving competition between schools—we note that most of IMEA’s organizational events are non-competitive.

For example, the selection of orchestras and bands to perform at one of the clinics at the All-State conference in Peoria every January is based on audition, but the selection is not competitive. No one ever tries to determine if one group “is better than” any other group, so scoring rubrics aren’t available.

Still, directors who have taken our online survey, a partnership between Illinois Marching Online and Voxitatis, generally feel IMEA would bring understanding of fine arts education to any state championship and would therefore be a more appropriate choice to run the state championship than IHSA.

“I do not feel IHSA has the ability to run this properly,” one director wrote. “I believe they’re only trying to be involved as another way to make more money. Solo and Ensemble and Organizational Contest are poorly developed and conceived (as a whole, not reflective of the host schools AT ALL—the hosts do the best they can to provide a great experience for the kids). If marching band and show choir contests are run like Solo Ensemble and Organizational contest, then a serious injustice will be done to the medium. It will take away ALL control that a director has to make an educated decision to provide an excellent experience for students.”

This comment reflects the dichotomy between what the IMEA calls “members’ needs” (many of whom would like to participate in a state championship series for one reason or another) and the “education philosophy” of the organization. That philosophy seems to involve, mainly, providing an enriching musical experience for students. Directors mostly agree their freedom to do that as they see fit would be reduced if IHSA had the authority to direct groups to certain contests on certain days.

“If IHSA has the ability to block certain weekends for marching competitions, this will interfere with the availability for high schools to host their own competitions on those weekends. This will then lead to several schools hosting events on a limited amount of weekends, and this will result in schools having less of a chance to raise needed band fund goals,” another director told us through the survey.

“You already have a large percentage of Illinois that refuses to participate in the Music Organizational series because of the lack of knowledge by IHSA and the lack of quality in the event,” another wrote. “Since IHSA has no musicians on staff overseeing current music offerings, judges for the Organization contest and facilities are simply up to the discretion of whoever volunteers to host the event.

“I don’t believe IHSA has any intention of changing that. So, a high school concert band playing grade 6 literature is being evaluated by a person who taught grade school band for 30 years in a farming community. Orchestras are being evaluated by a full panel that lacks any orchestral experience. The amount of work that would be necessary to run a great state championship series is far more than I believe IHSA thinks it is, and the money necessary and the desire to hire quality panels won’t be there.”

We have read a few pro-IHSA responses. At Illinois high schools, it’s mostly athletic directors who work with the IHSA, not music directors. Occasionally principals are the school’s official representative to the IHSA, but the IHSA deals mostly with athletic directors.

Still, the association has demonstrated expertise in establishing state championship series in athletics, including bass fishing. The competition in these events is generally considered a positive thing in that the trophies are both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for students, pushing them to higher levels of achievement.

“The fact that Illinois is a large state and we have no organized marching band circuit is keeping us from attaining levels by Indiana and Texas bands,” one director, who voted in favor of an IHSA-sanctioned championship, wrote on the survey.

But the overwhelming number of responses from directors have been pro-music, anti-IHSA.

“I do not think the IHSA has enough background and education in HS music programs that the organization would be able to provide a good contest for competitive marching band,” wrote yet another band director. “To create a championship, I would expect the IHSA to create a board of directors for the contest made up of band directors and let them get this together.”

Fortunately, the state of Illinois already has a group “made up of band directors” and a bunch of other music educators. It’s called the IMEA, but they can’t do anything at this point except wait for IHSA to finish its survey and explore their options.

Maintaining the delicate balance between competition, which has the potential to raise the bar on the level of performance if enough schools are able to participate, and music education philosophy, which is sometimes and in some schools a distant third when it comes to marching band achievement, is not easy.

But IMEA’s board of directors will eventually have to try to maintain just that balance.


The post above was edited at 2:24 PM, Aug. 29, to reflect the following correction:

The original headline was misleading in that it implied IMEA was thinking about the possibility of sponsoring a state marching band championship or of providing input to the development process if it were undertaken by another organization. It is not (see comments below). We regret the poor editing of our headline, which was originally written to say simply that IMEA had responded to our request for comments on the possibility that IHSA might move forward with a state series in marching band or show choir.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


  1. IMEA’s Mission Statement

    The mission of the Illinois Music Educators Association is to promote lifelong music learning and to provide leadership for music education. The IMEA:

     •  sponsors and organizes performance festival experiences for the student musicians of Illinois [refers mainly to the All-State and district-level festivals, which are competitive for individual student-musicians]

     •  provides professional growth opportunities for the music educators of Illinois [through an annual conference and otherwise]

     •  remains current regarding emerging issues in the music profession and disseminates that information to the music education community

     •  promotes and supports music as a vital component in the complete education of every child in every school

  2. Paul, in my comments to you (pasted below for the record), I did not state in any way that IMEA was exploring a State Marching Band Championship. You will see that I used “contest-like events” very specifically to say that the Board of Directors has not created a structure for any future IMEA events.

    Here was my quote to you, “The Board of Directors of IMEA has also heard comments from our members regarding IMEA and contest-like events. We are exploring options that would fit our education philosophy and also meet members needs. These events would potentially debut in the next 2-3 years, but they do not have any official structure as of yet.”

    No details have been decided on what IMEA would do with these events or forms they might take. I would not want our membership or other stakeholders to be confused and think we were planning something that we are not currently.

    Darcy A. Nendza
    Executive Director, IMEA

Comments are closed.

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