The Bispehaugen School, established 115 years ago in Trondheim, Norway, a town with a downtown that won a 2015 beautification award in what has been described as one of the most beautiful countries on earth, on an inlet from the Norwegian Sea, north of the North Atlantic Ocean, brings a marching band, the “Småbispan,” to the National Independence Day Parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., to help the US celebrate its 239th birthday on Saturday, July 4, 2015. The 88-member band is directed by Gøran Olsen.
En opplevelse for livet. Lykke til og ha en strålende tur! Velkommen til USA!!
Småbispan, the Bispehaugen Skolekorps, or “school band,” is widely known, especially throughout Europe, famous for their drills, even on unlined grass, as shown in the video; their high-stepping stage shows; and their costumes. Everyone gets creative—musicians, singers, soloists, dancers, and actors—whenever and wherever the band performs.
The Bispehaugen School itself serves about 250 students in seven grades, ending with what in Norway is the seventh grade, when students are about 13 or 14 years old. In the US, it would be similar to a performing arts magnet school, bringing in children from across the city.
The Småbispan consists of three levels of performance ensemble: a beginning band (Norwegian: korps), an “aspiring” band for students who are about 12 or 13 years old, and then the main band for secondary school students, many of whom performed in the aspiring band and are focusing on music in secondary school today. Students who came to the US range in age from 6 to 20 years, perform in all three levels, and attend several different schools in Trondheim.
The ensemble rehearses every Thursday and on more than a few Mondays during the performance season. In addition, band members attend occasional rehearsals or organizational meetings on weekends, especially when the group is preparing for major performances, and I’m sure the National Independence Day Parade qualified as one of those.
Students pay what in the US would be considered an activity fee to participate in the band. It comes to about $150 to $200 per year, but adjustments are made in certain cases. Some band members are taking instrumental music lessons at a separate “culture school,” for example, and they pay slightly less to participate in the band.
But besides marching on unlined fields all the time—Norwegians don’t really play American football—the biggest difference between the Småbispan and many high school marching bands in the US is the involvement of parents.
The parents of students who participate in the Småbispan just feel they have to volunteer for at least one band committee to help out. The organization has committees for uniforms, breaks, transportation, moving materials from place to place, and so on. In the US, band directors can find it challenging to enlist every student’s parents as a volunteer.
All this work is done as a service to the students, who come to the US for the first time in many of their lives. The group has been here before, in 1976 and 1979, but none of the students were even born at that time.
The band also received a personal invitation in 1963 to perform at the White House from President John F Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. The trip was cancelled, however, following the assassination of the president in Dallas in November of that year.
In addition to several performance opportunities every year, band members routinely participate in team-building and community-building events, such as a ski trip in March or April, a Halloween party, a “Diploma Fest” that ends up being something like a “senior day,” and even a party for parents. The parties allow everyone to get to know each other a little.
But this year, not so routine, in front of the largest Fourth of July parade audience, the group’s young and enthusiastic instructors bring the marching unit to the US to put their musical fireworks on display just a few hours before the pyrotechnic fireworks they’ll get later in the evening.
PBS will be in Washington for coverage of the fireworks in the evening, but no national broadcast of the parade, which begins at 11:45 AM Eastern Time, will be available.
Marching bands from US high schools
- Cabot (Marching Band), Ark.
- Antelope (Titan Marching Band & Color Guard), Calif.
- Sacramento (Grant H.S. Drum-line T.A.P.), Calif.
- Hollywood (McArthur H.S. Marching Mustang Band & Color Guard), Fla.
- Taylorville (Tornado Marching Band), Ill. (story)
- Davenport (Davenport Central H.S. Marching Blue Devils), Iowa
- Shreveport (Huntington H.S. Raider Jukebox Marching Band), La. (story)
- Chelmsford (Marching Band), Mass.
- Imperial (Seckman H.S. Jaguar Pride Marching Band), Mo.
- Firth (Norris H.S. Marching Titans), Neb.
- Minford (Mighty Marching Falcons), Ohio
- Washington Court House (Washington H.S. Blue Lion Marching Band), Ohio
- Palmyra (Palmyra Area H.S. Marching Band), Pa.
- Houston (Waltrip H.S. Roarin’ Red Ram Band), Texas (story)
Studying music (and core subjects) at the Bispehaugen School
You can think of public schools in Norway as being divided into three levels. It’s very much like public schools in the US, but the age boundaries are slightly different: Elementary or primary school (barneskole) is for 6- through 13- to 14-year-old students. Primary school in Norway is strikingly different from elementary school in the US, as Norwegian early childhood teachers devote a significant amount of time in the classroom to playtime and educational games.
Lower secondary school (ungdomsskole), like middle school or junior high in the US, is for grades “8–10,” roughly ages 13–16. Finally, upper secondary school (videregående skole), which would be called high school in the US, lasts for three years, grades “VG1–VG3,” and isn’t required by law. Kids in upper secondary school are generally 16 to 19 years old.
In Norway, kids only have to complete the lower secondary level, whereas the legal dropout age for most of the US occurs during high school (see our story). But even though upper secondary school isn’t required in Norway, tremendous social and legal considerations make it all but unavoidable, like the US. Teens have a tough time finding jobs because jobs suitable for unskilled labor are notoriously few and far between in Norway, for example, so there’s little economic benefit to quitting after lower secondary school, and besides, the government made it mandatory 21 years ago for upper secondary schools to educate any kid who applies.
The Bispehaugen School in Trondheim, along with several primary schools in the country (see Fig. 2.2 here), places considerable emphasis on music and art in the curriculum, devoting the entire school day on Thursdays for students in their last year of elementary school to the arts, according to a class schedule on the school’s website:
I invite you to read the schedule, but it’s in Norwegian, so I need to provide a quick translation. Norsk is Norwegian language arts. Musikk is what in the US would be considered general music or elementary general music. In this school, however, general music extends far beyond the elementary school grades typical in the US, if a US school even has a general music program. At Bispehaugen, general music shares 3-way periods with arts & crafts (“kunst & håndverk” or “K&H”) on Thursday on this week’s schedule. RLE is the study of human rights, religion, and ethics. Gym is physical education. Matematikk is math. Naturfag is science. Samfunnsfag is social studies. Engelsk is English. The word “Skoleslutt” signifies simply the end of the school day.
The note at the bottom spells out the total time spent in each subject and says the total teaching time is 20¼ hours per week. There was a school farm party during this week, which reduced the instruction time. Students are generally in residence in the school building for 27 hours per week.
As in the US, the study of music from the earliest years leads to more advanced study later for talented students, like those playing in the Småbispan in upper secondary school. Småbispan actively recruits members from Bispehaugen, but participation in the band at all three levels is entirely extracurricular and voluntary. No rehearsals occur during the school day.