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We fly away with Father Ryan at BOA

INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the fourth of a series of 35 stories about high school marching bands that performed at the Bands of America Grand National Championships on Thursday through Saturday, November 12–14, 2015.

The Father Ryan Marching Band performed in semifinal competition here at the Bands of America Grand National Championships. Their show, led on the field by drum major Connor Sloan, was entitled “One Day, I’ll Fly Away.”


Father Ryan performs at Lucas Oil Stadium, Saturday, November 14, 2015 (Voxitatis)

Music was drawn from “Hummingbird,” an electronic piece by Stephen Bryant, Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, the Firebird suite by Igor Stravinsky, and the song “One Day I’ll Fly Away” by Randy Crawford.

The school’s website stated that the band “finished 31st in the country and 5th nationally in our class, class AA.”

As they do at so many schools that compete at this festival and, naturally, like to toot their own horn, officials boast in claiming the ranking represents some sort of position among bands across the nation. The term “national champion” is used so often to describe the grand champion at this one event that the term has lost some of its meaning.

Some mayors and town councils even put up signs at the entrance to their community proclaiming that the band is the “national champion,” forgetting to mention the official name, “Grand National Champion” or “grand champion at the Bands of America Grand Nationals.”

As unfortunate as this choice of name is, the bands that make the semifinals at this festival, perhaps more in recent years than when the Bands of America circuit began 40 years ago, are indeed among the best in the nation. The idea of a “national champion” or even a ranking among bands in the entire nation, however, is not the correct term to use. In our reports, we overlook errors in the use of terminology to describe what is, in almost any way you look at it, the largest high school marching band competition in the country.

And so, we congratulate Father Ryan High School—even as we advise them to be careful of the language they use and teach to students—on an inspiring performance, both during preliminary competition and during the semifinals.

We look forward to seeing more of this band, which is directed by Jereme Frey, and by Jeff, Derek, and Dustin Schletzer.

Founded in 1925 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, and named for Father Abram J Ryan, Father Ryan High School serves about 950 students and offers more than two dozen Advanced Placement courses.

In addition to working within a strong academic framework, students participate in service learning opportunities, linking the curriculum to the experience of actively living the Gospel. This part of life at Father Ryan encourages students to take the teachings of Christ beyond the classroom, and by so doing, to become actively engaged in their Catholic faith.

The band was named grand champion at the Bands of America regional in Jacksonville, Alabama, in October 2011, and the following month scored in second place in Class 2A at Grand Nationals. In all the band has received at least 28 trophies at BOA events since 2005.

Music advocacy that makes sense, and some that doesn’t

The school’s website also says, “Students with course work/experience in music performance scored 61 points higher on the verbal portion of the SAT and 42 points higher on the math portion than students with no course work or experience in the arts for a combined total of 103 points higher.”

Other websites have smaller numbers: “On the SAT, students who participated in music scored an average of 31 points above average in reading, 23 points above average in math, and 31 points above average in writing,” says one statistic purportedly released by the College Board in 2012. This result is also cited by the National Association for Music Education.


Jumbotron at Grand Nationals

Again, we have what is not a music problem, but a communication problem. This kind of advocacy puts music in second place to subjects that are tested on the SAT. There’s a pretty good chance most people don’t consider the arts secondary in their lives to mathematics, writing, and reading. Our advocacy should reflect the importance of music in our lives, not a subservient role that it may play in the minds of a misguided advocate.

Furthermore, lots of spurious correlations exist when it comes to SAT scores, and to claim that slightly higher SAT scores should justify the development of a music program as fine as the one at Father Ryan completely misses the mark. One spurious correlation is that SAT scores go way up for rich people and way down for poor people, yet NAfME and Father Ryan report this kind of information as news. It will lose the advocacy argument every time.

In addition to these problems, advocacy like this fails to acknowledge music’s intrinsic value, and Father Ryan’s website, after the SAT score line, corrects that problem very well:

It occurred to me by intuition that music was the driving force behind that intuition and my discovery was the result of my musical perception.   —Albert Einstein

The scientific community celebrated at the end of November the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It was proclaimed as the “equation that rules the universe,” which, like “national champion,” is a bit of an exaggeration. But it has taken us far indeed, helping us to fly away, in our minds, to distant galaxies.

One day, we can hope, we’ll fly farther and faster than ever before, even though we don’t proclaim that Einstien’s equation rules the universe anymore. Music programs, like BOA, take their participants far, and there is simply no need to use bad terminology or spurious correlations to advance their cause or erroneously inflate their value.

Voxitatis is grateful to the Music For All organization, particularly to Eric Martin, president and CEO, and to Kathryn Reinhardt, marketing coordinator, for their assistance in developing this series of stories and for their hospitality while we were in Indianapolis covering what is, by far, the largest high school marching band event in the US. We did attempt to reach the staff at Father Ryan but couldn’t connect. The comment section on this page will remain open for six months, and all comments will be allowed, as long as they follow our Terms of Service.

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

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