Washington-Marion's famed band struggling with low participation

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

Washington-Marion’s famed Marching Jukebox band is not as big as it used to be. The program has about 60 members this year

— less than half the number of 20 years ago. Director Tamekia Holliday is working to increase participation.

“This is my third year. When I first got here, kids left the program because I was a new director,” she said. “Since then

we have gotten more kids. We are up to about 60 total this year, including middle schoolers who come march with us. We have

about 10 middle school students. The first year we had 24. Last year we finished with about 40 kids. This year we have had

as many as 62. Some have come and gone.”

Holliday said low numbers is a common problem among the dozen or so schools that were in Lake Charles last week for W-M’s

Battle of the Bands. Costs associated with being in the band are keeping some kids away, she said.

“The big issues for some students is transportation to and from practice and funds to pay dues and buy instruments,” Holliday

said.

“Dues are $160 per year. We try to get sponsors to sponsor some less-fortunate kids. We try to do fundraisers during the year

to keep the price of dues down. Our biggest one is the Battle of the Bands. We help about 10 students per year through the

sponsors. A lot of kids turn around when they find out how much the dues are. With dues, they got uniform, warm-ups, three

shirts and a pair of shorts and travel costs. Beyond dues, we ask that parents pay for food when we go on road trips.”

Holliday said being in the band introduces students to new and different things and can help them get to college.

“We go to Prairie View every year and play with the mass band, which

is made up of Prairie View and some high schools,” she

said. “We are trying to go to the SWAC Battle of the Bands (in

Houston). I want them to know band can get them scholarships;

they can further their life. We had one of our students last year get

a full scholarship to Southern; another went to Mississippi

Valley State.”

Holliday said stress on core subjects often limits participation in arts courses.

“There is not the same focus on the arts. The kids are being pushed to do well in the core classes because of all the testing,”

she said.

“In the lower grades, if you are not doing well, they will pull you

out of arts classes to take core classes all day. If you

don’t do it in middle school, what are you going to do in high

school? Many places don’t have elementary music. We accept

everybody and tell them we will teach them whatever they want to

learn. Arts education is important because it is an outlet.

Music and art gives kids a way of expressing themselves. All of their

frustration can come out through the music. Art stimulates

your brain and gets your juices flowing; it is exciting and gives the

kids something to look forward to.”

Community support for the band is strong.

“Everyone is seeing the band is still here and striving for excellence,” she said.

“We fell off in numbers, but it is coming back. The band booster club is up and running. Right now we have about 12 active

members in the booster club. They work fundraisers and serve as chaperones. We ask parents to volunteer 50 hours a year. We

want them more involved, it makes the kids feel like what they are doing is important. It boosts their morale and helps them

have pride about what they are doing. There are always fans at the game, but when it is family that is different. You want

to do your best. The parents have been helpful. They are open to whatever it takes to get the band back to being the great

Washington-Marion band. They want the school’s image to be positive so they will do whatever it takes.”

The band recently received a donation of $10,000 for new instruments from the Tipitina’s Foundation. Holliday said the money

is needed.

“That helps a lot, we will probably be able to get eight or nine instruments,” she said.

“We are short on low brass. I have exactly enough for everyone that’s here. But we are only losing four, so if we get more

in we may not have enough. Usually students don’t buy percussion or low brass; the school district provides that. Upper brass

and woodwinds, they usually provide on their own. Depending on the brand and what you are buying, it can cost about $1,000

for an instrument.”

The band will be busy during the holiday and Mardi Gras seasons.

“We have our annual Christmas concert Dec. 16, Christmas parades. We are performing at Twelfth Night here; we have Mardi Gras

parades. Our concert band is going to district festival, and for our end-of-year trip we are going to Atlanta to perform at

the MLK historic site or the Underground Mall,” Holliday said.

Holliday makes a point to take the band to events at nearby elementary and middle schools.

“That’s our biggest recruiting tool, performing everywhere. If you get elementary kids excited about the band, they are likely

to take it up in middle school,” she said. “For the most part, kids stick with it all the way through high school. Lately

they have. (Middle school director Tiffany Jones) and I communicate; we help each other and the kids feel more comfortable

coming here.”

Jordan Jackson, a junior baritone player, has stuck with band since trying it at Oak Park Middle School.

“I enjoyed it in middle school and decided to carry it on in high school,” Jackson said. “There is a lot of excitement, and

it is fun getting to know new people and traveling. Band is exciting because you get to do something instead of sitting there

studying for a test. It helps to relieve stress.”

William Spain, a senior drum major and french horn player, said he wanted to be part of the W-M band tradition.

“My whole life I have loved the band — the way they sound, the way they march — so I wanted to be in it,” he said.

“I have learned how to read music and do things I never knew. As drum major I get to be a leader of the band, show what I

can do and show the others the right way to do things. I have had some of the best times of my life in band — made a lot of

good friends and learned so much, academically and musically.”

Holliday said the recent decrease in numbers has not hurt the quality of the band.

“The Jukebox will always be the Jukebox,” she said. “Everywhere we go, people know Washington-Marion. The pride and prestige

is still there.”