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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. (Rick Hickman / Special to the 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. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Washington-Marion's famed band struggling with low participation

Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 10:04 PM

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.”

Posted By: Randy On: 12/2/2013

Title: High School Band

I am associated with a large Calcasieu Parish high school band with my children for over 8 years. Our band members have competed in District and State and went up against the best the state of Louisiana produced and we put up remarkable numbers of students in chairs at the Louisiana Music Educator's High School band which performs in Baton Rouge each year. We had many students that were 1st chair for the entire state at their respective instruments... year after year. We routinely send more than a dozen musicians to the LMEA performance in Baton Rouge to be recognized for their excellence.
Our band performs at least 3 marching festivals per year, sometimes as many as 5 and hardly ever fails to take a superior rating.

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