Dealing with the demands of school music directors

I could really use some advice in dealing with my S’s HS music directors.

My S is a senior, planning to go to school for jazz studies. He goes to a small alternative HS (entrance by lottery) that has a great jazz program. In addition, he’s been commuting to the (bigger) mainstream HS for symphony band and jazz band every year. He takes too many classes, so doesn’t get any credit for jazz band.

The big school band director has always been very demanding about making his bands a priority. We get it, have put up with it, and basically honored it every year. It’s a huge demand on my S’s time, especially in the fall when marching band is required. Now that football season’s over, my S is really digging into preparing for his auditions. BUT, this year, the bands and orchestra are going to the state music teachers’ conference in January and the directors have added a bunch of extra evening rehearsals in preparation. They want my S to do a solo with the orchestra… so now additional rehearsals with the orchestra.

It turns out that the rehearsals conflict with my S’s lesson time with the professor at the University. This just isn’t something we can move around on a whim. So I let the directors know that my S will attend rehearsals when he’s able; last night, he went directly from his lesson for the second half of rehearsal. My S is getting bullied by the directors, getting lectured about commitment, being told that he has a responsibility toward something “bigger than him”.

My S is in a horrible position. He has a lot of close friends in band and he worries that the director will trash him to the band, something he apparently does about other band students. (How can a teacher think it’s remotely OK to talk about a student who isn’t there to the rest of the class??) Me, I’m totally fed up with it all.

Have any of you had issues like this with school music directors? What did you do?

Not as intense maybe, but the same idea. Are they paying your bills? The child already “Owes” something? We dropped school band. Very freeing. Very much moving into the future.

I have been there, and you have my sympathy and empathy both. This happened to my son with the private school he went to (and were paying full freight, which in my area is more than 20k a year), they had a music program (not that great), and basically when a kid comes in who is halfway decent, the school music director see them as their property a lot of the time. It came to a head for us when my son had auditions coming up for a pre college program, and the audition date was in the middle of the school musical (which they wanted him for pit orchestra, natch, and when he said he had conflicts, the you know what hit the fan). The best was when we got the ‘you owe it to the greater good’ to do all these things (after telling him how much they did for him, like ‘letting him play in all these ensembles’ which he didn’t want to do but they wanted him in them, which resulted in a 7th grader having no lunch, and doing several classes as independent studies), how much he ‘owed’ the school (we told that to his violin teacher and she exploded, she asked whether he had gotten a music scholarship to go there, I laughed and said we were paying full freight, she said something very rude in 3 languages to tell them).

Quite frankly, in this situation, you have every right to tell them to stick it, your son and his future has to come first, he doesn’t owe anything to the school, he has done everything he can and more to help them, and they have the gall to give him the song and dance about “you owe it to the greater good”. I am sure, too, that your son probably doesn’t need the extra rehearsals but they are telling him that “you have to be there to set a good example for the other kids”.

I understand where they are coming from, playing at things like professional football games, or the school football games, or being in some competition is the way they sadly have to sell the program (when I was in HS, the director admitted that if it weren’t for having marching band at the games, we likely wouldn’t have a music program with the stage bands and such, tells you sadly the mentality of many people vis a vis music), but they are also supposed to keep the kid in mind, but what they see is a resource to exploit, they think they own him.

Here is the question, does your son enjoy doing the other program, does he enjoy being with the kids, is he getting anything out of it? If he is, then continue to do it, in the way he protects himself, and if the director keeps getting in his face, then I suggest talking to him and telling him if he doesn’t stop, you’ll pull your son out. It sounds like the program is getting more out of it than he is, and if he is planning to audition and this is a constant source of headaches, it isn’t worth it. And if the directors try an old, old tactic, extortion, threaten not to give him a letter of recommendation or otherwise foul up his trying to get into programs, ignore it. If the kid has a private teacher that will be enough, that blackmail crap is common, and quite frankly at most music programs they won’t notice or care if the kid has a recommendation from the school music director or not. There are good music directors who really care about the kids, but there are a lot of petty ante tyrants (Doonsbury when I was in high school had a fantastic series of strips dedicated to the band director that were hysterical) whose egos outstrip anything, and in the end what is important is your S and his future.

This is also one of the reasons why a lot of the very serious and talented high school music students don’t play in their school programs , my S went to one of the top level pre college programs and few of the students there played in their school programs, partly because the level was such that it was hard for them to deal with, but a large part was often exactly what I wrote above, being taken advantage of, the tales of pit orchestra and chamber groups and orchestras and bands and ensembles they were expected to be part of, and given that many of these kids were also academic superstarts meant they would have almost no life if they went along with it. Many years ago my son was part of a national competition sponsored by one of the music teachers associations, and one they had seminars like “How to get the gifted music students to support your program”,I can just imaging what they had in it, based on what I have seen…

Is dropping the school band an option or is partcipation in band a requisite for jazz band? In high school, my S ended up dropping the school Jazz Band in favor of doing youth symphony, which had schedule conflicts. He wanted the high level of playing that the youth symphony gave him. He still played in the school orchestra, sang in choir, played in the rhythm section for the school Jazz choir, and played in a jazz combo, as well as the pit for the musical…all still at the school. We completely supported his choice knowing that S knew what he needed to gain the skills he wanted. The jazz band teacher tried to guilt trip him but S didn’t let it affect him. Oh, and S studies both Classical and Jazz in college.

Not instrument but chorus director was the same for DD. When DD prioritized her preparation and auditions over attending state and district events and HS musical. The director took it out on her and cut her out of solos. Guilt trips were in overtime since the chorus director’s reputation was based on how many she sent to district and state and how high they placed. DD had placed 2nd in state the year before with a perfect district score. DD talked to us and her private teacher and realized her ultimate goals were not ending in HS like some but in a future that demanded something different from her. She made peace with her own choices and let the rest roll off her. None of the ones that buckled under the directors pressure is in a performance career.

I don’t know if dropping band is an option. The drop-date has passed but we’ve been hearing that the Dean has the authority to allow withdrawals past that date. Going to check into it tomorrow. S is a little scared, though, about what the director’s reaction will be, especially over jazz band. I could see him being vindictive. My S had never planned to ask him for a recommendation, so that’s not an issue. The jazz combo program at his home school is my S’s primary activity and that teacher is completely supportive of college auditions. My S is also in two other regional jazz bands, who have much splashier performances, so he’s not going to miss out on that experience either.

I really appreciate the feedback. I needed a reality check on whether we were being diva-ish about this.

You aren’t being diva-ish, you are being realistic about auditions and such. If your son has his program in his home school with a supportive director, and is going to two other regional jazz bands, what can the director of the other place do to him? In a sense, your son should be in the driver’s seat with this, that other director probably needs him more than your son needs that guy. Your S has compromised, he is in the bands there but also is doing what he needs to do, and if that isn’t good enough for the dictator…err director, at the other school, then you always have the option of walking away. Talk to the dean about the situation, that your son has compromised but the music director is being a turd, and if the Dean seems like he is siding with the director, then politely ask him to allow your son to drop it. Among other things, I seem to recall he isn’t even getting a grade for doing those programs at the other school, so they can’t threaten to give him an F in the course or anything. You may have an ace in the whole if they try to get nasty, if the director has behaved as you say, if he has been trying to intimidate your son, or does things like make fun of student behind their backs, you could always threaten to seek out legal counsel about the director’s behavior (I am not advocating that, just saying if it truly gets yucky, you have that). To be honest, it sounds like the other program is stressful for your son, not a lot of fun, and if he has a good program at his home school and other ensembles, then why put himself there?

This could go from bad to worse - have you checked audition and travel dates for your S’s auditions for conflicts with the state music convention? At a minimum, the tension could make his audition prep that much harder. Will staying with all these programs allow him time to focus on his college auditions? High school is ending soon - the auditions will determine the future.

You are definitely not being diva-ish. It’s a parent’s job to protect kids from situations that become too demanding. This is certainly one of those times.

Good luck to you.

Good post, that is another consideration, what will happen when the kid has to travel to auditions. when he has to miss rehearsals and possibly performances because of auditions. One of the problem with school music directors is they forget this is a two way street, that they demand the kids be a part of the program, they want to basically take the kids talent and ability for their own reasons, but they forget about the other part. I know of more than a few now music students and musicians who when they hear the word "music educator’ or ‘music director’ they cringe, remembering situations just as the OP has posted it.

Trust your instinct on this. Your son does need to be able to focus on his future. It really is impossible to do everything and it really is ok to pick and choose what supports your son and his dream to continue in music.

I wish you the best!

I’m going to be honest. Unless your son is an academic and music genius, I’d be worried about any music commitments right now and in January through March. I guess it wouldn’t matter if your son is only auditioning at 2 or 3 schools, but you have to remember many others will have lighter loads and in the practice rooms and competing not just for admission but for scholarships too. How sad would it be if your son got into his top school but you couldn’t afford because he either got a 1k scholarship or even zero like my son or because he was too busy pleasing the band director. I recommend him dropping it now.

You and your son are NOT being divas at all, although people who don’t understand the situation may call you that. - You are trying to protect his time, which he sorely needs for 1) staying sane, 2) enjoying his senior year, and 3) doing as well as he possibly can in college auditions. Many of our children have had this sort of conflict in high school, although perhaps not as unpleasant as this one. Good luck tomorrow - we are rooting for you!

Don’t allow your son’s teacher to USE your child to his or her advantage. It may tick them off but use the limited time you child has to get ready for auditions.

Thank you all, SO MUCH, for your support. It’s such a relief to have some validation of my feelings about this band director. I hadn’t really dared to say anything up to now… it would have been like criticizing God. Spoke to the school counseling office this morning. Prognosis is that it can probably be done, but may be tricky since it’s at the other HS. Battling on…

Yeah, sure enough, one of the audition dates conflict. Only ONE audition date for jazz at this school. I called them yesterday and was told no alternates dates given, period. My S told the orchestra director today so that the 2nd chair player could start rehearsing with them for the solo today. He will have only missed one rehearsal. The orch director yelled at him and called him “selfish”. Selfish? Really?? Orch director is lucky mama bear wasn’t there to witness this.

Seriously, if this is upsetting your son, may I suggest that he put in to drop the orchestra and such? The attitude of the orchestra director is atrocious, and to be blunt these kind of clowns can get very vindictive and could make your son’s life difficult and why go through that when he is focusing on the future and has enough stress on him? Your son owes that guy nothing, I suspect that very little of what your S has accomplished is thanks to him, as someone else posted it sounds like the director is a taker, what is known in Yiddish as a Schnorrer, someone who takes and takes and gives nothing back. At the very least, you would expect a school music director would understand how important auditions are, being in that world, but unfortunately more than a few of them only see their own little slice of things and don’t care about the student.

If you ever want to read about a school music director from hell, look up Mark O’Connor’s website (I think it is, he had a story about what it was like for him in high school as a talented musician.

A lot of them are good, decent people who want their kids to achieve, who generally love teaching kids and seeing them blossom (kind of like the main character in Mr. Holland’s Opus), but there are also a lot of them that are egotistical, narrow people who often are frustrated performers “reduced” to teaching and all they see is whatever can feed their ego, which is pretty pathetic but is a reality.

I’ll give you the difference. My S had an audition conflict, he had an audition at a conservatory in another city the same day he had a mandatory rehearsal for the pre college orchestra he was in (they had a performance the next day). My son talked to the conductor, and while they had a policy that if you missed the mandatory rehearsal you couldn’t play, there was no recriminations, the conductor understood, and my son was highly placed that concert (I think he was the associate CM ). The school fortunately was willing to reschedule it, but the point is the conductor and program understood the importance of auditions and there was no conflict there.

Whoa. That orchestra director would be getting a nasty email from me.

I’m happy to say it’s OVER. S decided to drop symphony band, Dean backed him (it’s past the normal drop date.) Had a meeting with the band director to explain. We all played nice.

The orchestra director was there too – and understand that my son is not in orchestra, but was going to play one small solo with them and has had one short rehearsal with them to date – but he just couldn’t play along. When the meeting was just about over, he started in on how things “could have been handled better” and started lecturing my S right then and there about gig etiquette, commitments, and “working in the business”. Seriously?? Even the band director looked embarrassed.

I admit to growling a little in response.

S is really relieved. Looking forward to recording his prescreens next week with a much clear head.

Thank you, really, to everyone who responded. I can honestly say that I don’t know if we would have had the wherewithal to go through with this without the feedback I’d gotten here.

That’s good news! I know that you will feel great relief watching your son’s final months of high school. It seems that college auditions are often scheduled at the same time as high school competitions, festivals, etc. I’m glad that you didn’t have to fight those battles later in the year and that the band director understands.

I would gave been tempted to ask the orchestra director what the pay was for this gig opportunity that your son was appropriately and timely withdrawing from. But, you were correct to “play nice”. It’s sometimes so tempting to make a point though!