Using Google Docs to gather specific item donations

By John Gardner

Our marching band travels to competitions most Saturdays during September and October, and our Band Parents organize food donations. In the past that has been done by posting and asking for volunteers….or for the food committee chairperson to make lots of phone calls.

Now we use Google Docs. Here are the steps:

1. Create the document with blanks for people to claim items.

Food donation blank

2. Share the document.

Options are to enter individual email addresses, but that would be time consuming. Click the button to SHARE and then GET SHARABLE LINK. Make sure anyone with the link CAN EDIT. Other options are to ‘view’, but that won’t work for this purpose — or the ‘comment’, but that would require additional editing.

I usually post a PIC of the document (see above) and publish the link to the sharable document. I also link the pic to the google doc so that if someone clicks on the form, they will go instantly to enter date.

3. Watch the blanks turn into names…..

One parent emailed me that she had fun watching several people in the form simultaneously typing and editing.

The food chairperson can then deal with any remaining blanks.

The form posted above was completed (nearly) within 24hrs (see below)


Google doc filled in privacy


A few other ways I use Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides….. I have Microsoft programs at school, but not at home. This way, I can work on the same document and share it from anywhere.

  • Google Slides for classroom announcements.
  • Google Forms for quizes, surveys
  • Google Sheets for band roster (can share with parent officers who help keep the form up to date).

VMO Business Card

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Burn me once…..but not twice

By John Gardner

I just got a friendly email reminder….

“Thank You for renewing….”

I did NOT want the renewal and called the vendor — and was told that when I signed up for that discounted first year rate that the “terms of service” stated that my membership/subscription would be “automatically renewed” at the regular price. BUSTED!

A few types of subscriptions/memberships that often work this way…

  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Domain names
  • Computer anti-virus programs
  • Job search sites
Fire and Ice copy

My mamma used to say, “Burn me once…..shame on YOU, Burn me twice…..shame on ME!

If this has ever happened to you, consider the following 5 suggestions to keep from getting burned…

Read more ›

17 signs you teach in a factory school

I attended “10th District” Elementary School and an inner-city, public Jr/Sr High School that had three, 4-floor buildings. Then I went to a 40,000 student state-subsidized university and currently work in a 1600 student public high school.

Four factors contributed to my writing this post, designed as an introduction.

1. The first reference I recall to anything related to “factory education” was in a meeting between administration/school board and a group of concerned high school parents challenging the predicted negative impact of a schedule change on their audition-based ensemble. Responding to a passionate presentation, an administrative representative boasted,

We’re not here to teach the elite,
we’re hear to teach the masses. 

2. A grad school professor at Ball State was criticizing “factory education” and emphasizing the need to redesign the model and move away from mass production.

3. A colleague at my high school who was in on the planning and there when the doors opened, was describing how the building was designed like a factory — with the offices in the front and the different department modules.

4. My sons are involved with some non-factory setup educational models (a Classical Christian Academy, a School of Performing Arts and an a Boston area boarding school) and I look forward to utilizing what I learn from their experiences to help me (and you) understand why public schools are sometimes referred to as factory models of education, or education factories cranking out graduates the way assembly lines crank out cars.

The concept of the modern mass production factory was revolutionized by Henry Ford in the early 20th century, when he developed the concept of a revolutionary new process using skilled workers in specialized areas where the workers were stationary and the product parts were assembled as they moved from branch lines to the main line where the final product was assembled and completed when it reached the end of the line . Prior to that, automobiles were produced mostly by a group of individuals moving around a stationary vehicle. His approach was all about dividing the labor to speed up the line to produce more product efficiently. The person who inserted the screw was not the one who tightened it, for example. Every worker had a small part in the production until the completed product reached the end of the line.

Looking at these satellite views and floor plans, can you tell which are high schools and which are factories? I’ll share more points following the pictures.

Indiana High School

Indiana High School

General Motors Assembly in Fort Wayne, Indiana

General Motors Assembly in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Floor Plan A

Floor Plan A

Floor Plan B

Floor Plan B

Floor Plan C

Floor Plan C

Floor Plan D

Floor Plan D

Two of the above floor plans are high schools and two are factories. Can you tell which is which? I’ll give the answer below.

Indications that you might be in a factory school.


In the above floor plans, A & D are schools while B & C are factories.

My educational training has all been in public schools and universities. My sons experienced public education through high school. One went on to a public university, is currently attending a private graduate institution, plus involved in a private School of Performing Arts and a Classical Christian Academy. The other son went to private, top-tier undergraduate university, an Ivy-Leage graduate school and will be teaching in an elite boarding school outside Boston as a high school professor with his PhD.

A few of the questions I hope to address in future posts:

  1. Given today’s circumstances vs those in the 80’s when my children entered school, would I repeat the path of public education or go a different rounte?
  2. What are some of the differences in approach of the top-tier universities and elite boarding schools? Should you?
  3. Is it really all about the money, i.e. can those with the means really get a better education?
  4. Are there multiple worlds of education?
  5. Is life fair?
  6. What options do we have?

Thanks for reading. Please SUBSCRIBE to this blog and then RETWEET/SHARE/PIN it.

Virtual Music Office Word Wall 2

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My College Years with an Old Opera Singer

By John Gardner

This house and owner involved three years of my college life living in a home owned by a 1920’s New York opera singer.

Not quite haunted, my college apartment was a hospital room during the Civil War. This was my college home for three years while attending the University of Kentucky. Only a two-minute walk from the music building made it convenient and the rent was cheap but came with a price. Miss Iva Dagley, a 70-yr old former opera singer, rented five third floor rooms to college guys. Both the house and the homeowner were historic and unique. The straight parallel rows of huge trees that go out for several blocks from the house likely outlined the original entrance to the 1800’s estate. Miss Dagley (no one called her Iva) was a rising opera singer when the 1930’s Great Depression sent her home from the New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  She never talked about her life overseas or in New York, or how she acquired her wealth, but aside from the value (historic and monetary) of the house itself, the contents were priceless. I’m not surprised that she never married.

Life at the Dagley house included an education UK could not match. She adjusted forever my dialect, diction, grammar and vocabulary.  I uncomfortably experienced how the élite deal with the ordinary, picked up breadcrumbs of how the rich keep, manage and spend money and cringed at her political prejudice and unapologetic racism.

Miss Dagley was legally blind and her cat was deaf…. which made for a hilarious combination. She couldn’t see the cat and it couldn’t hear her coming. From the 3rd floor, we would periodically hear the cat scream, often followed by a crashing pot or pan. When I ran down to check on her after one especially noisy event, she scolded me to never do that again.

Rent was cheap but included one “errand” per month. Since there were five of us, that meant she could get out at least that often, or to get things done in or around the house. Sometimes our errand was to give a tour of the house to her guests. In my three years there I did a lot with and for Miss Dagley. I’ve highlighted a few of the more memorable.

“1791” Tapestry in a stairwell. When showing some guests a thick tapestry…and noticing “1791” stitched into the lower right corner, I later asked her if it was a copy. Her blunt response,

“Young man, please don’t ever again suggest that I have a ‘copy’ of anything in this house.”

Traveling with Miss Dagley was a trip. We drove her in a 20-year-old Cadillac. Faded pink, it must have been especially rare and attention-grabbing in the 50’s. It was in mint condition as it was only outside the garage a few miles per month. Picture, as you read the following ordeals, how the other person involved would give her assistant a “is she for real?” look that they knew she could not see.

The bank. “She wanted to “cash” a check. She didn’t specify why….just handed me a money bag and an envelope for the teller. Imagine…. a college student approaching a bank teller with a nearly blind senior citizen woman, and handing the teller an envelope containing a check, a note to “cash it” with specific instructions of how many of each denomination – and a money bag. I was unaware of the amount of the check until the teller summoned security, which quickly, but politely, positioned around us. Can you say awkward moment? The exchange with the teller went something like this:

Teller: “Ma’am, are you sure you want to cash this….all of this?”

Dagley: “What does the note say?”

Teller: “Yes ma’am, but are you aware of the amount you are asking for?”

Dagley: “You mean the amount for which I am asking? (She was always correcting grammar and pronunciation). Is there confusion about the amount?”

I was not surprised that they were questioning her writing, especially if she wrote it out herself. More probable is that her attorney, a frequent visitor, wrote the check, and that her signature was all over it. When signing things, she would ask us to place the pen in the general area. Her signature was huge and never went in the intended direction.

Teller: Are you sure you have the right number of zeros?

Dagley: How many zeros do you see?

Teller: Ma’am that is ten thousand dollars.

Dagley: “Yes, it is. It is in my account and I want you to put it in this bag.”

Bank officer w/Security: “Miss Dagley, may we have a word with you?”

Dagley: “No. You may not. This is a simple transaction and I want you to complete it NOW.”

I never knew what she did with that $10,000 in cash.

The fireplace store.“She wanted an insert for one of her massive fireplaces (note the chimneys on the house). She was using her long-sleeved white gloves to feel shapes and textures. The biggest difference between her white glove inspection and that of a Marine sergeant was she was unarmed.

Me: “Miss Dagley, those stoves are dirty.” (Ignores me.)

Salesman: “Ma’am, you are getting your white gloves dirty.”

Dagley: “Why am I getting my white gloves dirty?”

Salesman: “These are sample stoves in active fireplaces and they have soot on them.”

Dagley: “Why are you displaying dirty stoves? Show me a clean one, please.”

At the gas station. (full service, of course.)

Dagley: “What are you putting on my windshield?”

Attendant: “Window cleaner, ma’am.”

Dagley: “Soap and water. That is all I want you putting on my car.”

Sending Christmas Cards. She kept a book and tracked incoming and outgoing cards.

Me: “Here’s a card from [whoever]. Shall I address one to them?”

Dagley: “Did they send me a card last year?”

Me: “Yes ma’am.”

Dagley: “What about two years ago?”

Me: “Doesn’t look like it.”

Dagley: “Then we shall wait until next year. Next?”

Some of the rooms in her house.

Hopefully, someday I will find the pictures I took.

The SILVER Room.“Probably originally a dining room, this room had a remarkable collection of only silver artifacts. It was a large room with layers of added shelves. Badly tarnished silver (I’m confident it wouldn’t have been if she could have seen it, but it was not wise to criticize anything in the house. My mother commented,

It would take a full-time person just to keep this room shiny.

The TEAKWOOD Room. Every piece of furniture was hand-carved under water. The room had a very oriental look to it, with marble serpent eyes in the arms of some of the chairs.

The centerpiece of the SUN room was a massive marble table. The tabletop was no fewer than three inches thick and, according to Miss Dagley, took seven men to carry in. Nothing sat on it. No one ever used it. It was just…..there.

The Living Room, and all the rooms on the first floor had approximately 20 ft ceilings and hardwood floors covered with ornamental not quite wall to wall rugs. The rug in the living room had to be 60-80 ft long and over 20 ft wide. I would never be able to afford even the frames that surrounded the massive paintings and portraits. She was stunning in her twenties during the twenties. The 4-foot urns looked like she picked them up in India. At the back of the room (went from front to back of the house) was a full-size grand piano (not a baby grand). On very rare occasions, when she thought we were all out of the house, she would vocalize. Given her age, I can only imagine the power and beauty of such a voice 50 years earlier. She gave a very small number of private voice lessons. I wish I could have sat in on some of those.

The Second Floor had four large, ornate bedrooms, each opening to a common foyer that provided several chairs and couches that I never saw used. Sometimes she would have an extended-staying guest in one of the other 2nd floor rooms.

The Third Floor had five rooms. Four rooms had windows that faced the side or the back, and those had normal, although old widows in them. The room that faced the front had only one small ornamental original window that couldn’t be changed because of the historical registry. There was an electric bell installed that Miss Dagley would use if she needed to “call” one of us, or if she needed to give us notice that she was “coming up”.

Diction and Dialect

Singers must carefully and correctly pronounce their words. So did people in Miss Dagley’s presence. I once asked if she wanted me to wash (pronounced worsch) the car. She kept asking me what I wanted to do to her car until I figured out her point. Another time, I mentioned something on the “nooze“. She asked me how to spell that and when I responded n-e-w-s, she encouraged me to pronounce what I spelled. During my three years in her house, she thoroughly negated my northern Kentucky accent.

Racism and Communism

There was an African-American man who took care of her yard. His transactions with her were always from the back door (which I saw only one time when I walked around the outside of the house), never the front. One time I called her on a reference to him and she silenced me with,

I have nothing against colored people…..they’re just not as smart as normal people.

Another shocker was when I had said something about how I liked the way John Kennedy spoke:

Democrats are communists and he was one of the worst.

Curfew, Girls and the Girl Apartment

We all had a key to her massive front door. But each night, once she believed we were all inside, she would apply the additional locks. I don’t recall a time-specific curfew, but we all knew she waited for us to get in before she would go to bed, which made midnight practicing at the music building problematic. She told us that we were to call her if we ever got to the house and found the door locked. No one wanted to make that call.

One night I missed the locking, which meant having to walk to campus to find a pre-cellular-phone. Instead, I elected to use the fire escape, which required the first ladder to get to the metal roof right outside her bedroom window and then climbing the second ladder to the window of my room. Unfortunately, I mistakenly thought I had the storm window locked open and when it slammed shut, the shattered glass made a terrible noise outside her window. I looked over the fire escape and saw her bedroom light come on. I climbed inside just in time to hear the bell ring and her call, “I’m coming up”. She never raised her voice, simply asking….

Why did you break my window?

Joan and I were dating by the time I moved into the house sophomore year. Miss Dagley liked Joan, especially since she was a vocal music major. Two of the five third floor guys would have girlfriends over. The other three didn’t want to put their friends through Miss Dagley’s unofficial approval process, which generally required only the first few conversation exchanges. Only the best for her boys, of course.

There was a studio apartment out the back of the house that was probably originally a summer kitchen or servant quarters. She would rent it to girls, but not to just one. She offered it to Joan, but when the second renter fell through, Miss Dagley helped her get a basement apartment down the street the provided extra income to a nice elderly couple. I spent more time in that basement than Joan spent in my attic.

Church and misc

Miss Dagley was Episcopalian. I never saw her church, although I would have loved to hear her sing. I learned two fun facts about this church. There were only six members (left). And because of her Packard story, I believe it was of a rural country variety. The reason she bought her Cadillac was because her previous car, a Packard, was so heavy that it once “sank” in her church parking lot.

I regret….

… that I never returned to visit. I learned of Miss Iva Dagley’s death from the lawyer’s response to my Christmas card. She had no family alive and the gossip, while we were there, was that it would all be left to her cat.


Marching Band Freshmen and Newbie Survival Guide

By John Gardner

The following comes from a band handbook I wrote.

All first year participants in Marching Band are Newbies. Consider the terms rookie, freshman and newbie to be interchangeable.

We love our newbies and couldn’t have a band without them.

Band is FamilyThe biggest challenge is for newbies to grasp the concept. Some come to us after being big, bossy 8th graders in the Middle School…and now they are….rookies. Our eighth graders get to spend time in both worlds.

We do not emphasize “chair” placement in Marching Band. In some cases, there may be a freshman who is musically superior to an upperclassman, but the one thing freshmen and newbies don’t have is experience. You need to listen and learn and experience Marching Band.

Some advice for newbies to enhance their rookie year experience:

  1. Be quiet and learn. Do not talk in rehearsals. Other than asking a question or asking for help, speaking should come from directors, staff, drum majors, seniors or section leaders. The upperclassmen with experience know what we expect and know what it takes. Newbies do not…yet. You will become experienced, but you are not there yet.
  2. Respect your elders, including your upperclassmen. Marching Band does have a chain of command type of hierarchy and newbies are not at the top – yet.
  3. Come to a drum major or director if you ever think someone is harassing or mistreating you, because that is absolutely forbidden. It just doesn’t happen here….and it won’t.
  4. Never, EVER confront or challenge a director in anger during rehearsal. We will make mistakes and perhaps even falsely accuse you of an error in rehearsal. The best thing you can do is cooperate at the moment and come talk to us during a break – or privately. If we are wrong, we will admit it and apologize to you publicly, if appropriate. Remember, though, that in a rehearsal, a director cannot lose an authority-questioning or disrespecting battle.
  5. Don’t take it personally. We do a pretty good job, I think, of showing all band members that they are important to us and that we care about them individually.

We want to hear about what is happening in their lives, including outside of band. It is okay to come talk to us about boy/girlfriend issues, job situations and even something where you want a sounding board in addition to or outside of home.

BUT WHEN WE ARE IN REHEARSAL, think of yourself more like an important part of a big machine. The machine only functions properly if each and every part is working. If you are out of line, out of step, out of interval, out of horn position, are playing something incorrectly or not playing…..we WILL point that out to you because you affect the machine.

A judge’s eye is always looking for something different, so the best thing is NOT to draw attention to yourself. If you ever think that we are ‘picking’ on you, please come say something. That is never the intent.

And remember…. you are only a rookie / newbie one year. Then YOU will be one of those upperclass people. Hang in there. Survive well. Let us help you help us.

Your Director

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How I use Google Voice for my Small Business

By John Gardner

Phone Word CollageWhen I started my VirtualMusicOffice, I wanted a phone number other than my home or cell phone. I didn’t want to add a monthly phone bill. I wanted to screen calls and take calls on either my home phone or cell phone, and to know before I picked up that it was a business call. If I missed a call, I wanted a professional voice mail message for my caller and a way to have immediate access to the message from a variety of methods that would not require listening to it on my phone. Because I conduct my business virtually anywhere, but including locally, I wanted a local phone number. From several options, including subscription and free, I selected Google Voice.

In the signup process, I was able to search for phone number options by area code and zip code. I wanted a local phone number and was able to get a prefix from a small town 5 miles away from Huntington. Some of the calls I get are because people recognize the prefix.

I set my account so that a call would ring simultaneously to both my home AND cell phone. Prior to answering the call, I can see that the Caller ID indicates it is a Virtual Music Office (VMO) call. Google Voice prompts the caller (option) to say his/her name, so the first thing I hear when I answer is,

“You have a call from…..”

…and then I can choose to take the call or not.

Voice Mail and messages. The caller hears the message I recorded for the VMO call — NOT the messages on my cell or phone phones. That’s a good thing.

Message notifications. I have my account for multiple notifications:

  1. text to my phone that I have a message with a transcript. So I can SEE the message without having to listen to it. That is handy if I am in a meeting or somewhere phone use would be a distraction.
  2. email to my Gmail address. From that email I can read and/or listen to the message. (Sometimes, especially if the caller fails to speak clearly, the transcription might contain nonsense word(s).
  3. Google Voice account. From the list of messages I can edit the transcription to fix any nonsense words. From this list I can….
    • Call. The system calls your phone and then connects you to the caller, so they don’t see your home/cell number.
    • Text. Again, the text comes from your Voice (not your private) number.
    • Email.
    • Block caller.
    • …and more


I’d like to be your Virtual Assistant. Check me out at

VMO Business Card

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Example: Colleges Pay for those who Play WELL

Today’s video find is personal. Really happy as several of our video recordings from son John’s high school career were stolen along with our camera during a vacation trip.

I like to use John as an example of one way to pay for college; combining systematic study with proficient musicianship and good grades.

In addition to playing in his high school’s wind ensemble, jazz band, and show choir backup band, John went to summer music camps in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. He participated in solo/ensemble festival every year and was principal trumpet in the Fort Wayne Youth Symphony.

About half way through high school, his trumpet teacher said he wanted to expand from 30 to 60 minute lessons. When I asked if there was a discount for the longer time, the teacher’s response was,

“You get me for twice the time at double the price.”

During one of those visits to teacher’s house, as we sat in the driveway while I wrote out the check for that day’s lesson, I said to my son,

“I’m paying for your college education one week at a time. By the time you graduate you should be good enough that someone will pay you to come to their school.”

It worked….because John worked.

As a result of his music and high academic success, for most of his semesters at college, THEY gave HIM a check.

So that I can justify this as an educational post:

  1. What type of trumpet is he playing? Not the brand, the type?
  2. Why does he adjust tuning when inserting/removing the mute?


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Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

By John Gardner

Following is an updated re-post of, “Love, Admire and Respect” as I ask and answer the question,

“Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?”


There is more to school life than what happens during the academic day. Some academic teachers are also coaches or extracurricular sponsors. Coaches develop strong bonds with their athletes. Music and theater arts teachers spend considerable extracurricular time with students – evenings, weekends, summers. These teacher/student relationships are significant and life long impacting.

In a reunion with some of the students from my first teaching job, as they were sharing memories, one person put it this way:

“Come back to teach the students of the students you taught.”

I expected to hear some of the heart-warming stories and did, but one comment caught me off guard a little. As one was listing attributes he appreciated, he included…..

“…and your smile.”

What teachers do you remember most 10-20-30 years out, and for what do you remember them?

Band is the ultimate team.

Unlike a basketball team with its starting five, there is no bench in band. Everybody is in. Everybody is a starter. Few other types of groups will involve people from such varied backgrounds. There are children of doctors and lawyers performing with children of single-parents working multiple jobs or utilizing government help. There are the students who have their own cars and those who need rides, those with the iPhones and the free phones or no phone. You will find students in most bands from every church in the community and others who have never been inside a church.

High school provides a memorable time for teens and parents to be on the same team before graduation and the empty nest.

If only it were like that for all teens.

At this most critical time in their decision-making years, if teens can’t find love, acceptance, encouragement and support from parents, teachers and mentors, they will search for it elsewhere, often with disastrous results leaving them with consequences that change lives and crush dreams.

But even more than TEAM, band is FAMILY…

Most high school athletic teams are together for a “season” — maybe six weeks with a few more for preparation. Band meets in the summer, including band camp which can be 8+hours a day. Then there is every day at school with additional rehearsals in the evenings, plus the Friday football/basketball game and the Saturday competition.

…and more functional than some.

As I stood outside Door 34, she jumped out of the passenger side of the car and ran past me, teary-eyed, crying,

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

As she went by I saw the papa, for the first time, approaching me and angrily waving a piece of paper.

“How much of this schedule is mandatory?”

I paused, if only for a moment as I thought through his reaction to my answer…

“All of it.”

After grumbling something that I probably couldn’t report, he returned to the car and didn’t quite lay rubber in his exit. The daughter was waiting in my office, still crying and apologetic. I hugged her. How does such a sweet daughter have a parent like that?

There are loving parents who are working 2-3 jobs each, going to school and dealing with the challenges of large families – and it is somewhere between difficult and impossible for them to spend a lot of time at football games, parades and competitions. I get that. But what do you say to this parent?

“We need to pull [Benjamin] out of band because he won’t clean his room and he needs to learn respect. He loves band and so this is the only valuable thing we can take away to make our point.”

Or this one?

“Why should I pay money for her to spend time spinning a flag. There are no colleges that will offer scholarships and besides, what job is that going to prepare her for?”

Or to these students?

“Can you please give me something to do. I’ll straighten the library….anything….just don’t make me go home.”

“I have a job so I can earn the money for my band fee, and I keep hiding it, but my mother keeps finding it and taking it.”

“I have to quit music lessons. My dad found out I was using some of my job money for music lessons and says that if I am going to waste my money on that – I can start paying rent.”

“Please don’t try to introduce yourself to my dad. Please don’t. Please, please, please don’t. He is not a nice man.”

I want to share the LOVE they may be missing.

Educationally, the L-word is dangerous. Administrations encourage admiration and respect, but love is conspicuously absent. Understandable. Inappropriate teacher student relationships make national news and destroy lives. Elementary teachers can hug students, but by middle school it is to be a touchless relationship. I disagree.

Sometimes an appropriate touch, handshake, high five, tap on the shoulder or even a hug – can be powerfully effective in mentoring, consoling or encouraging. It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be listening and responding when others won’t.

C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, divides the Greek vocabulary for “love” into four categories:  Storge (στοργή storgē) -affection, Philia (Philia (φιλία philía) – friendship, Éros (ἔρως érōs– romantic love, and Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē) – charity.

None of those match completely what I’m trying to define. Storge (affection) can include the physical. Philia (i.e. Philadelphia – brotherly love) comes close but can include the sexual. Éros is obviously not appropriate, and Agápe, often interpreted as the love between Christians is also close, but gets into spiritual and that is not quite it either.

I “L” my students with a parental type. I see their potential and their youthful enthusiasm and I love that. I love their willingness to share with me things that they can’t comfortably share anywhere else.

“You are always the one to trust with issues like this because you treat us like people and not just another bunch of “teenagers”.”

ADMIRE students who…

  • pay band fees out of a paycheck
  • pay for private instruction lessons out-of-pocket
  • seem completely self-supporting (clothes, obligations)
  • apologize for the way their parent(s) behaved
  • juggle the extra rehearsals and activities with job and homework — and go for the best grades without parental encouragement or expectation
  • keep a positive attitude when others have parents involved and but they don’t

Nobody said life is fair. Those who endure hardships can be the better for it later. Trust me on that. As the oldest of five children raised in a single parent family by a polio surviving mother (and if you have no idea what that means, thank God), I understand poverty, but also how to work through it, with it, around it, and above it …. so cut me some slack when I don’t expect less from the less fortunate.

Students often impress me with friend choices and for the way they support and encourage each other. It is moving to see how friends and band members surround one who is hurting, physically or emotionally. With proper relationships established, teachers can be included in, or involved separately in similar support and encouragement – even of some personal issues.

RESPECT students …

  • who work through moderate pain or discomfort without complaint
  • who have the musical ability to thrive, but can’t get the new instrument, or the private lessons, or go to the summer camps….or even stay in band, because of a parent who doesn’t see the value of band or color guard
  • expect more of themselves than their parents do
  • endure custody battles and try not to allow it to interfere with band

I hope these students appreciate how hard I try to make their situations work out.

And we have students whose parents are their biggest cheerleaders and amazing supporters…..

  • helping them earn the highest of Boy or Girl Scout honors
  • supporting their garage band
  • encouraging out of country mission trips
  • inspiring them to pursue the same vocation as the parent
  • or spending countless hours volunteering for band (committees, sewing, cooking, feeding, chaperoning, driving, etc)

We have CARING students who….

  • stand outside Wal-mart when it is below freezing to ring bells and play Salvation Army brass ensemble music
  • volunteer in nursing homes and with church youth groups in a host of different types of volunteerism
  • help raise money for those sick and injured

I am a high school teacher who appropriately loves students and hopes it is ok. If I ever lose my job for loving teens the way I do, I’ll be ok.

Teacher Student Love


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14+ Ways to Volunteer for a Marching Band to Appreciate and Applaud What is Good About Teenage America

by John Gardner

volunteer_image-517x453In a quick search on variations of “teen school behavior”, “teen behavior” and such, I found links to a several behavior modification schools, advertisements for parental survival guides, places that want to segregate teens to ranches or boarding school type setups, medical and mental solutions….. wow. If you watch much TV, you hear about how current teens are falling behind academically or lacking dedication and commitment.

I hear from people who ask how I can be in a room with so many teens or why I would want to spend all that time with them. They inspire me with their youthful enthusiasm, but why rely on second-hand information? Volunteer with a local marching band organization and travel with the group to a marching band competition. There’s a lot of good stuff happening, academic, artsy and otherwise. Here are over 14 ways to volunteer for a marching band to appreciate and applaud what is good about teenage America.

Volunteerism Opportunities

Nearly all bands have a Band Parent Organization, but in some cities, or with smaller bands, finding enough help is a challenge. Most of the adults volunteering with a marching band have students in the band, but very few organizations would limit help to ONLY parents. Jump in. You’ll be accepted, appreciated, respected and even loved.

UNIFORMS. Are you good at measuring and sizing? All band students get sized for uniforms every year. That normally involves finding a coat, trousers and hat that fit. Someone has to keep track of who has what number of which piece of the uniform. Then there is distributing and collecting accessories like gauntlets, plumes, gloves, braids, sashes and other uniform add-ons. Marching Band uniforms can easily cost $400ea, so it would cost $40,000 to uniform a 100-piece band.

There is a need to manage and maintain those uniforms to increase the life expectancy and reduce the frequency of buying new sets. Older uniforms require dry cleaning, which is no small undertaking. Organizing them for pick up or delivery, removing the items that don’t go to the cleaner, then re-assembling and reorganizing upon their return. Some newer uniforms are machine washable – but also no easy task. Do you have a large front loaded washer you would be willing to use for your local band? That also helps with the savings from the dry cleaning bills of before.

COSTUME DESIGN/SEWING. The Color Guards (Flag Corps) generally have a separate, custom-designed outfit to go with the show theme and colors for that year. Drum Major(s) sometimes use a theme-oriented, custom uniform as well. Volunteers can save the band significant money by sewing, rather than purchasing flags and/or uniforms.

CONSTRUCTION / PROPS. You’ve seen the sets on a theater stage. The football field is the marching band’s stage. Bands want props to shrink the size of the stage or to enhance the theme of the show. Props can be decorative or functional (ramps, storage for equipment/uniform/costume changes). Maybe it is building and putting wheels on carts to haul all the extra percussion equipment (marimba, xylophone, timpani, gong, bass drum, keyboard, sound system, etc) in such a way that it can be moved easily.

Local props have included an analog clock painted on a full size trampoline, 10 foot hour glass, a ship complete with flag pole mast and sails that go up and down, tarps, tepees and more. If you’re not the construction type, share your design and creativity talents.

PIT / FIELD CREW. All that sideline ensemble equipment and any props must be put into place and then removed after the performance. Getting the band on and off the field is an operation that some competitions recognize with a “Best Pit Crew” trophy. The good news is that those on the pit crew generally get into the competition for free and get to hang out with the band students around the buses before and after a show. What a deal.

FOOD. Like to cook/fix foods for big events? Like to see smiles on teen faces? Want to serve? When bands travel to competitions and events, there are often times when it is necessary to feed them. The local band students get excited when they hear about “what’s for dinner”, especially things like potato or soup or taco bars, walking tacos, burgers, pizza and the like. Most of the meals served locally cost the band parent organization about $2 per person (does include both donated and purchased items). After a performance there is often a snack table with sweets, fruits and water. If you’re a food service professional, your skills could be especially helpful in planning, coordinating and calculating. Not only do you get into competitions for free and get to hang out with enthusiastic teens, but you also get to enjoy meals with them.

On her post, “Zen and the Art of Drum Corps Shopping”, Emily Tannert describes that most Drum Corps get most of their food from a food service company, but lists the following as a “daily shopping list”:

30 loaves each white and wheat
50 packages hot dog buns
8 gallons milk — 4 x 2 percent, 2 x 1 percent, 2 x skim
1 gallon barbecue sauce
10-plus lbs. peanut butter
250 slices American cheese
40 tomatoes
18 heads lettuce
20 lbs. baby carrots
6 watermelons
Generic Dayquil

Read more of that article.

CHAPERONES. Unlike the general population of the school, band students understand the behavior expectations and how they are held to a higher standard. They understand that travel is a privilege that can be lost. Band students are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and riding the bus with them, helping them get all their uniform parts together and such…. is really a fun job. Many chaperons are “Mama [insert name]” to the students. They understand chaperons are a reality and they do not make it a hard job. And yes, you get in free… is the least we can do.

DRIVERS.The bus drivers are school corporation employees, but most bands have trailers of various sizes, or even a semi to pull. Are you a professional truck driver? Have your own rig? One year our band borrowed a trailer from a local warehouse company that had their advertising on it — and used a truck donated by a local delivery company. A parent volunteer drove and the band parent organization paid for the fuel.

FUNDRAISING. In most high school music programs, both instrumental and vocal, the financial requirements involved in funding a competitive ensemble (show choir / marching band) can be staggering. A new uniform drive needs $40,000 the same year the band is going to Disney ($80,000). Throw in a new set of drumline percussion instruments ($10,000), another $10,000 for a sound system, $25,000 for five new tubas, $3,000 for drill design, $1500 for music, $5,000 for flags and guard uniforms, food for road trips, transportation costs, etc.,  and you can see that fundraising is a major part of a successful marching program.

Are you good at organizing events, making calls, creating publicity, motivating people? Your skills would be invaluable.

CONTEST/EVENT ORGANIZER. A marching band competition can involve over a dozen marching bands bringing a couple thousand teens, 50 school buses plus vans, trucks, trailers. The group is flying in judges from all over the country, housing and feeding them — as well as providing hospitality for directors and drivers, concessions, advertising, announcing, timers, people to help each group through their event schedule, score tabulators and so much more. Competitions are large fundraisers, but also massive undertakings. Can you help with parking, crowd control, first aid — or as a runner to take care of all the highly stressed and sometimes demanding band directors? Whatever you like to do, there is probably a job for you at a marching band, winter guard or indoor percussion competition.

GRANT WRITING. There is money out there, but the competition for it is great. Are you an experienced grant writer? They could certainly use your help.

BUSINESS MENTORING. Do you run a small business? Have a business degree? Band Directors are trained educators, not necessarily heavily trained in the business skills involved in running the “business” of a travelling competitive program. And the band parent volunteers are always well-meaning parents who want to help, but don’t always have the organizational or motivational skills that could make them more effective and successful contributors to the program.

Especially in programs organizing “competitions” as fundraisers….the organization requirements are huge — and most would accept constructive help from a local business professional.

MEDICAL. Students with asthma have prescription inhalers. Someone severely alergic to bee stings may have emergency medication. There are those on behavioral modification medicines (including narcotics) or with medically prescribed ankle or knee braces. An intensive performance in uniform with the added stress of competition and heat, students need real help when they come off the field. It is not unusual for students to get a variety of injuries (twisted ankles), bumps from flag poles, sun burn, dehydration and more…. The local show choir was fortunate for a number of years to have a parent who was a chiropractor who would transport a portable table to competitions to help dancers with injuries and stresses. If you are a medical professional, your advice services could be put to good use.

LEGAL. Increasingly, band and choir parent organizations are incorporating — and part of that process involves legal services. Can you help? Bands make contractual commitments to drill designers, instructional and expert staff, choreographers, and more. Perhaps they are building sponsorship relationships with local business. You could help them saying the right words the right way.

FINANCIAL. Bands often have an individual participant financial requirement that can be met from everything from parental checks to profit from a multitude of fundraising projects. So, in addition to the general fund expenses, there are individual student accounts. On a major trip year, responsibilities are magnified as families make scheduled payments into an account, or where the band treasurer must coordinate with the travel company on all those individual accounts. If you can’t be the day-to-day person, perhaps you could help set up the spreadsheet or recommend the program to use — and offer financial or bookkeeping advice.


A marching band should be run like a business, but that is hard to do when most of those in the operation are untrained and unpaid. If you can help, please do.


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Band Camp Prank: Marching Band and Fire Truck

I posted the picture below and got feedback asking how we did that…. so below the pic are some steps and suggestion.

Are your rehearsals always serious? This band, during band camp week, was complaining about the heat and wanted a water break. Not sure this is what they expected. Fire Departments need to have training exercises. We were happy to help.

Are your rehearsals always serious? This band, during band camp week, was complaining about the heat and wanted a water break. Not sure this is what they expected. Fire Departments need to have training exercises. We were happy to help.

Additional pictures below.

My father was a 32-yr fire fighter and I spent much of my childhood around the firehouse. Some things you may not realize:

  • Firefighters are community minded people — many are coaches for summer league sports, but genuinely interested in helping students.
  • The 1000 gallons of water carried in a pumper truck needs to be flushed/recycled periodically.
  • Firefighting professionals need practice – training in controlling and directing high pressure water flow. What better target than a bunch of teenagers.
  • Most have a cool sense of humor.
  • There is a hierarchy of command and approval in a fire department.
  • You can’t just park or hide a heavy fire truck just anywhere.
  • Consideration has to be made as to where that 1000 gallons of water is going to go.
  • Instruments, electronics, wallets, some eyeglasses, etc…. won’t deal well with that much water.
  • Without a legitimate way of opting out, which can’t really be announced in advance, you are taking some risk with parents….
  • Consider the effect on thin, white t-shirts.
  • Solicit help from a couple highly-trusted parents. (towels, etc)
  • We’re talking about a huge amount of water and a significant amount of wet.
  • What happens next?
  • Don’t just call 9-1-1.


Plan it for the end of a day. You’re not going to get anything done afterward. But also, consider that your students are going to be incredibly wet….. and putting them immediately in their parents cars might not be the best idea either. Consider having some fun and games …. or snacks after.

Have a backup day — obviously you can’t do it on a rainy day.

Coordinate with the Fire Department. Ensure you’re talking to the right people. It will take at least the person in charge of a particular fire house to oversee the specific event and he may need to get approval from higher-ups. This is not a normal request they get. Allow time for some inter-departmental communication and approval. 

Where? My original intent was to hide the fire truck and have it shoot water over the corner of our high school onto a totally unsuspecting group of teens. That didn’t work. The FD informed me that the truck would tear up any grass and also that there would need to be consideration of where the water would go, aka a drain. Unfortunately for us, that meant parking the truck in the middle of the school parking lot with no way that the students wouldn’t at least see it before something happened. So how do you get 100 students to get close enough to a fire truck? Keep reading.

Get school approval. At least inform your principal what you are doing so that if he/she receives phone calls, there will at least be knowledge of the event.

Protect the electronics, wallets, etc.

  1. You must convince students to remove cell phones, iPods, mp3 players, etc from their pockets. Also wallets and anything else that a lot of water could damage. How do you do that without telling them why? Keep reading.
  2. You must keep all that stuff safe. Have a way to guard it.

The Prank

The day before.

Some of you are starting to get red (burned) out here….including through some really thin t-shirts. It is supposed to be hot and sunny tomorrow and I’d like to ask that you consider wearing something other than a thin, white t-shirt.

Call a couple trusted band parents and ask if they can bring a collection of old towels. In case they are going to borrow from someone, ensure them that nothing will happen to damage the towels. If you must, and you can, tell them what is going on.

The day of.

Make sure everything is okay with the FD.

If you happen to be outside, be sure to have a reason to come inside for a few minutes prior to the arrival of the fire department.

  1. The music isn’t going well and you want an impromptu inside rehearsal or sectional.
  2. The marching isn’t going well and you are going to take them inside and give them the what for.
  3. You’ve noticed a problem with electronics and want to deal with it.

Find a place to line the band up in a parade-block type setting where they cannot see the truck. We planned behind a corner of the building.

Put on your mean face…..and throw a temper tantrum that goes something like this:

Ok band, it is time for some fundamental marching. Set you instruments down in the grass over there. And while you’re at it, put all cell phones, watches and electronics with your instrument. I want none of that on the field. Don’t worry, these parents will watch your stuff until you have marched this block all the way around the building. How many times around depends on YOU!

There will be a lot of questioning and maybe even some complaining. Remember, you must get all the electronics out of their clothing.

Now line up. Shrink the interval to 2-steps. Two steps across, two steps front to back. You’re going to be so tight that a mis-step is going to be problematic….so you need to focus, listen to commands and get everything else out of your mind, GOT IT?

As you march around the corner, they will see the truck, but if you are sufficiently convincing, they will be concentrating more on calming you down with absolute compliance. Consider starting and stopping them a couple times.

As they get in range…. STOP and correct alignment or something. And then…

(click any image to enlarge)

Afterwards, allow them to go back to get their stuff…..have the parents who were guarding it hand out some towels. Consider a few minutes of activity in the sunlight to also help dry out the clothes a little. You may hear comments like:

I don’t get this wet when I jump into a swimming pool.

Thanks for reading.

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