As this post is published, I hope everyone is preparing for the July 4th celebration. Along with fireworks, grilling at picnics, sunflowers, ice cream and the patriotic significance of this date, I enjoy a parade–any parade. Especially those with floats, clowns, men with funny hats, and of course, marching bands.
This most recent Memorial Day I had the wonderful pleasure of actually seeing a band that the NLS Music Section had heard about; however, no one knew the whole story. Reviewing the bands scheduled for the parade, I was delighted to see that the Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Band was coming to town. I grabbed my sunscreen and hat and made my way to downtown D.C.
What a thrill! I had a good viewing spot, and when the band approached, the response from several parade-goers was great enthusiasm, along with well-deserved applause and shout-outs.
I contacted the Director of the band at the school, Ms. Carol Agler. She and her assistant, Ms. Yvonne Johnson agreed to fill me in on the history of the program and their experiences.
Carol graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor’s and later a Master’s in Music Education. As teachers quickly discover, they are asked to do everything, so she has taught choir, general music, music for students with multiple disabilities and given private instruction. She came to the Ohio State School for the Blind (OSSB) in a full time position as the music teacher/director. Having observed many talented students and discovering there were band instruments available, she requested the band program be reinstated, and the administration agreed.
Yvonne is another Ohio State graduate with a teaching career that has taken her from Arizona to Texas and back to Ohio. In Arizona she taught elementary vocal and general music classes and started three different band programs simultaneously. In Texas she taught jazz band, started a choral program and was an assistant director of the marching band. She was drawn back to Ohio when she saw the offer to work with the blind students at OSSB; she couldn’t resist.
Then there was the great coincidence. The OSSB had its band and the nearby Ohio School for the Deaf was reviving its football team. When the respective administrations met, someone remarked that it would be “really cool” if the Blind School band could march at the half-time show of the Deaf School’s football game.
Well, 13 students performed, and (I love this) spelled out “Ohio” in braille. “Script Braille Ohio” is the signature drill and they emulate the famous Ohio State Band, beginning in a coil and marching in a line to form Ohio in braille, each student representing a dot in the braille cells. Like their sighted counterpart, the tuba player dots the “i” in Ohio, a very big honor.
The music education programs at OSSB include general music classes 3 times a week, beginning band for 5th graders, junior high music classes that have 3 days of band and 2 days of choir. At the high school level, the choir meets 5 days a week, and there is private instruction in piano, voice, instruments and learning to read braille music. There is also a drum line open to all grades, and an after school strings program. Small ensembles such as the brass ensemble and singing quartet encourage leadership skills, independence and frequently uncover hidden talents. In January 2016, students will participate in Solo and Ensemble competition for the first time. There have been graduates of the OSSB music program who have continued as music educators and performers.
In past years, OSSB has sponsored an Artist in Residence program in which the entire school studies another culture, with music as part of the course. Examples are African drumming and Japanese taiko drumming. This year Native American cultures were spotlighted and the music classroom had two teepees on display.
The biggest challenge for the band was marching in the Granddaddy of Parades, the Tournament of Roses in 2010. Ms. Agler states that the students surprised themselves. It’s not easy to march 5 ½ miles, without stopping, on national television. What a thrill.
In closing, I think I’ll let the students speak for themselves. I asked both directors what was the most common feedback and comment they received from the students. From Ms. Agler, “Oh, my God! Now I know why this is so cool!” Following a loud five minute ovation after a performance at a marching band invitational show, one student turned to Ms. Johnson and said “I can’t believe that is for us.”
Believe it, young bandsman. I can’t wait until you march in Washington, D.C. again.