Or at least it will if Woodrow Wilson’s Ryan Baldridge has anything to say about it
Some people take for granted a marching band performance at a neighborhood football game. Not so for the Woodrow Wilson High School crowd, now that the school’s entire band has dwindled to about 35 students.
In fact, Dallas ISD Trustee Ron Price says he’s hearing complaints from parents and neighbors frustrated with the size of the band.
“I went to a Woodrow Wilson football game and looked at the band — if you can call it a band. I would call it an ensemble. It looked like it had about 20 students, and that’s not acceptable when you have a school of close to 1,400 students,” Price says. “The band’s on life support. We need to do something to get it up and moving.”
Getting things up and moving is exactly what the current band director, Ryan Baldridge, would like to do. Only in his second year, Baldridge has come face to face with limited funding, uninterested students and a recent history of band neglect — all posing his biggest challenges.
Baldridge says when he inherited the band, “there had been a lot of turnover and lots of miscommunication for the musicians. A lot of things did not come together, and the band was in a state of neglect and underdevelopment.”
While funding continues to be an issue, Baldridge says there are things he can do to improve in other areas. Determined and passionate, he works with band members before school several mornings each week, and during class they practice extensive tuning exercises as well as discuss breathing techniques and the proper way to hold instruments.
“Mr. Baldridge is making quite a few changes and some waves along the way,” says Patty Silva, mother of a band member. “He has had a couple of encounters due to his difference of opinion with the DISD fine arts department.”
Some of these encounters could be because of what Baldridge calls his “modern” approach, a focus on musical education and concert performance.
“My goal is to grow a band,” Baldridge says. “To realize that goal, one of my tasks is to bring a modern approach on how to cultivate success to the parents, community members, administrators and anyone else involved in our program. That is my challenge.”
Of course, one of the fundamental challenges is funding. With all of the competing interests at the high school, principal Ruth Vail’s dilemma is how to allocate money.
“We are growing to meet all the diverse needs of the fine arts program, and I think that is what it is, that there are needs, and we have to meet them,” she says.
Looking around the band practice hall provides some clues as to why just a small percentage of students are interested in participating. The band has only one rehearsal room for small group practice, and all of the rooms are acoustically unfavorable, Baldridge says. On top of that, the students play on instruments with missing parts and have to buy their own mouthpieces, which can be expensive. Band parents are constantly organizing fundraisers to help with costs.
Funding is only one issue, however, and Baldridge acknowledges that in some ways, the criticism of his band is valid.
“What I want people to know is that to have a program worthy of praise is going to take time and hard work,” he says. “Successful bands start in the first year of middle school, and you just need that background. We are working on making that up.”
That means educating students at the elementary and middle school levels, because by the time they reach high school, they need to already be excited about the band program, Baldridge says.
Vail says Woodrow has implemented a beginner’s band class this year to try and alleviate some of the problems. It’s designed for kids who have never played an instrument, so even if they didn’t participate in middle school band, they still have a chance to play at Woodrow.
“Last year was his [Baldridge’s] first year, and he was getting to know what kinds of kids were coming through, but my expectations are that all kids get to try with the beginner’s band.”
Baldridge’s goal is 200 students in the band, but numbers aren’t everything, he says.
“What we have here is a bunch of kids who really like band. In schools with more advanced band programs, they have more students, but they also have more students who may or may not really be devoted to what they are doing. These kids are really the ones who want to do this, but the problem is they have to learn how.”
Lauren Hendricks, a saxophone player and junior, joined the Woodrow band as a freshman and says she appreciates Baldridge’s methods.
“I think that he works very hard to make sure that we are doing things right instead of just taking the easy way out,” she says.
Some band parents say they’re impressed that Baldridge works countless hours, often nights and weekends, and are thrilled that their children are taking music so seriously.
“The mentality has changed,” Silva says. “It’s not just: ‘Let’s play three songs at the game.’ It’s: ‘You’re going to learn music, and you’re going to listen to how it sounds correctly. You’re not going to just go out and play.’”
That affects the band’s visibility, too, because in a program based on musical technique, a flashy marching band is not the top priority.
“When community focus is on the marching, it focuses on the byproduct. My focus is on something else, and that’s the concert band. That’s what I’m trying to restore in our program here,” Baldridge says. “Marching band is something that musicians do after they learn how to play their instruments.”
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