A meeting of Farmington High School Marching Band parents — also attended by band alumni, school administrators and community members — was held Tuesday night in the school’s band room to discuss comments reportedly made by band director Elliot Naes during band practice on Monday, as well as comments made to band directors at other St. Francois County high schools, regarding the high school’s future involvement in marching band tournaments.
The occasionally contentious meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes, brought out a roomful of upset parents who voiced their concerns about what they believed was Naes’ intention to end the school band’s participation in field marching.
Director Naes has said he believes that his band students are at a disadvantage because they do not use electronics and, because of this, suffer in the ratings they receive at competitions. Because he doesn’t want to use electronics and sound systems, Naes is reportedly investigating the alternative of competitive parade marching.
Competitive marching in St. Francois County began around 1974, with North County and Central being the first schools participating. Farmington began competitive style marching in the fall of 1976 with the hiring of an assistant director, who was tasked with directing the marching band and jazz band. Over the next 30+ years, Farmington’s band grew in size, reputation, and success. By the fall of 1982, Kurt Bauche and Linda Huck had become directors of Farmington bands, positions they would hold until they retired.
In the past 10 years, the use of props and sound equipment has increased, and larger schools, particularly in metropolitan areas, have invested in this. In most marching competitions, schools are divided by the school’s football classification as determined by MSHSAA. Farmington, this year, competes in Class 5 in football. Therefore, the band competes in Class 5 in marching competitions. Aside from a bass guitar and keyboard in the front performing ensemble, Farmington does not use electronic sound systems or other devices. Many of the bands Farmington competes against, however, do.
At the top of the meeting, Farmington High School Athletic Director Chad Mills attempted to calm the nerves of parents who believed the decision to end participation in marching competitions had already been made.
“I just want to tell you early on here just to ease your minds about something because a lot of you are going to have a lot of questions probably,” he said. “There’s been no changes made to anything today. So, if you’re sitting here and you’re thinking, they’ve made all these changes that are horrible, or changes have been made in this department in the last whatever days. There have been no changes made. So, I’m starting with that. We’re going to have a good meeting, be productive. There’s going to be some answers that will be made here.”
Addressing the parents, Naes said, “There’s a lot of misinformation going around on the internet, there’s a lot of great things going on on the internet, there’s a lot of bad things. But anyway, I am researching through some, I’m just kind of looking around at different ideas for what we can do to make the marching band a more educational experience and a better experience for our kids. And I think we would all agree the way it is right now is good.
“The way it is right now is totally an educational experience, and there are so many great things about what we do. And all I’m doing at this point is I’m just investigating if there are any ways that we can do things to make it an even better process for, or an even better thing for our kids to experience and to be a part of.
Addressing rumors he said were not at all true, Naes said, “I saw things going around saying that the school district is defunding the band or whatever. That is totally not the case. I have an awesome budget compared to our other MAAA schools. I feel super well-supported in that regard. We’re able to buy the instruments that we need to keep everything up to date, and we have a plan on how to do that and make sure we use our budget well and wisely.
“We have enough money to buy the music that we need for different concerts and things and repair what we need. So that is not happening, and that is not a concern. Again, I know that there are a lot of questions about different things, and so, instead of just necessarily sharing with all of you my ideas, I want to give you guys a chance to ask questions about what you’re thinking, seeing, hearing or thinking about.”
The first parent to make a comment said, “I’m proud to call you our band director. You do great things for these children, but I am very much against changing it, and I think you see a lot of people are. And I don’t know how much of it is just exploring when we go through Central, and their band directors say, ‘Well, this is your last year here, we hear this is your last year. And that seems like it’s, that seems like it’s a bad idea.”
Note: The Daily Journal received a phone call from Central High School Band Director Matt Filer on Thursday, Oct. 6, denying that he or his staff have made comments to anyone about the Farmington High School band program regarding its future participation or non-participation in competitions. He added that the Central High School Band is “completely neutral” about any decisions the school district makes regarding the Farmington High School Band program. – Editor
Naes replied, “Okay, yeah, so, and what I’m looking at is, you know, the way the trajectory of marching band, both since Emily has been in the program and since people in the past have been in the program, has gone a lot more towards the use of electronics, gone a lot more towards ballet and dance elements of putting on a show. It’s not necessarily about the music and the drilling more. It’s all about all the other visual elements, and it’s also about a lot of the props that are happening. Now, I have resisted those things because, at the end of the day, I don’t think that’s what’s best for our kids.
“And there’s even some music judges that we got feedback from this year who said, ‘Every minute you spend teaching your kids how to do like a silly looking visual thing that’s more modern and more stylistic and common across groups, every minute you spend doing that is one less minute that you spend working on scales or notes or rhythms or articulation and the things that matter more.’ And so again, I’m just looking at, okay, if those are the things that I dislike the most and that I find are the least educational about marching band, which again, we haven’t done those things, what are some other things that don’t include those things that we could look into doing? And one of those things was parade marching.
Naes reminded the parents that they had seen the band marching down the street at Farmington Country Days, the homecoming parade and the Christmas parade.
“And, generally, what we do with that is any of the kids in the past will tell you is we kind of pass out the tune a week or two before, and we go out once or twice, and then we’re down the street performing in the parade,” he said. “And it’s always been relatively just, hey, let’s do this because this event is coming up, so we can spend more time focusing on other things. And so what I’m looking at is a model where maybe we, instead of doing only field competitions like we’ve done in the past, that we do some parade competitions in addition to field.”
A parent said it was hard for them to believe that Naes was only “exploring” when other schools have telling them for the past year that this was the band director’s intention.
Naes replied, “That is not the truth.”
The parent asked, “So, they will be at Central next year, then?”
Naes said, “I’m exploring opportunities, and I would like to say that we’ll go to Central, and we’ll go to Potosi. Again, I’m not trying to blow up the ship because I know I’m only a small part of it.
“I’ve been here for 12 years, and I intend on being her for another 18, so I’m not going to do anything that jeopardizes what’s going on. I’m not going to light the ship on fire and then jump off, you know?”
Potosi’s Bi-State Marching Festival offers a parade competition, but the largest school marching in the parade competition was in class 3 or 4. Most bands that compete in parade competitions are schools with no football. Large class 4-6 schools rarely compete in parades because they also compete in field and competing in both risks overtaxing the band for field competition and makes for a long day. The Rebel Invitational in Park Hills and the Black Knight Marching Invitational in Farmington both had parade competitions in their early days but dropped them for lack of participation.
As the meeting continued, Naes made efforts to appease the concerned parents and continued to assure them that no rash decisions would be made. Several of the parents — some of whom had been band members themselves when in high school — told Naes they felt that participating in marching tournaments was about more than getting top ratings.
Another parent said, “So, I can’t speak for all students, but I know that mine and her close-knit friends have said that they would rather go to a competition in place last every single time than change the program completely. Because it’s about the camaraderie. It’s not about winning or losing to them. And you’ve always said that, too. It’s not about winning. It’s not about losing. A winner loses with pride. So, my question is, why all of a sudden do you want to change it?”
Throughout the rest of the evening, many of the same concerns were repeatedly voiced by the parents. Several stressed that if funds were an issue, the booster club and band parents, in general, would step up to make sure the money was there.
As the meeting was hitting the 90-minute mark, Farmington Superintendent Dr. Kyle Gibbs assured the parents that whatever decision was made regarding the issue, it would not be Naes’ to make alone. Instead, it would “ultimately” be a decision made by the board of education.
Board President Kerry Noble echoed Gibbs in assuring the parents how the decision on participation in marching tournaments would be reached.
“This will be a board decision, but we’re not going to let anything happen that would impact or negate the way toward our children,” he said. “That’s our focus at the board. That’s our priority.”
Kevin R. Jenkins is the editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.