Why some directors don’t want an IL marching band state championship

In the Illinois Marching Online-Voxitatis poll about the possibility of an Illinois High School Association-supported state championship series in marching band, we now consider the responses from directors who answered “no” to the question, Should Illinois sponsor and sanction a state championship series for marching band?

Of the 60 directors who responded to the poll, 16 answered “no” to this question, and 11 of those directors gave some reason for not wanting a state championship series in marching band.

The word cloud above, generated by the little toy at Wordle.net, shows words in bigger fonts that were more prominent in the reasons given by directors as to why they feel a state championship might not be a good idea for Illinois schools.

Dominant reasons among directors’ “no” responses

We next consider some of the important reasons directors listed for not supporting a state championship series in marching band. The actual responses are printed below, but we provide here a summary with our brief analysis.

No. 1: In a state championship series or tournament, the association and not the educators in charge of marching band programs would have control over what contests or festivals schools send their bands to.

Directors say they should have control over the educational choices made in their programs. This requires flexibility, creativity, and support from the school administration. If some administrators want a state championship, they might force educators to make decisions to conform to the goal of winning a state championship.

Research (also here and here) and anecdotal evidence suggest that flexibility in designing lesson plans is good for student learning. We assume the same would be true in the arts and music.

No. 2: A state championship series would cost too much in comparison with the educational benefits students would derive.

Directors said working toward a state championship would cause schools—their administrators, parents, and directors—to spend more money on the marching band, taking it away from other programs at the school or in the music department.

Furthermore, many school music programs depend on existing marching band festivals as one of their biggest revenue streams. If those contests saw a decline in participation due to conflicts with a state championship series, those schools would lose money, which might jeopardize the music programs at those schools.

No. 3: Directors and possibly the Illinois Music Educators Association should develop a series that is not as competitive and subjective as one the IHSA would develop.

Some directors expressed the concern that a state championship series in marching band would reward schools that invest in the entertainment value rather than the educational value of a marching band’s work. That is, props, costumes, and theme would have a higher priority than music or marching execution.

They also say that judging is subjective, as we have also shown, and the IHSA is not likely to produce a state series that would provide the feedback high-caliber marching bands need.

Competition also is viewed as a negative by many directors. Several National Board certified teachers in music are on record as advising against competition, but they tend to favor development of performance standards and the feedback provided by adjudicators at well-run festivals.

I believe the reason they say this is that some evidence suggests that extreme competitiveness can and often does squelch creativity and result in the setting of irrational goals to the detriment of students’ self-esteem. So writes Project Muse’s Krista Riggs:

“A common focus on a final product in instruction rather than on the creative process of personal and artistic growth can also contribute to the detrimental setting of unrealistic goals and resulting lack of self-esteem in the student. Evaluation of artistically, intellectually, and emotionally developing students against an unattainable perceived aesthetic ideal or in comparison to other students of differing strengths and levels of development can hinder motivation while increasing anxiety, extreme competition, and negative emotional response in the learning experience.

“In a more personalized curriculum that centers on individual strengths and weaknesses through a mentoring approach, each student may be guided to develop the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual faculties leading to optimal experience. From creative flow and the peak experiences of self-actualization comes intrinsic motivation for students to pursue creativity as a way of life, with further motivation to find moments for artistic expression and personal satisfaction in all aspects of their being.”

No. 4: The IHSA music advisory committees should invest time and effort to fix existing programs rather than meddling in a system that isn’t in need of their management.

Directors mentioned the poor quality of current IHSA music events, such as the solo and ensemble and the concert band events. In addition to comments given in the survey, some directors on follow-up also told me they avoid solo and ensemble or organizational contests altogether as a result of the low educational value.

These programs, which already exist, could use some fixing, according to directors who responded “no” to the survey. They said they would prefer fixing existing programs to development of a new one in marching band, mainly because the current festival circuit for marching bands in Illinois, while it could be improved (as anything can), is working fine. No assistance from an outside association is needed.


Reasons against having a state championship series in marching band tend to focus on three areas:

  • Directors’ use of money they have in their music programs
  • Flexibility of directors to make choices for their students
  • The IHSA’s understanding of competition in the fine arts

We believe the first two have been treated well in the links we provided. Good and recent research and anecdotal evidence suggest the directors know what they’re talking about.

However, regarding competition in the fine arts, we wrote in our affirmative report on this question, here, that competition need not be antagonistic to artistic expression. In about two-thirds of students who participate in marching band, competition can be expected to work in favor of students’ ability to appreciate learning for its own sake, in favor of the personal satisfaction gained from an excellent performance, and in favor of students’ tendency to seek out artistic expression and the associated personal satisfaction—the intrinsic motivation to which Ms Riggs referred—in their future.

Although competition doesn’t necessarily produce the best musicians when feedback is less than adequate, as it might be under rules managed by the IHSA, we point out that not all marching band students are headed to careers in music performance. For these students, a moderate level of competition is likely to drive them toward many of their life goals.

As a testimony to this, we end this page of our report with words spoken by a music parent in the Redlands School District in southern California on the occasion of Thanksgiving a few days ago.

I cannot say this loudly enough: second to our family life, being a part of these programs [concert bands, orchestras, percussion lines, choirs, marching bands, jazz groups and barbershop quartets] was the most important part of my children’s childhoods. Thank you.

I’m thankful for the friendship, confidence, music theory, technical skill, teamwork, and trophies. I’m thankful for the memory of my son with his arms around his bandmates singing “Don’t Stop Believing”; for the vision of my kids running onto a field after getting a 92 score, weeping and searching for us in the crowd to hug us in celebration; for hearing my daughter hit the high note in the national anthem before every football game; for the way it felt to be in the audience for 10 years; for the feeling of family with the other parents; for loving the other 100 other kids in the band/ orchestra/choir and tearing up watching them graduate.

It is clear from this parent’s eloquent expression of thanks to his school district, administrators, and teachers that marching band competition was additive, at least for his kids, and not interfering, when it came to an appreciation for what art and music performance does for us as a culture.

Actual responses (we edited and combined a little)

IHSA tends to cater to the larger suburban schools. If I were to have a school participate in the event, I would be looking for lots of input from downstate directors, and an emphasis on marching and playing rather than show concept and props. I would not like to see a replication of what already exists with the BoA circuit.

There are already many fine independently run competitions for us to do.

It’s about giving students the best performances at the best venues with educational judging panels that offer feedback to make your program better. What we do is already too competitive and subjective.

Athletic conflicts.

Too many high schools rely on hosting a contest for money. For IHSA to step in to have this is unfair. IHSA is obviously looking for more ways to generate revenue and wield even more control over Illinois schools. It is time for IMEA to start running music events like other state music associations.

I would be very hesitant about more competition and less education taking place.

I do not feel that IHSA has the ability to run this properly. I believe that they are only trying to be involved as another way to make more money. Solo and Ensemble and Organizational Contest are poorly developed and conceived (as a whole, not reflective of the host schools AT ALL. The hosts do the best they can to provide a great experience for the kids). If marching band and show choir contests are ran like Solo Ensemble and Organizational contest, then a serious injustice will be done to the medium. It will take away ALL control that a director has to make an educated decision to provide an excellent experience for students.

If IHSA has the ability to block certain weekends for marching competitions, this will interfere with the availability for high schools to host their own competitions on those weekends. This will then lead to several schools hosting events on a limited amount of weekends, and this will result in schools having less of a chance to raise needed band fund goals.

It would really depend on how classifications are set. It would likely be by school size however the use of the multiplier would incredibly unfair to private schools who typically have smaller underfunded music programs in smaller schools. In marching band we use every member we can’t recruit a great starting 5, 11 or whatever best player we can to build our team around. It is also more challenging to bring in new members due to the fact that band is not a class at most private grade schools.

Because like most music events, that IHSA is involved with, it would be too expensive to compete. example: Organization contest, there is a fee to sign up and then a separate fee to participate. Would IHSA charge a fee for each competition that a band may make in the tournament?

Marching band is increasingly expensive. Especially when trying to put a production on the field that is new/different/original. To compete at State/National level, it costs a lot of money. Especially when having to staff such a group. Where I teach, we have several students involved in so many activities both in and out of school. It is important that the students here get the full high school experience and have the opportunity to explore other groups, clubs, and sports. Creating a tournament puts a lot of unwanted pressure on the directors to have a show that will achieve what is necessary to perform at a state championship. We picked music for music education. I do not want to see marching band become more then what it is. I have had a lot of success in the marching arts activity. I have performed with a top a world class drum corps (4 of the 5 years we won the world championship). I like to consider myself a person who understands the activity and knows their needs to be a balance. Marching band can be fun and entertaining, but let’s leave the option for the bands that want to pursue the next level festivals to the BOA circuit.

IHSA lacks organization when it comes to events like this.

IHSA has no background in running anything like this and if it is anything like Solo and Ensemble of Organizational Contest, it will be unorganized and not done to support the success of students. It will also hurt small band programs that run contests to raise funds as their only source of a budget. IHSA will take all of the fees and the schools will not get the funds they normally do because a 3rd party will now be infringing on that situation therefore hurting small band programs financially. Also, consider what IHSA currently pays judges at Org and S and E. Nothing close to what real judges at a quality marching band contest pays to get quality judges. This is also about directors having the ability to choose where their students compete based on the needs of their programs. This entire idea will force directors into putting their kids into situations that may not be in their best educational interest. Marching band competition is about promoting success in your programs and therefore you should have the ability to choose where you go without any regulation or dictatorial decree from IHSA saying you go here and here and here just to have a “sanctioned” series of competitions. This is nothing more than a money grab and people should really be thinking about this Pandora’s box that has been opened. It could take a lot of the decision making power that we currently have away from directors and leave it in the hands of people that have no idea what it takes to develop a successful marching band program.

I have not been impressed with the manner in which the state has run the solo and ensemble contest as well as the organizational music contest, and so I do not believe that the state is capable of running any sort of beneficial music contest.

The IHSA has not demonstrated that they are organized or effective enough to add another championship series. The IHSA decision makers sit in an Ivory Tower, assuming that everyone has the same resources as they do, which ultimately pushes students away from music. I also do not want to see band classified in the same way as athletics.

In my opinion there is too much emphasis on music competition as it is. In a time where most schools are facing whether or not to cut programs, putting a state championship and more emphasis on competition threatens programs.

We don’t need another contest to go to.

There are already great competitions that offer great performance opportunities with great judging panels. Our system works fine and is not in need of the IHSA. The IHSA should fix the concert band festival before they add something new.

Quality contests are already available regionally and aspiring groups have BOA options as well. I don’t believe focusing on such a series would improve music in the school.

As it stands, bands have more flexibility to decide on a show that suits their program. I particularly favor those shows that offer some sort of critique.

The number of competitions schools will now have to compete in and the location of these competitions will increase. A rubric can be adopted through local high school competitions without using IHSA.

I think it should be an organization such as IMEA or something like it.

It’s not broken, so don’t try to fix it. Band can choose to participate in whatever the director wished to on behalf of his students. Don’t force schools to have to compete.

The current system allows directors to pick the venue where their kids are going to be the most competitive and successful. Being forced into it does not allow us to make good educational decisions for our students.

Next …

This is Part 3 of our report. The previous part, entitled “Directors’ reasons for wanting a state of Illinois marching band championship” is available here. The next chapter (here) will consider the elements directors thought were important in establishing a high-caliber marching band.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.