High school football gets the attention in the fall, and while Cobb’s football program ranks among the best in the state, so does the county’s music program.
How good is it? You may have read in the MDJ recently that the Walton High School Marching Raider Band has been invited to participate in the 2015 New Year’s Day Rose Parade. The 200-member band is one of only 20 bands selected to perform in the parade and will be the sole Georgia band. Year before last, it was Lassiter High School that had that honor. That’s how good.
Also, the National Association of Musical Merchants, a nonprofit organization that promotes music globally, has ranked Cobb County the best community for music education for 12 years in a row.
Maybe that is because almost 40,000 students are actively engaged in music program in the Cobb school system, including about 2,500 in the marching bands. Those are impressive numbers.
When talking about high school marching bands, Ferrell knows whereof he speaks. The Ohio native came to Cobb County from Texas, where his high school’s marching band was ranked that state’s best in its classification. He was the first director of bands at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, and while he enjoys what he does today as supervisor of the system’s music programs, he admits he misses working directly with the kids.
“Our music programs in Cobb are all about inclusion. It doesn’t matter what your background or circumstances,” he says, “music is the great equalizer. We include everyone we can and we help them achieve. I have never had a kid who couldn’t do it.”
He says Cobb music teachers are passionate about their jobs. While the hours are long and there are innumerable logistical requirements, Ferrell says that to the directors, it is all about the students. “Marching band directors are saints among us,” he declares and says that a band director is generally guided by four principles: A love of music; a love of kids; expectations of complete dedication and zero tolerance for shenanigans.
What the student learns in return is leadership, accountability, discipline, teamwork self-esteem and no small amount of physical fitness. Good lessons all. And all will serve them well as adults. Most of all, it takes commitment.
“You can’t Google how to play a trumpet,” he says. I like that.
One of the most impressive aspects of Cobb County’s music program is the camaraderie that exists among the school band directors. A great example is the annual Cobb-Marietta Marching Band Exhibition scheduled this year for McEachern High School on Monday, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13.
All 16 of Cobb County’s high school marching bands, as well as the Marietta High School Marching Band and Mt. Paran Christian School will perform their routines.
“It is very rewarding to see members of the various marching bands supporting each other,” Ferrell says. “We are a family.”
In addition, the program will feature the Auburn University Marching Band on Oct. 6 and the Georgia State University Marching Band on Oct. 13. Ferrell says college bands are eager to participate each year and come on their own dime. Previous exhibitions have included the marching bands from the University of Alabama, University of Tennessee, Georgia Tech and, of course, the esteemed University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band. Woof! Woof!
I asked Ferrell about the future of music education in public schools. While it may be under attack is some places, he says that is not the case in Cobb County.
“We get tremendous support from the school system and the school board,” he says and quips, “It doesn’t hurt that our superintendent (Chris Ragsdale) is a former marching band member.”
It also doesn’t hurt the program is, and has been, hugely successful. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
I can’t play a musical instrument and, if I could, I would be dangerous trying to play it while marching five steps forward and three steps back. Ferrell says he is going to get me to an upcoming band practice and let me try it, but I must warn him that I could be a lethal weapon with a trombone slide in my hands.
Applause to Cobb’s music supervisor Chris Ferrell and his colleagues in the county and to the parents and the students — and to the Cobb County School District — for an outstanding music program. With all the meddling and second-guessing that takes place in our public schools, it is nice to see something that works and works this well.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb