No this article is not a “let’s beat up the Mass Band” post. It’s an attempt at starting a discussion about something that I, admittedly, may have the wrong understanding of. I’m currently a resident of Houston, Texas, but like many in H-Town, I am a transplant from another region of the country. I am a new arrival from the state of Georgia by way of South Carolina, and through the halls of a MEAC school by way of a corp style high school. Since there are just a handful of cities where this is “a thing”, my experiences with All-star/Mass bands have been limited to what has been posted on youtube and discussions I’ve had with band directors who teach in cities that have All-Star/Mass Bands. These discussions, with both college and high school directors, are surprisingly varied in critique.
Band directors are used to getting a good return when their students participate in additional ensembles. Usually it’s an honor band or a college band camp and they can see the immediate growth in their students when they return. However, the All-Star/Mass Band has had the opposite effect in the minds of many directors. Their students return to their campuses with bad musical habits like breaking phrases, overblowing, and over extending their instrument’s tessitura by “taking everything up”. Some directors feel that All-Star/Mass Bands are damaging the culture of HBCU bands similar to what the “Lil’ Rappers” are doing to hip hop.
Just like most of the rap songs of today all sound alike, the mass bands utilize a stale and overused format that make all the bands sound similar to the next. (Or it could just be us 35 – 40 something yr olds hearing it that way. Lol) Or maybe it’s because most of the All-Star/Mass Bands are from the same region of the country? The format:
- Play a current hip-hop/trap song
- Verse/Chorus into an over held quarter note
- Tuba/Drum Break
- Optional – Trombone on eighth notes
- Verse/Chorus again (repeat as necessary)
- End on a grossly over held quarter note
- All this done as loud as possible.
On the other hand, some directors cited some things they liked about the All-Star/Mass Bands. These directors liked the fact that the organizations are all pretty much ran by a small group of organizers that are very talented leaders. Planning and organizing rehearsals and performances for a group with no school affiliations or other ties, and doing it multiple times a year is a huge undertaking and these folks pull it off without a hitch. There are some great musicians in these groups as well! If you listen to the musical acrobatics that exist in some of the arrangements you will quickly come to realize the talent is off the charts. In many cases, directors are glad that students decided to participate in a positive activity as opposed to the many negative activities our youth are exposed to daily. I’d personally just like to know how they get all these people to show up to practices and pay their uniform fees on time. Lol
(New Orleans All-Star Band, Memphis Mass Band, Mississippi Alumni All-Star Band, Louisiana Leadership Institute, Houston United Mass Band)
This article is in no way an indictment of All-star/Mass bands. I’m hoping that through level – headed discussion, we will all learn something about these bands and the mass band culture. In your opinion, are All-Star/Mass Bands hurting or helping high school and college bands? Do you believe summer band camps have suffered due to the popularity of All-Star/Mass Bands? Is this a fad that will pass through or is the All-Star/Mass Band here to stay? Drop your vote in the poll and participate in the discussion below.