‘Money is there’ for band students

Faced with rising unemployment, decreasing savings and increasing tuition costs, it is becoming more difficult for parents or students to pay for college.
But there is still one route that is highly effective in getting students scholarship money.
At Tupelo High School, band director Vance Wigginton said that 100 percent of the students who finish band as seniors receive at least some college band scholarship offers, from either four-year schools or community colleges. The same is true for students in other band programs across the region.
“There are scholarships available for anyone who wants one,” said Ripley High School band director Sam Cunningham.
And while not all students choose to take those scholarships and continue their band careers in college, the rate of band students who continue their education beyond high school is generally higher than that of the general population, Wigginton said, “because the money is there.”
The competitive marching band season will reach a crescendo Saturday with the Mississippi High School Activities Association Marching Band Championship. Classes 1A and 6A will compete at Clinton High School, Classes 2A and 3A are at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Classes 4A and 5A are at Pearl High School.
Thanks to the available scholarship opportunities as well as other intangibles offered by band programs, school bands generally attract a large percentage of the student body. In Tupelo, there are more than 700 students in the band from sixth to 12th grade, Wigginton said, about 20 percent of the student body. At Ripley, the high school band has 124 students, or roughly 27 percent of the student body, Cunningham said.
Those incentives include a large support group that can help students feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves and can provide camaraderie with other students.
“They create friendships that last a lifetime,” Cunningham said. “I have four or five guys who I’m still friends with that I met from band in elementary school.”
The activity also brings increased self-confidence and self-discipline.
“Within band, I preach that if you show you are willing to work, you are going to be successful,” Wigginton said. “We try to get them to carry that over to other things in their lives and to other classes.”
It can also teach kids to think for themselves, Wigginton said. In a group of 100-plus kids, everyone can’t get individual instruction all of the time. Thus when something goes wrong in the middle of a marching formation, the other band members have to figure out quickly how to adjust.
Those adjustments have had to go even deeper this marching band season due to weeks of rainy weather that has kept many bands from practicing and even performing. Tupelo has only been able to perform in full uniform at a home football game once this season; Ripley has not been able to at all.
That means more time practicing inside or in parking lots, sometimes focusing more on music than on marching. And without competitions to look forward to, practices can become more tedious for students, Cunningham said.
But it’s also been an educational experience.
“We haven’t been able to perform a lot, but we just have to adjust to it and get the most out of our practices,” Wigginton said. “Sometimes you have to learn to just deal with it as a group.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal