BOA, or not to BOA ... That is the question.
How important is Bands of America to your program?
So how important is BOA? How important is it
to design your show
for success at BOA? How important to your students are the
and decisions of the BOA judges. Most band directors have an
about these questions, and my answers may or may not come as a
The shortest answer is, "It depends." My answer will be a
complicated, but it all boils down the same.
In the interest of disclosure, I have
several client bands place and win in BOA regional and super-regional
competition. One has been invited to perform at BOA in special
exhibition in 2015.
First, what is BOA? "BOA" stands for
"Bands of America." It's
a series of regional and super-regional competitions that culminate
with a week long "National Championship" series in Indianapolis.
2014 around 20 bands attended each super-regional, and about 110 bands
attended the championship competitions. That means, estimating
generously, that about 470 bands participated in BOA in 2014. (Of
course most of the bands at Championship week participated in a
Regional, but not all, and we're estimating generously. In fact,
round the number up to 500.) To sum up, it's a "National
Championship" that involves a total of up to 500 bands. The
United States Department of Education reports (1)
that there are about 37,000 high schools in the United States. So Bands
of America is a "National Championship" that includes up to 1.3% of the
schools in America.
It's also expensive. The entrance
fees aren't much - about $650 for a Regional and $900 for Nationals,
but there's also a cultural expectation that if you're competing at a
BOA event, your show is going to have a lot of backdrops, props,
electronic instruments, microphones on the xylophones, and a story.
The story is going to be told with costume changes, choreography,
and possibly a recorded narration played over your band's field side
P.A. system. Teaching and refining the show is going to require
separate instructors for percussion, winds, guard, and then section
level visual instructors. Bands that march a BOA style show often
spend somewhere near $1000 per student before they ever travel to a
competition. They do it so they can "compete on the BOA level."
I don't think BOA is a bad thing, in and of
itself. I don't think that bands and band directors who put
together that kind of show are always doing a bad thing. I
do wonder, though, how many kids drop band because it's too expensive,
or because the time demand is too high, or because they love playing
music, but they don't like the non-musical effort associated with that
kind of production. And I wonder why anyone feels like that tiny
club with their small group of judges deserves the amount of influence
they wield. It's a very curious phenomenon to me.
I believe that band is about bringing
musical expression and achievement to the greatest number of students
possible. I believe that bands can and should bring a community
together in a celebration of music and motion. I believe that
band can provide a safe and caring environment for the most at-risk
kids in a school, and can help them understand how much greatness they
have, just waiting inside them. I also believe that band is about
building school spirit at ball games, and binding together groups of
So - to BOA or not to BOA? It
depends. If your community, and school, and band families have
the money to pull it off without leaving anyone out, go for it.
If what BOA brings to your band program fits in your goals as a
band director and music teacher, do it. But don't feel like you
have to just because somebody else is.