Tuskegee band threatens to stop participating due to concerns

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:42 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 10:16 PM CDT
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TUSKEGEE, Ala. (WSFA) - Student members of the Tuskegee University Crimson Piper Marching Band say they will no longer participate in university-sponsored and organized social events if a list of concerns are not addressed by school officials.

An official statement released by the band sites the cease in participation to “a blatant lack of resources, organization, and leadership needed to prosper.”

The marching band’s official statement was released Saturday by the Tuskegee University Student Government Association before the school’s homecoming game. It has since been shared hundreds of times on social media.

In the statement, the band lists what they call highly notable concerns regarding leadership, funding and recruitment.

Under leadership, the statement said, “In order to operate as an efficient collegiate musical ensemble, qualified and accountable leadership is a necessity. From the settings of rehearsal to vital performances, the band requires dependable staff who will not only guide us with strong leadership but who will also support us in the areas that we cannot support ourselves. With that being said, in addition to a head director with proper credentials, an assistant band director with proper sectional staff is paramount to guaranteeing the musical excellence expected of us.”

Under funding, the statement said, “In order to operate as an efficient collegiate musical ensemble, adequate funds are a necessity. Though most private collegiate institutions are exempt from receiving governmental funding, there are still notable band programs that thrive within their conferences successfully, being sufficiently financed enough without the assistance of their alumni to fulfill the demands of performing both on and off campus. Sufficient salaries for band staff, coverage of travel costs, and fair scholarship funding for its qualified members, including auxiliary, are all vital expenses that play in part to the establishment and maintenance of an efficient collegiate band program. On that same token, the key reason as to why people decide to fund a program is because it creates an enjoyable product that people want to invest in, much like a business; in matters such as this, that product is good music with a clean, organized, visual aesthetic.”

Under recruitment, the statement said,” In order for this band program to continue to exist, proper recruitment methods must be taken by all band staff. This area of concern goes hand and hand with funding as we need proper scholarship funding to be able to recruit the proper talent but also to keep that talent here. Tuskegee is a privately funded institution making our cost to attend higher than a lot of other HBCUs. When recruiting, we need to be able to assure potential recruits that the hours they put in for this organization will be rewarded with financial security. As well, we need a recruitment staff who seeks out and pursues great young musicians at a national level.”

The statement goes on to list a series of concerns, including:

  • “With the cooperation of SGA, a student questionnaire was provided at the beginning of the season to address current band members’ opinions on the program. Since joining the band, several members have expressed their concerns with the lack of growth not only in their musicianship but the program itself.”
  • “There have been multiple occurrences of band members’ dietary needs not being met on travel trips which lead to either members having to bring their own meals or fellow band members covering the costs of what was supposed to have been a previously provided meal. We have experienced a clear lack of motive for a successful/progressive program from the university and band staff which we have associated with complacency. Oftentimes, we are asked to do things by the university, and we are not properly acknowledged or rewarded for our hard efforts. We feel as if we are just being exploited by the university and not recognized as an organization that functions within the university.”
  • “We have experienced an extreme lack of communication and transparency from our leadership, whether dealing with certain rehearsal days having no direction in terms of music or being left in the dark on the progress of certain issues such as new uniforms, wind suits, instruments, and upcoming performances. Some of these issues are unacceptable, however even if they were to arise, being properly informed in advance of such topics would allow us to adapt to these situations more dynamically, resulting in a better overall product.”
  • “Through our own individual research, we have found that we are one of the most underfunded programs on campus. We feel that is unacceptable, considering this is a program that operates year-round no matter the weather. We are asked to always be on call for whatever the university may need, yet we have broken instruments, a band hall that needs to be renovated, a lack of scholarship money, and a lack of staff needed to improve as a band.”
  • “We always have an issue with acquiring housing from the university. In order to be properly prepared to contend with other marching band programs, we need to be allowed to move in at the same time as the football team and start band camp at a regular time, as opposed to starting band camp late and being expected to showcase a high standard of musicianship for our first half of the season.”

The band’s statement concluded with a pledge that read: “We realize that this is not a one-sided effort. As band members, we have been forced to become too content with the lackadaisical nature our program has afforded us. We have handpicked when to fight for a better band and when to turn a blind eye for our own benefit. This document is a product of our self-reflection and passion for this band, for there is a standard we all must maintain. We hope to assist in rectifying these issues in any way possible, as we aspire to hold ourselves just as accountable for the band as any member should. We will no longer allow the inefficient operation of a program that we pour countless hours of energy into. We will no longer allow ourselves to be exploited simply on the basis that we ‘signed up for it.’ And we will no longer allow for the apathetic nature that has been granted to us, as we strive to not only hold our leadership accountable but our fellow band members both current and future. We are aware that this can not happen all at once, so until we see a definitive plan for the next 5-6 years, we will not operate as an organization within the Tuskegee University Department of Music.”

A statement from the university president, Charlotte P. Morris, was released on the university’s website Saturday. It reads:

“On Friday, October 22, 2021, university officials received a letter from current Tuskegee University Marching Crimson Piper band members outlining their concerns about the marching band program. In the letter, band members also announced a decision to cease participation in university-sponsored events, including the 2021 homecoming football game against Lane College scheduled for Saturday, October 23, 2021.

“The Marching Crimson Piper band members are an important part of the Tuskegee family. We look forward to meeting with band leaders to discuss and respond to their concerns. We thank the Tuskegee community for their support as we work to resolve these issues together.”

A spokesperson for the school told WSFA 12 News that university officials met with band members Monday to respond to their concerns. WSFA was not allowed to attend that meeting.

WSFA did make repeated requests for an updated response from the university Monday but was told we would need to follow up at a later date.

WSFA also reached out to the band director for comment. He deferred a response to the university president’s office.

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