Rock It: Playing an instrument is cool, so why are we called ‘band geeks’?

Posted on November 14, 2013

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Rock It: Playing an instrument is cool, so why are we called ‘band geeks’?

Byline: Rachael Mattice

Seeing a few parades recently featuring high school marching bands and the commencement of the new school year have reminded me of a stereotypical term I still have yet to understand.

Playing an instrument is cool, so why are we still called “band geeks”?

My high school and elementary school in northeast Wisconsin were and still are extremely small. We had limited resources, a small population both in town and on “campus” and very little money to go toward extended courses, let alone the funds to pay for our music medals (which I had to buy myself senior year).

I learned to play clarinet in fifth grade, joined jazz band my junior year to play bass and played piano and
guitar in the lesson rooms with my best friend during breaks. However, I was also a volleyball player, and
therefore a jock. So were many other musicians in our school band, in which the term “band geek” didn’t
exist.

The stereotype is nothing new, but my classmates and I are still referred to as “band geeks,” and I still cannot fathom the derogatory term.

Learning how to play an instrument, maintaining that ability and flourishing in it is difficult. It’s an art form and can be both a learned or born gift that many cannot grasp.

“Geek” or not, music also gives you a coolness factor, the allure to mesmerize audiences whether in a garage, a gymnasium, a concert hall or around a bonfire.

Studies have shown that playing a musical instrument increases the capacity of your memory, enhances coordination, improves reading, mathematical and comprehension skills, exposes you to a more thorough cultural history, and allows you to express yourself in addition to honing a sense of responsibility and achievement.

Music lessons outside of the school spectrum are extremely expensive. My 13 years of piano lessons are the only lessons I paid for. Vocal or drums lessons, which I still cannot afford, are also on my bucket list.

School band participation is an opportunity for free learning that usually lets you choose the instrument and provides you an excellent teacher, something I took advantage of in my rural community and am still appreciative of years out of high school. Why wouldn’t you want to jump on a cognitive, stimulating challenge such as playing an instrument?

Yes, you do have to cough up the cost to buy an instrument, but many schools offer rentals or used instruments that are just as efficient as any new ones, so finances shouldn’t be an excuse.

Because many of the kids in band at my high school were also in sports, athletes were not viewed as societal gladiators or as dominating the school. Both “nerdy” musicians and athletes belong to a team that requires
practice and dedication, so it’s natural that friend groups form within similar skill sets.

Frankly, “nerds” exist whether you name rocks or collect bugs, draw comic books, can quote most lines in the “Star Wars” movies, are a thick body builder or obsess over the latest fashion designer. I could still make fun of you for nerding out over your knowledge of the Chicago Cubs’ baseball players’ individual statistics.

Life is empty without the remarkable talent “band geeks” and other musicians provide us. They may be the next rock stars, bosses or producers that deliver the music that motivates you in a huddle before a game.

As Confucius said, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” However, the term “band geek,” we can.

Mattice is a producer and music journalist for the Journal & Courier. She can be reached at rmattice@jconline.com.

Famous ‘band geeks’
Many celebrities embraced their “inner nerd” and started their musical endeavors and coolness factor in band.

  • Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee drummed for the Royal Oak High School marching band in Covina, Calif.;
  • Lionel Richie played clarinet and saxophone at Joliet East High School in Illinois
  • Aerosmith’s StevenTyler performed in both concert and marching band in New York and plays 15 instruments, according to his biography.
  • Nelly Furtado, of course, rocked singing, but also picked up trombone and ukulele
  • Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor played tuba and saxophone in jazz and marching band in Pennsylvania
  • Vanessa Williams studied French horn in high school orchestra.
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Posted in: "Rock It" Column