I was recently given the opportunity to read and review a new book by author Kristen Laine titled American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland, published by Gotham Books. When I first heard the title and saw the cover I was excited to have the chance to take a closer look. For many years I have hoped to find a book that is both inspirational, educational, and entertaining that also was closely related to teaching band. I hoped that American Band might provide a glimpse into how high caliber music programs manage to achieve such high marks year after year. American Band provides such a glimpse into the Concord Band of Dunlap, Indiana, during their 2004 marching season but also goes on to delve into the psychological and emotional issues of its students.
In American Band, Kristen Laine paints a picture that chronicles the experiences of the 2003 Indiana State Marching Band Champion Concord Band. Laine's storytelling and insight is very dignified, weaving the real life issues of teenage band members with the real life aspirations of an accomplished and respected band director. For band directors, the book chronicles the sequence of events of the Concord band as it attempts to return to the glory of the previous year's success. The descriptive narrative provided by Laine opens up dozens of avenues for a band director to consider. Not only does she provide a glimpse into what it takes to drive a group of teenagers to musical greatness, but she also inadvertently leaves an introspective reader with a myriad of questions centered around the divisive aspect of the demands of excessive competition in the marching activity.
From this band directing perspective, the book provides countless examples of how a high quality, powerful musical organization can function. Portions of the book detail the Concord band's student leadership, music selection, faculty organization, and other highly informative snapshots that provide a look deep inside a championship level organization. In one chapter we learn of Mr. Jones' collegiate relationship with the esteemed Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser of Ball State University, and the importance that both place on developing the leadership potential of band students. In another chapter we hear a retelling of an ages old problem that many young directors find themselves in, entering a new directorship on the heels of an almost Godlike predecessor. Laine does an excellent job of describing this transition and uses inspiring words to show how dedication and confidence in his abilities helped Max Jones to move through those years of turmoil to build the organization he had envisioned and to convert the community as a whole toward accepting his style of leadership and quest for excellence.
At its heart, American Band examines the people that make up the story rather than simply the story itself. Laine does an excellent job of presenting the emotional and psychological baggage that teenagers carry despite the demands of being in such an organization. Leadership roles, dissenting views, depression, victory, and loss are all examined in the lives of Concord's students. Throughout the book, Laine describes how important faith is to surviving even the deepest uncertainty. American Band is an excellent presentation of a story repeated in some manner in schools all over the country. Thoughtful readers and band directors will be able to take away much from reading it and in turn use the ideas it presents to reshape and revitalize our passion and outlook on music education.