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The marching band was banned …


This past week one hard-working, long-rehearsing, and sun-baked high school band got benched by a Federal Judge for allegedly having a hymn as part of their half-time show repertoire (although it wasn’t even a hymn…more on this later).


The ruling from U.S. District Judge, Carlton Reeves stated: “Defendants are permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons, or activities in any school-sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event. This means administrators, teachers and staff of the Rankin County School District may not participate in any religious activity, or solicit or encourage religious activities at school or while performing duties as a RCSD employee.”


Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for separation of church and state—render unto Caesar, and all that. But with all the issues facing us that need to be addressed, do we really need a federal injunction to stop a high school band in Mississippi from playing “How Great Thou Art”?


And it was going to be an instrumental version, so this isn’t a hymn anyway—it’s by definition an anthem, because it’s an assembly of notes on a page to form a piece of music. What defines a grouping of notes as a hymn are the words that accompany it. However, the band wasn’t planning on singing the hymn.


Now, there’s no dispute that “How Great Thou Art” has religious overtones. But so do pieces of Bach. What’s next, no studying of Bach’s brilliant harmonies because he was the church organist and wrote much of his music as an homage to God? And while I can’t imagine any high school band playing John Coltrane’s “Ascension,” he often played to a higher power. How many times does Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness, mention God in his music? David Bowie’s Buddhism has been a big influence on his songs. Are we going to have to start parsing all music just in case there are religious references in there somewhere? Some people think Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open” references Scripture. Well, does it? I have no idea.


Listen, people, it’s music—which is primarily a form of entertainment. Entertainers get their inspiration from a variety of sources. What’s next? Should this year’s Drum Corps International’s Second Place Winners, Carolina Crown, have been banned because their closing piece was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and there is also a hymn, "Ode to Joy,"  set to the same music?


It’s really time to lighten up. This kind of stunt simply distracts from real problems. I’d much rather that the government take a long, hard look at copyright law in the digital era. Or why companies get away with not paying royalties…or clarifying laws like the Lacey Act (hello, Gibson!) where it’s hard for companies to know whether they’re violating the law or not.


It’s a shame that a band wasn’t allowed to play a simple piece of music. If I had the funds, I’d tell them to play the song and pay the $10,000 fine myself. No one should be banned from musical expression, especially when in the end it’s all about giving people a little bit of joy in their lives—courtesy of music.



Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.





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Klatuu  |  September 30, 2015 at 2:02 pm
This goes way back. I was in Junior High School in Fort Worth, Texas in about 1955. Our Dixieland band did "When the Saints Go Marching In" at a school assembly. The Assistant Principle had a fit. To her it was sacrilegious and we were never allowed to play it again. Even at the early age of 13, I knew this was stupid.
Etienne Rambert  |  September 10, 2015 at 11:44 am
Censorship is a growing problem. The censors should be rounded up, tortured and shot. Likewise those whom they would censor should also be rounded up and shot. But I do not recommending torturing them.  It's against the law and it reflects badly on a compassionate society.  In fact,  the best solution to this very difficult and sensitive problem might be to arrest and execute everyone. It would be a way to make a clean break. A new broom sweeps clean  you know....The logistics and little details, the who's, the how's, the when's, and where's,  can be worked out after we've agreed on the plan above. 
flemtone  |  September 01, 2015 at 1:35 pm
So no school orchestra can play Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (aka 'From the New World') because a theme from it was originally used for the spiritual 'Going Home'?  Brian, by your argument, 'From the New World' would be banned.  The lyrics aren't sung in Dvorak's interpretation either.  I have issue with this decision - not from a religious or constitutional perspective, but from an artistic one.  
Virtually all music is influenced by the composer's identity as a person, including their personal history, their views on social issues of the day, their morality and their faith (or lack thereof).  When one starts banning a piece of art (in this case, a theme without lyrics) because of its perceived intent, the next logical step is to view the composer in the same light.  Next, Dvorak's other works could be judged by the same  broad brush that currently paints Nugent or Bono as 'musical extremists'.    The art is no longer the topic of judgement, but the composer is.
I find this to be a distressing slippery-slope.  
The theme to 'How Great Thou Art' is a traditional Swedish melody.  Adding the words was done long after the original melody was composed.   I just find it troubling that a melody can be refused because of later additions to it (that aren't being used in the disputed presentation).
Dendy Jarrett  |  August 31, 2015 at 10:02 am
Join The Discussion Here:http://www.harmonycentral.com/forum/forum/Forums_General/acapella-50/31567913-play-no-evil-are-you-ready-for-music-censorship
Brian Krashpad  |  August 31, 2015 at 10:00 am
The federal judge didn't ban the song, nor did he "bench" the band.

The school did.  The court's ruling said the school shouldn't include religion in its official presentations.   Which it shouldn't.

The court didn't say anything about this song or its performance.  The school was under a court order to knock off all the religion content in/at its official functions, so why did the band plan to include this hymn (and you're really splitting hairs to say its not a hymn because the words weren't being sung) in the first place?  They shouldn't have.

Don't believe everything you read on the internet.

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