The Divide That is Ripping Us Apart When We Were Meant to Work Together

Benicia High School Band- The Star Spangled Banner

By Hannah Jones

     “Please rise for the playing of a recording of the National Anthem.” No tingly feeling. No trumpet fanfare. No trombone solo. Instead I hold myself up in the stands, right hand across my heart, holding back my tears. “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” the music blast through the stadium speakers, beautiful but each note is a stab in the gut. The crowds cheer, but we can’t be proud… for we haven’t even played a note. No longer can I express my fascination in the playing of the National Anthem through the notes that I perform.  

     Yes, it is sad that we as the band will no longer get to play the National Anthem at football games. Yes, it is sad that we won’t even get that adrenaline rush right before we march out onto the field. Yes, It is sad that no longer will crowds be overwhelmed by the beauty of our playing. But this is a start of a new chapter in the band. And in order for a chapter to end, somethings must change, and somethings must go. This time we have lost a long standing tradition. Something that has been a huge show of the bands Panther Pride. But this just means that there is an opening for us to make a new tradition. Will our tradition live up to playing the Star Spangled Banner, probably not. But the reason that we had to stop this tradition was not because we view band members as “second class citizens” who have to drop their constitutional rights at the PAB doors. It is not because we do not agree with the movement that has been spreading across this country fighting against police brutality and other racial injustices. It is because, just like in the United States, this movement created a divide, it created a barrier. A physical barrier, an emotional earthquake, that split our band apart at the seams.

     I watched as my band family chose sides and started arguing, stating their claims and debating as if they were trying to beat the other team. But in a family, there should be no sides, no team vs. team debates. We are meant to work together to accomplish a common goal. But when that goal is no longer common, lines are drawn, teams are made, and family is broken. So you can get mad, it is your right to get mad. But at what cost will we choose sides? At what cost will we let this movement break our program?

     This is what happens when a country is divided. It cuts deep and the symptoms are seen everywhere. You can’t go to a high school football game, the most American sport played, without feeling the effects. When will it end? Our divide came when a student lead incentive, with good intentions, started to plan a protest for the 2018 homecoming football game at Benicia High. The students involved were planning to kneel during the national anthem while playing with the band. The problem did not come because the band is against the movement or because we want to have control over everything but because we are performers. Our job is to go out onto the field, play the Star Spangled Banner to the best of our abilities and walk off. The divide started when we started to debate whether we thought this should be allowed. The decision was made, by Mr. Martin because he saw this divide and wanted to stop it at its roots. What good is a family that is divided? We can’t make good music if we can’t trust each other or love one another.  

     I want you to click on the video. I want to you to close your eyes and listen. Just listen. The music that you hear coming out of your speakers are the sounds of a family, a hard working team, working together to accomplish something. Now I want you to imagine that the family is no more. The teams have been set, the lines have been drawn. The trombones have chosen one side and the trumpets have the chosen the other. They attempt to make that same music in their divided groups. It doesn’t sound right though. The words aren’t all there, the melodies and countermelodies are missing. “At the twilight’s last gleaming,” the trumpets play, but without the trombones there will be no rockets, no bombs bursting. Just background music, elevator music, with no purpose but to fill the silence. Without the family, nothing can be accomplished. And that is why we have chosen to just stop. Why fight when we could just stop? Are we giving up? No we are simply choosing to fix the cracks before the whole structure fails. It is a good thing that we are stopping the national anthem. Yes it is a long standing tradition that has to come to an end, but the bands unity is more important.

Benicia High School Band playing the National Anthem

10 thoughts

  1. I felt a tear roll down my face as I read this. I’m so happy that I got to personally witness the Panther Band play this great song. I’m so very sad that it will be played no more… It’s a loss for the school, and those who have felt the power of this band’s music.

    I very much understand the student’s wish to make their voices heard. I would have wished that it could have been found without causing such a rift in the program. Hannah does a lovely job explaining a very difficult topic.

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  2. This is not right on every level. This should have never happened. The band should continue to play our country’s national Anthem. And play it strong and proud. It shouldn’t of happened in the NFL eaither. I think it is fine that people want to protest and fight for any type of injustice. But you don’t disrespect our country and hurt millions of people to do it. This is the wrong venue. People need to start standing up for our country. And for the people that are still fighting for it. And have died for it. Stop being sad about what is happening and start standing up for your country 🇺🇸

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  3. I have attended graduation ceremonies at Bencia, my son Tom Mason, granddaughters, Jessica Johnson, Ryanne and Amber Mason all graduated from this school. It’s a shame we will never hear the band play the National Anthem.

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  4. Everyone has a right to their own way of fighting for an injustice. There are other ways to support your country and in my opinion, people are taking others right to rebel due to an injustice, the wrong way entirely. Open your mind to the fact that someone feels they have been wronged. Listen instead of closing your heart to the injustices that do take place today in our entire country. The injustice happens on both sides and it’s everyone’s right to “protest” when they feel they have been wronged. It’s everyone’s right to voice their opinion without discipline. It is a free country after all, isn’t it? . I am sad your band has been compromised because of this, but happy to hear you will keep plugging away and be a “family” once again as a band. It’s about unity. And if that means stopping something, even something that has good intrusions, stopping it anyway got unity. Great article Hannah.

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  5. Well said! I’m sorry that it caused a divide in the band family. When I heard the band play the National Anthem it brought such an energy to the beginning of the game and it carried throughout the game. But if there is a missing piece, then yes it doesn’t sound whole.

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  6. Is this country not founded on a democracy? Exercising your free speech is part of upholding the foundations of this US so I don’t see why it is disrespectful. Shouldn’t the band learn to work with viewpoints that they don’t agree with? I don’t see how silencing a group of people will help create unity, or why the act of protesting racism should divide you at all.

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  7. Calla:

    You make a very good point. And you’re right in saying that each person should be able to express their opinions, particularly when it comes to fighting against injustice. I’m a firm believer of fighting injustice and it’s gotten me into a bit of trouble every now and again, but just me. I’ve done my best to make sure that I’ve never taken anyone down with me. So I wonder, when a person’s expression effects not only themselves, but an entire team of people. When does it stop being a personal expression and begins to be mass manipulation? Which in my eyes is another form of injustice.

    In school yard terms, this is someone’s way of saying “If I’m unhappy then everyone has to be unhappy”. Even the people they’ve stated to love and support.

    There are many ways to make oneself heard. The more thought you put into it, the larger your options are. Why choose the option that punishes the very people you’ve stated to support?

    And while I’m on the subject of punishment. I’d like to point out your chosen use of the word “discipline”. It wasn’t too long ago that the primary definition of the word was “to train or develop by instruction and exercise, especially in self-control.” As in: “she showed remarkable discipline in her playing of the piano.” or “The top ranked tennis player’s discipline was without equal and made them the best in their class.”

    Now when you look up “discipline” this is what you get:
    1 : to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience and perfecting moral character
    2 : to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control

    At some point people started looking at education and self-control as a punishment, instead of a way to enhance themselves and to become a better person. When did self-control become a bad thing? When did education become a punishment?

    More things to think about. And thinking is always a good thing.

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  8. Gretchen: fighting for injustice has completely got my in trouble. Almost every time. That’s kind of my point. It shouldn’t be this way. Band shouldn’t be compromised because people want to fight for an injustice. I understand your point. It seems questioning politically correctness, gets people in trouble. It seems like questioning things in general causes those people to be shunned and dismissed. It is not okay to shut people down because they are fighting for an injustice. I did say I was sad band was compromised but glad they found some sort of “agreement” persay, (although not agreed upon, more forced upon) to unite the band again. Thank you for your thoughts. ❤

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    1. Story of my life Calla. I’ve found that a sense of humor works wonders in reshaping the thoughts of other. And getting to know your opponent makes for a better ending for everyone.

      After years of work in Speech and Debate in college, I learned how to format better arguments and since then have found that by gathering and organizing like minded people, action is generated quicker. I can’t more highly recommend Debate to a worthy “trouble maker”. Saddle up your white horse and ride on, with Ethos on your side!

      I’m so glad that you saw my point of demonstration outside of already organized non-political groups. It diminishes the impact of your message when you couple it with the sadness of lost traditions and the beauty of that art we call music.

      I very much understand wanting to support this very deserving cause. I have every faith that Mr. Martin will find a way to make this challenge into a success for the band. But though I admire Mr. Kaepernick, following in his footstep or those any of others, doesn’t have the impact that a new, creative, artful and thoughtful message would have. Now is not the time to divide people, now is the time to unite. The message of unity will always ring louder.

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  9. The band director and school administration are not allowing students to express their basic First Amendment right by doing something as simple as kneeling. They are silencing the students’ voice.

    Kneeling is not demonstrating disrespect toward school leaders nor the American flag; kneeling is just trying to convey the message that oppression and inequality still exists. It serves as a call to action to the government to try and fix this national problem. Ranging from police brutality to racial profiling, not a significant amount has changed since the founding of the US, which is something too many people are afraid to face.

    In the first place, why should students (band members) be forced to promote nationalism for a country that doesn’t provide basic protection and rights for all citizens? There is more of an issue with forcing students to perform for something they don’t believe in than solely putting their knee on the ground. This nationalism has been instilled in American schoolchildren for decades, where little kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance every single morning. Isn’t that more concerning, that our kids are dedicated to a country without seeing its true nature?

    When it comes down to it, what is the harm in letting a few kids from a small town kneel to express their opinions?

    As Donald Trump said himself in a tweet earlier this year, “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy.”

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