May 13, 2013
by Elizabeth Miller
“The arts are part of our everyday life, whether we realize it or not.” — Ted Rausch, Portsmouth High School Band Director
Band director Ted Rausch has his own philosophy when it comes to his high school marching band: no competition. Not only does Rhode Island’s Portsmouth High School band perform just for fun, Rausch ensures that his students never have to choose between marching band and their many other activities. His band is full of athletes, club members, and student leaders, and he likes it that way. But just because they don’t compete doesn’t mean they don’t get noticed. This past January, the marching band received an invitation to play in the Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC!
We had the opportunity to talk with Rausch about his own musical background, his path to becoming an arts educator, and some of the incredible opportunities his students have experienced through the high school marching band.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience with the arts?
TED RAUSCH: Growing up as a child, my dad played clarinet and I would hear him play all the time. When I was in fourth grade, I started taking cello in school. I stayed in the band program all through high school and college. I was in sports, too. I played football in middle school and ran track, but I was always coming back to the arts, especially music.
NEA: What was your journey to becoming a music teacher?
RAUSCH: Well, I never really thought of myself as a teacher. I actually went to school to be a music therapist and studied psychology. When I was in college, I gave private music lessons to about 25 students and loved it. That kind of threw me into teaching, and I knew if I was going to be a teacher, it was going to be music. Music is something I just didn’t see myself not doing.
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I really started contemplating what I wanted to do. I decided to switch and got my teaching certificate and a Master of Arts in teaching. When I was in college, if you had told me that I would spend 15 years teaching at a high school doing marching band, I would never have believed it. And now I look back and I can’t see myself doing anything but what I am doing right now.
NEA: What do you think your students take away from playing in the high school marching band?
RAUSCH: I have my own philosophy, especially when it comes to marching band. I chose not to be a competitive marching band. Some marching bands only do competitions every weekend. I don’t do that, and I think my numbers are higher than normal because I don’t want to burn these kids out.
In Portsmouth, there are so many opportunities for kids to get involved. I don’t want to be a teacher that makes students choose band or basketball. So in my band, I have a lot of athletes, class advisors, and club advisors. One of the reasons kids are attracted to our band program is that we provide a lot of unique opportunities. We performed in the Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C. We took a cruise to Bermuda with the band and chorus.
Each year, I take the marching band to perform at local elementary schools. When the marching band arrives, the younger kids come out to the parking lot. We let the kids play some of our instruments, they meet the high school students, and then we do a little parade around the school. That’s one of the highlights of my entire career. The elementary kids love it, and our high school students love it because they get to be mentors. When the elementary school kids grow and come to high school, they always say they remember when the band came down to the elementary school.
NEA: Can you talk about playing at President Obama’s second Inaugural Parade?
RAUSCH: Well, what really sunk in with the kids was that we didn’t seek this—we didn’t apply for it. Back in 1981, Portsmouth High School played in President Reagan’s Inaugural Parade. At the time, the music director applied for the Inaugural Parade, which it is something a lot of bands apply for and work toward. I remember getting the phone call right after Christmas saying that we had been invited to perform [at the 2013 parade]. I really thought it was a joke. In two weeks time, I had to submit all these credentials, but it was real.
NEA: How did that invitation to play in the Inaugural Parade come about?
RAUSCH: Well, that’s what I asked them. It turns out that we were noticed by parade staff based on a previous performance. Last year, we marched in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington [,DC]. At that parade, I guess we were noticed by Inaugural Parade officials.
It’s something I always tell the kids: you never know who is watching you perform or what type of an impact you are going to make. We had no idea that there would be an Inaugural Parade committee person watching us who would give that recommendation. The experience taught them to always be their best at any given time.
NEA: What do you think your students would say about the trip to DC?
RAUSCH: For a lot of the kids, especially the seniors, this was the highlight of their whole high school career. The kids knew that the last time Portsmouth performed at a Presidential Inaugural Parade was over 30 years ago. In our band room, we have the old 1981 Inaugural Parade plaque. When we got the invitation, I showed the kids the plaque from 1981 and told them here we are again in 2013. I think the kids got excited over what this meant for the school. Out of 160 students, only three were not able to go. Other than that, we were able take every single person and I’m proud of that.
NEA: As an arts educator, what are some of the things you think individuals in your field should be talking about?
RAUSCH: I would tell our fine art teachers to advocate for their own programs. I think each community and each school system is different. You have to know the nuances to foster an arts program and keep it going. I think a lot of these art programs come down to an arts teacher really pushing for programming that kids love and that adds value. Not a circus show for parents. You want to teach core musical elements, provide a good education, and have it be a fun and engaging learning environment for the kids.
The arts are such a value to any student going through any school system. I have three kids myself, and any time we go out to dinner, we bring a box of crayons and coloring paper. Because what do they do? They draw. The arts are so grounded in kids and that is something that we need to continue to foster.
Yet, I find it becomes a challenge to keep the school systems pushing this important stuff. The arts are such a huge part of who we are, and we don’t want to lose focus on that.
NEA: If you haven’t heard it already, at the NEA we say that “Art Works.” What does that phrase Art Works mean to you?
RAUSCH: My first response is, yes it does. The arts are part of our everyday life, whether we realize it or not. Music and art work every single day. It is part of our upbringing, it is something that makes us who we are. I think having arts in the school helps students to express themselves in ways that they can’t do during a math problem. It opens a lot of doors for so many people, and it gives them an outlet to be creative. The arts are such a foundation for who we are as individuals. They are one of the first things taken for granted, but they simply do work. Without art, we would not be the people we are.
Interested in reading more arts education stories? Keep an eye out for our next NEA Arts issue—Engaged and Empowered: The Importance of Arts Education—which goes live at arts.gov on June 4.