Notes From an Accidental Band Geek: Erin Dionne

Definitely not high marching fashion.
 
 

Confession: When I was in high school I was in band.  Actually, I’ve mentioned that before.  What I didn’t mention was marching band.

Honestly, some of my worse memories are from marching band.  I was a double alternate (i.e. they gave up trying to teach me how to march in step).  The ironic thing is, despite this I actually excelled at  actually playing my instrument.  I was the only one in my school to qualify for the All-State band and that lead to better and grander things in my life.  So I guess in a way, I got the last laugh (evil laughs).

That’s besides the point though.  I have to say that despite my utter hatred for marching, I always thought a book about marching band would be a pretty cool YA book.  In fact, my friends and I often joked about how we were one day going to write a YA book called Under the Shako.  What is a shako you might ask, well, it’s the ugly ass hat they make you wear to march just to add to the humiliation of wearing a hideous polyester uniform.  That aside though, I was excited to see an actual book involving marching band at my library.  However, it was one of those relationships that was too good to be true.

Shakos are not in style and they never will be.  You don’t have to be Nina Garcia to know that.
 

General Summary: Because she was too stupid not to sign up for youth orchestra and her school apparently has no concert band program, Elsie is forced into marching band so that she can audition for BUTI Shining Birches.  Will she survive or will someone give her a swirly for being an insufferable ass?

Review:

It’s not going to be pretty guys.  First of all, I’ll tell you I’m probably a little biased.  As I said before, I was in band.  But to be honest, I’ve really spent all my life around music.  All of my family has musical degrees.  My aunt and uncles bands have won several awards for marching and concert work.  My mom herself is a fantastic teacher.    My sister is an orchestral musician.  My dad was a jazz musician.   A lot of my friends are musicians.  So, when it comes to fact checking in this book any mistake isn’t going to get past me.  Rather, it’s going to annoy me.  And boy there were a lot of mistakes in this book.

Let’s talk about what’s good about this book.  It a nice easy read.  Yes, the main character was insufferable and the dialogue sounded really fake–both things I’ll get into more detail in a minute–but it was an easy read.  And the concept was cute too.  A little out there given all the factual discrepancies but it worked.  Enough I guess.  And there was a plot and an actual attempt to develop character.  It really didn’t work though, but there was effort.

Alright, let’s talk about the problems because I’m probably going to spend quite a bit about the review talking about them.  This book is cringe worthy people.  Even if you know nothing about music or the music industry, there are things about it that will get you groaning.  I’ll discuss those things first before I get technical.

Everything in this book just comes off a little fake.  First there’s are main character who is a bitch.  There’s no other way to describe her.  As I discuss in the Worst Feature section, I thought maybe it was because she suffered from a social disorder, but nope.  She had no excuse for her behavior.  She’s just insults people for the heck of it.  Likewise, I think her friends (if you could call them that) were a bit over sensitive as well.  They just wanted her to be a doormat.  To succumb to mediocrity.  And the love interest he was pretty bland until he got mad out of her in a fit of petty jealousy because of a guy named Punk (yes, there was actually a character named Punk who dressed like a punk).  Her father was pretty awful too there was this ridiculous temper tantrum that went on between him and Elsie and I honestly thought….ugh, you don’t want to know.  Basically, the point I’m getting at is that   there was no happy medium when it came to characterization in this book.  No wonder the dialogue felt so slanted.  Also, can I say that I hated how this book would put in pop culture references but not outright say them, i.e. there are Twilight  references but instead of calling it Twilight Dionne refers to it as Dusk.  Not to mention a dozen or so Star Wars references that were put in, in an obvious attempt to be hip (seriously, there was a character whose whole purpose was to quote lines from the movies).

A lot of things about this book just didn’t make sense there were a glob of plot holes and plots that I just couldn’t make sense of.  And to having plot holes in a contemporary is a pretty big deal.  At least with a paranormal, you sort of have the excuse of another world but here there are no excuses.   None at all.

Okay, guys here’s the technical music related stuff.  A lot of this might bore you to death, but I feel like when you’re writing a novel proper research is a must and with the age of the internet it’s not that difficult to do.   Here are just a few of the things that bothered me about how Dionne handled the subject matter:

1) Transcribing a piccolo solo to mellophone can’t be done.  A piccolo is the highest pitched instrument on the field a mellophone plays a lot lower.  You play in treble cliff on piccolo you play in bass cliff on mellophone.  And furthermore you’re bastardizing Sousa’s Stars and Stripes when you use a mellophone.

 
2) Marching Band isn’t so much about the music than it is about the drill.  Quite honestly people aren’t going to hear you in the stadium they’ll mostly hear the percussion if anything else.  What makes or breaks a show is the actual drill.  Many schools have shows written just for them in interesting themes.  It’s all about the show not the musical quality which is why novice players are often allowed on the field because they don’t have to actually play.
3) Rehearsals aren’t just three days a week they’re almost every day a week in Texas we have an eight hour rule.  Which means bands can rehears up to eight hours per week.  Usually though this rule in broken.  Band directors are better than lawyers at finding loopholes.
4) If a student passes out there’s no way in hell they’ll be allowed to stay at practice that day.  It’s hello emergency room.  There’s just too big of a liability with more and more kids suffering from heat strokes and other health disorders in recent years.
5) Expecting a job in a Big Five Orchestra is like expecting to be Angelina Jolie.  It’s hard, guys.  It’s really hard.  Elsie acted like it would be a piece of cake if she got into her camp and got into the right school.  Well, it doesn’t exactly work that way.  There are a limited amount of jobs out there and there are so many factors in who chosen for what job.  To be blunt about it, the best player often doesn’t get the job.  They might not even advance. Yes, advance there are multiple stages to audition for a job.  Sometimes, you have to get invited to an audition Each group has their own criteria in who they hire.  Many musicians get upper degrees so that they can teach at a university while looking for a job that actually pays and  this process takes multiple years.  Not to mention the student loans for these schools are just awful and that if you decide to quit depending on your degree you might have a difficult time getting a job in another industry.  Furthermore,   it takes some musicians up to a hundred or so auditions before they find a job.  Finally, it should also be mentioned that playing music in a symphony isn’t at all glamorous.  Many orchestras have gone on strike in recent years.  Notably, the Atlanta and Chicago symphonies with the musicians often taking a pay cut.
6) Private lessons are a necessity.  Most schools have their own private lessons teachers.  If they don’t the music program is probably lacking in funding.  These teachers often provide the only individual instruction students get.
7) There is no parade competition in marching band.  You run your drill usually there are three acts so to speak.
8)You perform at every football game, not just homecoming and always in full dress.  There is never half dress.  I remember wearing wool when it was a hundred degrees outside.  It sucked and I couldn’t stand the fact Elsie was complaining about it being hot in freaking Massachusetts obvious she has not spent a day outside when it’s 106 degrees outside in Texas in July.
9) You don’t learn music by rote.  You count the piece, subdivide it.  Learn it measure by measure.  But not by rote.  You will sound like this if you learn music by rote:

10.  Getting into a big parade like the Macy’s Darcy’s Thanksgiving Parade or the Rose Bowl isn’t accomplished in just a few weeks it takes years.  And usually when you do get invited it’s the whole district not just one school (I would know my uncle’s school district got invited to march for the Rose Bowl a couple of years back).

Note, I could go on.  But I won’t.  I have other things to do like finish this review and pet my Rat Terrier.

Best Feature: The Subject Matter.  I like books about band.  Music played an important role in my life and I think it’s important for kids to realize that it’s out there and this book does it.  Grant it, it gets a lot of things wrong.  But I like it’s intentions..

Worst Feature: Suffering from Sheldon Cooper Syndrome: Okay, Elsie.  Girlfriend, you’re not getting a b.f.f. charm from me anytime soon.  In fact, I’m almost tempted to throw you in the dungeon of doom.  However, you aren’t the typical Sue I’ll give you that.  You’re just mean.  And don’t know how to deal with people.  I actually wondered if you suffered from a social disorder like Aspergers or something and if that was the case you know more power to you.  I feel like YA protagonist should be more diversified since the world itself has a wide array of people. And I have to admit it would be sort of cool reading a book in the POV from someone who views the world differently than I do.  But you, my friend, you don’t have a social disorder and you have no excuse for being such a bitch to everyone.  Yes, I get your instrument is your life.  But let me tell you, being from a family of musicians you’re going to get nowhere.  You think you need a night off of practicing before a marching band contest.  A marching band contest where quite honestly no one is going to hear you over the crowd….let me just put it this way, my sister who is actually a symphony musician practices at bare minimum of three hours day.  Usually it’s six plus.  When I was in high school, I practiced at least ninety minutes a day and it wasn’t music that was fun for the most part.  I did fundamentals like scales and stuff. Also, don’t act like you’re so much better than your peers.  It’s not your place to correct them unless you’re the section leader or whatever.  Your band director or private lesson teacher (oh, right I forgot your school doesn’t have private teachers) will be more than happy to point out their faults, they don’t need to be told how much they suck from a wannabe like you.   I will say as insufferable as Elsie is–seriously, she’s like an mean version of Sheldon Cooper of the band world-I did think her friends were a bit overly sensitive and rude themselves.  So what if she doesn’t want to eat ice cream with you guys?  Get over it.  She’s been with you all day long at the field and really who wants to be with a person 24/7.  Seriously, this book lacked balance when it comes to social interaction.  You’re either an ass or a doormat.  No in between.

Appropriateness: This book seems pretty clean.  I mean, after meeting Elsie you sort of understand why.  There’s not going to be any happy times for her romantically until she loses that chip on her shoulder plus I think her dad would hit someone with his French Horn or whatever if they even got close to second base which I don’t think she’ll get to with the love interest in this book.  However, what bothered me about this book for young readers was the fact that it preached for mediocrity.  Seriously, Elsie was shunned because she was practicing.  Like practicing is a sin.  Some of the stuff she said was offensive, but her practicing that shouldn’t be judged. But seriously, in the end she realizes that her goals aren’t important just as long as she’s having fun in a group and gives up a great opportunity.  Well, Elsie tell me how you feel ten years from now when all the French Horn playing you’re doing is for your community band?

Blockbuster Worthy: Um, no.  I don’t think I could handle this one on the big or small screen.  It would be a Disney movie for the week for sure.  And you know what, I’m not even going to bother to cast roles because I don’t want to be that mean.  Plus, I can’t think of anyone bitchy enough to play Elsie besides Kristen Stewart and they don’t look anything alike.

Overall Rating: Three out of ten shakos.  I liked the idea the writing was easy enough to read.  But God, the characters the lack of research just drove me crazy.

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7 thoughts on “Notes From an Accidental Band Geek: Erin Dionne

  1. Wow, it does sound bad.I don't know much about music other than I like to sing and I was in chorus for one year – which was good and bad, but mostly just meh, lots of practicing though. – but from what I can gather, the book had many easy-ish to spot mistakes and when you're tackling something like this, those shouldn't be there. So sad. I like the idea of a book like this, too, but I don't think the execution was good with this one.

  2. You have no idea.Seriously, a few quick Google searches was all she needed to do. I mean, some of the stuff I mentioned-like the heat policy thing is pretty common knowledge. There are always a ton of new stories during the summer about kids getting sick in the heat, so I really think that one was a no brainer.Sigh, I was really looking forward to this one too.

  3. I'm technically in bad, color guard and reading all the mistakes made me think that she should've gotten her facts straight or someone else would've been better suited to write this book. I'll think I'll pass this one up because I know I'll be just as annoyed as you are with all the mistakes.

  4. I agree it would be wise to skip this one if you have any knowledge of how band or guard works. Even if it wasn't for all the band stuff the characterization is just so horrible it's a pain to get through it.

  5. Hey! I landed here from your post about the YA Bingo Card thing and you mentioned a book that was factually wrong about marching band. I was thinking you were talking about the Jennifer Echols book Biggest Flirts, and didn’t realize there was another Echols book about band (I also read your review of Major Crush, and I do have to wonder if Echols actually was in band after learning that she wrote two books about it?). I love the idea of the Under the Shako book, and would totally read that. And I agree that it looks like there are many factual errors in the book! But I also want to note that my band (I was HS marching band and college) did only have practice three days a week AND we did half dress days for our August football games due to heat regulations in North Carolina public schools. Also, schools can get individual invites for the Macy’s parade and the mellophone is in treble clef (but the piccolo solo in Stars and Stripes Forever would be too hard to play on the instrument and would sound AWFUL).
    I think some of the things you point out are regional differences between Texas, where football is really big and marching band follows suit, and places where football and marching band are less organized. It’s easier for our local bands to decide to go to the Macy’s Parade because they want a diverse set of states represented and there is less competition from within North Carolina (though I don’t know about Massachusetts).
    However, it looks like there still many inaccuracies that can’t be overlooked (not sending a kid who fainted out of practice? Absurd.) I can’t stand it when books make it seem like HUGE goals (making a Big 5 Orchestra, getting in to Harvard, getting published) are just a matter of being the best in the character’s high school (IT’S NOT THAT EASY, AUTHORS!). I will definitely be passing on this book because it does sound like the author really doesn’t know what she’s talking about from an insiders perspective, or even a well researched one. So I’m going to encourage you to write your Shako book so we can have better band books!

    • Yeah, I based most of my information on Texas and from what I heard from my music major friends in other states. I do know that the process for getting invited to the Rose Bowl is a bit rigorous though, I guessed Macy’s was the same way. Thanks for commenting.

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