GORHAM — While Marcus Whitman school officials and organizers of the Gorham Pageant of Bands look forward to the 56th annual event, they do so with some concern for its future.
In a letter posted on the school district website, Superintendent Jeramy Clingerman and members of the Marcus Whitman Band Boosters said while there are a number of bands participating this year, there has been a big drop overall, including groups marching in the parade that has earned Gorham the title of “The Bandstand of the Finger Lakes.”
Thirteen bands are scheduled to march Saturday.
“As a ballpark number, the number of bands has generally been the same the last six or seven years, but it’s far less than 15 years ago and beyond,” Clingerman said. “The number of jazz and concert bands attending is strong, but the number of marching bands is our greatest concern. That number is lower than any other year.
“The district and the band boosters have been working together for the last few years to try to find ways to increase the number of participants in the pageant.”
Clingerman said there are several factors that have contributed to the decreasing participation:
• A tremendous drop in the number of districts offering marching band.
• Most districts that have marching band have limited them to two competitions.
• An area theme park has music competitions on weekends. Clingerman declined to name the park.
“We don’t want to make it sound like we are blaming anyone. We are not doing that,” he said. “It is difficult to compete with an amusement park. The kids play in the competition and then have a full day of adventure.”
• Most districts are seeing fewer students involved in extra-curricular music programs.
• More children are choosing to join competitive athletic teams that travel on weekends. Some students are faced with other commitments the weekend of the pageant, such as sectional athletic games, class trips, SAT exams, jobs and more.
“Kids are interested in a number of things these days. I understand that as a parent, as I have a seventh-grader and you have to make those decisions as a family,” Clingerman said.
Organizers say as participation dwindles, the pageant could no longer be economically viable.
“To properly adjudicate the event is costly and with fewer schools participating, the fees to each participant would need to increase substantially,” the letter reads. “With the reality that the pageant will not be able to continue at the current level of participation in future years, we are trying our best to think ‘outside the box’ to continue providing opportunities for our students to perform for the community. We hope people will continue to work together as a team, which is more likely to lead to healthy changes and positive results.”
Organizers are pursuing the possibility of combining the Gorham pageant with another district to make it a Finger Lakes Pageant, which would allow for more participants, more volunteers and a more valuable pageant for students and communities. It also would allow booster organizations to possibly make money from the event, which is important to supporting student music programs.
Clingerman declined to say if that pageant is the Seneca Falls Pageant of Bands, which is generally two weeks before the Gorham event.
“We are in the early phases of talking with another district,” he said. “We are just getting into that conversation.”
Clingerman said he and other organizers decided to publish the letter after talking with community members.
“People who have been heavily involved in the past have talked to me and we have had some great conversations. They have shared different concerns,” he said. “At the same time, I am optimistic with the energy I see from people wanting to improve our current situation so we can make this a bigger pageant and increase participation. Part of my job as superintendent is to keep this great tradition going.”