Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Kilt Kerfluffle

Last month, I was invited to join a Facebook group entitled, "A Petition To Keep Kilts In GHCHS Marching Band."

As a former Highlander myself, as well as a general devotee of men in skirts, I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm and a degree of alarm. The Granada Hills Charter High School Highlander Marching band without kilts? That's like Loch Ness without the monster. It's like golf without balls. It's like prom without booze. It just doesn't work. And it flies in the face of tradition.

How did it come to pass that someone would even consider stripping the Highlander Marching Band of their kilts? After joining the petition group, I started peeking into the rumors to see if there was anything underneath. To aid in the petition effort, I also let my Facebook followers know about the group, and the word quickly began to spread. Soon, the group's numbers swelled from a handful to almost three hundred members. Outraged students and alumni voiced their disapproval in dozens of posts, all voting overwhelmingly in support of kilts:

Amy Nicole: Kilts make Granada who they are. Who is saying they want to get rid of them?

Donna Foley: The kilts are what have made the Highland band what they are. I was in the original band that got the uniforms in 1977. I am a music teacher myself now and my kids in Texas even know who the GHHS (GHCHS) Highlanders are!
Some things are what make a band stand out. The Highlanders are known for their kilts and Holland H.S. in Michigan is known for their wooden shoes. You know these bands from a distance. Let tradition stand!


Tom Chatt: Is this for real? That would be as ridiculous as when Farrell's decided to get rid of the hoopla and become a quiet restaurant that served ice cream.

The vociferous response to the Facebook petition did more than evoke the passions of kilt supporters; it also provoked the ire of band director Al Nelson. Nelson contacted GigaGranadaHills shortly after the Facebook group began gathering steam with a terse and demading one-line email that said simply, "Take down the petition and print a retraction, now."
Ewan MacGregor, kilt supporter

The importunate missive seemed to be the result of two mistaken assumptions on Nelson's part: that I was responsible for the creation of the Facebook petition, which was actually created by a GHCHS student (who subsequently withdrew himself from the group -- it is now listed as having no administrator), and that I had already written an article about the kilt issue, which I would subsequently be willing to retract upon his order (so make that three mistaken assumptions).

A source knowledgeable about the situation said that Nelson, who refused a request for an interview, is a supporter of the kilt tradition and doesn't wish to see it abandoned, despite arguments that the uniqueness -- or some might say oddity -- of the Highlanders' uniforms detracts from their scores at band competitions. But the source said that once the possibility of doing away with kilts was raised, in the wake of that discussion, Nelson was "getting constant emails from band parents that are getting pissed at him and blaming him for everything." Several band parents reportedly first became aware of the issue through the creation of the Facebook petition group -- presumably the reason for Nelson's ire over its existence, even though the petition's initial aim had been to bolster Nelson's pro-kilt position.

I called GHCHS and spoke with Julia Howelman, administrative director of the band, who said, "That's the first I've ever heard of it," when asked about the rumors of kilt removal. Howelman later spoke with band director Al Nelson, and on Monday confirmed that the kilts are in fact, here to stay.

Granada's official position is that the threat to kilts was "nothing but a rumor," but rumors don't typically spread unless they are credible, and the censorious, shut-down-this-pro-kilt-discussion-thread-now response on band director Al Nelson's part is curious. If kilts were never threatened to begin with, then why so strenuously object to a discussion in favor of them?

Recent Granada graduate and former band member Eleazar Calderon was able to illuminate the origins of the kilt dispute. It seems that walk-on coach Nick Petoyan -- not an instructor or band director but "an assistant to the assistant to the assistant" (Howelman's term) who works with the band's drum line, was the initiator of the kilt-killing sentiment, and was actively "fighting to take out the kilts," according to one Facebook commenter. And since Petoyan, who though not the band director, is a coach, a school employee and an authority figure to band members, had taken an anti-kilt position, students took the threat seriously.

Facebook commenter Aaron Levy said, "Nick went off to SCV and came back with a lot of new ideas and changes, most of which we do not like. Some are pretty good, but like this one, not all of them." Petoyan, who also could not be reached for comment, "apparently wants to change the kilts because him and other drumline instructors want the apparel to (be) the standard marching uniform... this could result in better scores," Calderon said. Another source echoed the sentiment that kilts hurt competition scores: "Many judges hate them, and they want them to go away... the judges hate them because we aren't the same as everyone else."

Yet for the foreseeable future, the Higlanders' kilts are secure, and Howelman told GigaGranadaHills that the school even has new kilts on order. And despite misgivings Petoyan and others may have about the kilts' impact on competition scores, they haven't completely prevented the Highlander band from winning awards; according to the band's website, "The Highlander Band was awarded the Grand Sweepstakes Championship at the Portland Rose Festival in 2005 and the Peoples Choice Award in 2007."

And the URL for that site?

It's www.kiltedband.com.

37 comments:

  1. Although I wouldn't be caught wearing one ... I am a graduate of GHCHS [1970] and it simply wouldn't make sense to abandon the kiltes. It's the "motto" of the school.

    Ed Benson
    Class of 1970

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  2. Yeah for the kilts! Boo for Nelson who thinks he can shove other people around. "... take it down, now ..." Nelson can kiss my ass.

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  3. dude, this shit is awesome!!! rock on GIGA!!

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  4. Kilts rule
    Uniforms drool

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  5. Highlander '82...

    Actually, keep the kilts but get rid of the pith helmets and bring back the glengarries...

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  6. This stemming all from rumors, hear say and assumptions made by students and expanded by all involved has turned into a mess. Putting bad light on people that want to try and help a group that they have been incredibly proud of form the time they saw it till today. While I enjoy the kilts we all have to realize that change happens but we need to wait for it to actually happen and not assume that it could or might happen soon. Could or might it not a real valid place to start and this turn into messes when it starts from there. Just like this has turned into a mess.

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  7. I don't see this as a "mess" -- I see it as people voicing support for something they feel strongly about (a troublesome idea to some, I know). One person suggested getting rid of kilts. Several others disagreed with that idea, and said so, passionately. No one was harmed. No one was fired from their job. It was a passionate debate, and that's all. It's American!

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  8. Amy Nicole states: Kilts make Granada who they are. Who is saying they want to get rid of them?

    How did the kilts make who they are. Should it not be their musicianship, skill and talent that make them who they are???

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  9. A "mess" because overall it was a misunderstanding that no one asked the source of until it had already got out of hand. And while I'm all about people voicing passionate support, when they slander others to make there point or accuse others before they find out or confirm what is really happening by going to the source, there is a problem. It's American to debate facts not here say or rumors which is all they turned out to be. It's also American to find out what is really happening (the truth) and not what appeares to be happening.

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  10. JANUARY 14, 2010 5:13 PM
    Anonymous said...
    Kilts rule
    Uniforms drool

    What?!?!?!
    The kilt is their uniform!
    So your saying your against the kilt?
    Your going against your argument!

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  11. Quite the opposite. You've actually pointed a finger at someone here without gatthering nearly enough information about this at all and THAT has caused harm. Whether or not that person wanted to be contacted or not is besides the point, the tarnish to a reputation has been done. The fact that you can go so far as to boldly state that this person was the "initiator of the kilt-killing sentiment" is a mess in itself as you were illuminated by a person who is no longer involved in the program in any way and continues to display the lack of actual concrete information. Hear say, assumptions, rumors.....that is what you are going off of here.

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  12. I agree with Anonymous above. Being a member of this band, I love the kilts and the fact that we are recognized everywhere as "that one band who wears the kilts". At the same time, backing up Anonymous' statement, I'm not angry about the POSSIBLE uniform change, but the fact that specific people were blamed for this IDEA that may not even occur. Those people are basically being portrayed as "evil tradition-killers", which they are DEFINITELY NOT. This IDEA was not meant to "kill tradition", it was meant to help the group. And for someone to say that these specific people are to blame for the "death of tradition", is RIDICULOUS. Stop these rumors and accusations...they couldn't be further from the truth.

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  13. By the way...some people aren't realizing that there are many people under an anonymous name...so, something one "anonymous person" says doesnt mean that its from the same person. Just saying.

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  14. First off let me say that I am a senior at GHCHS in the band. I am not hiding behind an anonymous identity, as you can see my name clearly on the comment. Obviously I am well aware of these rumors, again, RUMORS that have spread throughout the band and perhaps further than initially intended. This issue is probably one of the last on my list as far as band goes, but I completely understand how some may be irked, especially when their names are used in the article itself. Now let me explain, I am on neither side as I have no facts or evidence, just opinions. Al Nelson (by someone who sees him everyday school day) is an extraordinary music teacher, but his teaching skills is not what is being discussed of him. not to put words in his mouth but my guess is that he asked for the article to come down because of all the fuss it is making, interfering with his job (which is difficult enough as it is). There is nothing suspicious to me about that and as the article even states he is pro-kilts. He gave a speech this morning about being careful on the internet, and I couldn't agree more (yes I listen to him... mostly). As for Nick Petoyan, I haven't talked to him recently but I am full sure anything he would suggest would be with the intention of benefitting the band, which he works hard to keep afloat, along with other instructors. I cannot say I agree or am excited with all of his proposals and new ideas but I do not take them as threatening and do not think he is "fighting" for any of these ideas to a point where it causes so much disruption. I am certain that he is irked though, not only because of the article itself, but if there were ideas, only he was mentioned and picked out of the group. As a senior, honestly, I don't care much either way what happens to oncoming years. However, it would be nice if the kilts stayed. If a judge or judges actually said the kilts were disrupting their view of the feet or lowering the scores in any way I would maybe consider redesigning the uniform. As for the students let them speak their minds. I would say more but I have class. Don't let facebook rule your life and thoughts!

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  15. Ed Benson, class of 1970 who will never be caught wearing a kilt wrote "...the kiltes. It's the "motto" of the school"

    Definition of motto: an expression, a sentence, a phrase, and often inscribed on a badge and or banner.

    So how is the kilt the motto?

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  16. I agree the 80's uniforms are classic, thats my favorite Granada uniform.

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  17. Thank goodness there are some students who have the wherewithall to think things through like Joey. As I have seen, there are many kids in that band who do not have the legitimate maturity level to calmly rationalize this situation...
    As a GHCHS band alum (and someone who has researched and really studied this activity), it is really hard to see the names of some good people being dragged through the mud a little bit. The writer of this article should have taken into some sort of consideration the fact that the kids being interviewed (Eleazar and Aaron) are very young and may not have the maturity of someone who has been distanced from the program for a few years or maybe experienced drum corps to further their knowledge of the sport. If they had, they would know that of course someone who has experienced marching with a World Class corps is going to come back to school as an instructor and bring new ideas to the table. They would not hold against him that he had the talent and opportunity to make that happen. Furthermore, more research could have been done about this activity on behalf of the author of this article. If this had occured, the writer may have learned a little bit about marching and drum corps, at least enough to know that pants do exhibit better marching technique.
    This article seems a bit one sided. To support what "annonymous" said above, people heard something and jumped to conclusions. I know the GHCHS marching band staff would have answered any questions the kids had coming their way because their goal is not to be secretive with the kids. They honestly want the program to be amazing. They are also smart enough to know that lying to the kids about something like this would create a "mess". I guess it is a little too late for that now.
    This is in no way inteded to be malicious, but I strongly encourage the writer of this article to attend a drum corps show or even watch videos on youtube of marching bands so they can furhter their knowledge of the activity.

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  18. Wearing that kilt is not a right, it is a privilege. These sound like complaints from children who were never taught any better.

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  19. Ya but that 80's uniform doesnt fit with there current field shows. So the helmet makes sense.

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  20. kilts for football games and parades.
    pants for competitions...

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  21. I have to say that I agree with Joey Berrellez, I am also a Senior in the GHCHS marching band, today during class Al brought this to everyones intention, inderectly, in talking about the internet and how rumors spread. Now I have to say that it was a viable rumor, someone overheard another person talking about perhaps changing the uniform to boost scores, many people in band became very upset as did the parents. I;m not pointing any fingers but no one needs to be blamed for anything. i just want to speak my mind. For one the kilts are amazing and I would hate to see them go and I doubt they will. Secondly I would like to remind people that the we are musicians, we get judged more for our musical technique. Yes we get judged on marching but the kilts aren't the issue, im sorry to break it to the instructors but, well the kilts aren't causing the marching technique problems. But none of that really matters, band isnt about winning! Band is an activity that bring musicians together allowing them to learn, grow, make memories and have fun. I would hate to see the day when we loose track of that.

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  22. I feel like i should point out that Aaron is a current band senior and Eleazar is a band alumni and therefore, they are not as immature as they make it out to be. The way that their comments were phrased are in no way blamming Nick. They are merely expressing that they dislike this idea. The writer of the article manipulated and used the quotes in order to support the claim that it was "all his fault." In fact, I know that the writer asked one of the two for permission to use their quote, but failed to do so with the other.

    Many members of the GHCHS band do know about drum corps. This year's seniors and juniors went on a field trip over the summer two years ago to a DCI competition and know full well the benefit of pants over kilts with emphasizing marching tecnique. We even have a senior who has made call backs for one of the best DCI teams out there. The point of the initial group was to keep the kilts because no matter how much it may seem to lower scores, it's the tradition and reputation it brings with it. I don't feel that it is right to assume that the GHCHS band members do not know anything just because all we've ever worn for uniform are the kilts.

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  23. I agree with Gaby and Joey. Im a sophomore in the band, so yeah not having the kilts the next two years wouldn't be the same... but i honestly don't think it would happen anytime soon. Thats to say if it was going to happen at all. This is just another high school rumor and it has been blown way out of proportion. No ones to be blamed especially not Al. He's a good guy and this band is basically what he lives for, he probably doesn't want so much negative publicity around it. I don't know its just my opinion.

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  24. Dear Anonymous of January 15, 2010 7:22 PM,
    It's true that I did ask Eleazar for permission to use his quote and did not ask permission of Aaron. That's because the quote I had from Eleazar was part of a personal interview, whereas the quote from Aaron was taken from a comment he had already published on the Internet.

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  25. Just a thought, the big issue with the granada band should be how we went from division 5A to 3A and still took so sixth place in champs, mostly due to lack of determination, effort, confidence, and dicipline (even from seniors). I am not saying we completely messed up and there are debates about the situation, but thats a different story...

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  26. Anonymous said...
    Yeah for the kilts! Boo for Nelson who thinks he can shove other people around. "... take it down, now ..." Nelson can kiss my ass.

    This is clearly a student who got butt hurt for not getting Drum Major or Sectionleader. This clearly show that Al made the right decision.

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  27. I dont see what the big deal is, it's the directors program. If they and the staff are united on a decision to make the group better then let them do what they do is best. Thats why they are working there.

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  28. Over the years I have judged marching bands, including Granada Hills. This article says that, "Many judges hate them, and they want them to go away... the judges hate them because we aren't the same as everyone else." Not true, many judges including myself don't hate the kilt, but the kilt does hinder their visual score. There is no clear leg definition with kilts that clarity can only come with pants. The kilts also do not move the same which ruins some of the uniformity. Since this article falls to one side I would like to shed some light on this situation. About ten years ago Granada's uniform changed to their current one. That was because their large sash that they once wore covered half of their body and made it hard to see their technique. The Al Nelson created a solution with out completely changing the uniform. It helped but did not fix it. There will be a point where practicing technique will not help. At that point they will need to think about what to do with that uniform. They are a competitive marching band, not a pep band in the stands.

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  29. Honestly, this has gotten to the point of madness. The assumption that kilts are going to be taken away is absolutely ridiculous. As a recent graduate of Granada, I have an insight that no outsider of the band community could have. Al Nelson is very proud of his marching band and the kilts they wear. He wouldn't take them away on the basis of improving scores. Al has always been about being unique and being "the underdog". Nick Petoyan was in the GHCHS Marching Band when they had over 150 members strong and could afford to kick out those who were not up to par. Now that the band is much smaller and the rules have changed about proper methods of punishment, there is less motivation in the band and less dedication, especially since there are little to no consequences for this kind of attitude. Some band members are lacking in discipline, respect and work ethic, and there is little that can be done about it especially since the band's size is no longer as immense (still pretty big, but not 150). The band can not be the way it used to where Al could kick you out of practice for being late or where push ups or a lap around the track could be given for dropping an instrument or talking during attention.
    My point is, that Nick is used to seeing Granada as the way it used to be. Extremely diehard and with the dedication of a drum corps. We cannot blame him for trying to make the band like this again. We do not even know if his suggestion to get rid of kilts is true.
    As for Al sending the short and curt email, he has other things to worry about. He doesn't need this to make his job even more difficult.
    My final point is that if Julia Howellmann says the kilt is here to stay and that the rumor of getting rid of them is just that, a rumor, then kilts won't be going anywhere soon.

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  30. woo hoo!!! go ryanne!!!!!

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  31. My freshman year of band, we had a judge comment on our marching because we had plaids. What did we do? We tied the plaid down with a belt and kept it during competitions. That year we swept almost every competition, and was still "the band" to watch as we were the last ones on. We looked badass, we sounded badass, and the kilts were badass.
    I think it was because of the kilts, our friendships in band were more unique than other bands were, beacuse of the kilt. At competitions, we dealt with the weather differently than other bands did. At football games, we dealt with crowds differntly (ie. kids running under the bleachers). When it came to uniform parts, we had to make sure we also had socks, leggings, AND flashes. We even had to make sure we had a kilt pin and sporran. So if marching really is the issue, it's not the uniform. just practice marching in time. It's not the uniform. The music was our voice, The field was our canvas, The kilt was our secret weapon.

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  32. Well said, Ryanne. Al has enough on his plate without students complaining, parents getting irate, and administrators calling meetings over something so unfounded and unlikely as the band getting rid of its trademark kilts. In fact, the reason he wanted the whole discussion killed in the first place is because of the flood of phone calls and meetings with administrators. Yes, I'd say the old kilts disappearing is about as unlikely as the new ones showing up. So let's just drop it, shall we?

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  33. JANUARY 25, 2010 5:33 PM
    Thank you Anonymous some, you were one of the very few people who posted something with a brain.

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  34. Oy vey... Keep the kilts. If true, it is only the result of a bureaucratic administrator, not vivacious or full of life.

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  35. dam, nice got into world class performing due to a need for members

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  36. Sorry I had to bring this back up. Despite what a lot of people here said, they moving a lot better. The scores don't lie either.

    GHCHS 2014 - A House Divided
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ20OE3ttWw

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