Why is it important for a high school to put on their yearly musical? It's expensive, time consuming, and by the time production rolls around the students are tired, grumpy, and constantly at each others' throats. Altogether a far different experience from Disney's High School Musical experience.
The musical for high school artists is important because it creates an amalgamation of all the disparate areas of the arts in public schools. Richard Wagner coined the term gesamkunstwerk (ga-ZAM-koonst-vurk) when referring to his music dramas. This term literally meant the creation of a full piece of artistry. High school musicals do not come close to the scale of the Ring of the Nibelung, but they do bring together all those different artistic veins. The actors act, but they also learn how to dance and sing to a live pit orchestra made up of members of the orchestra and band. The scenes are designed, built, and painted by students interested in the backstage craft of theater arts. Sometimes bandsmen in the pit orchestra are even part of the show as in North Kansas City High School's production of Chicago in 2007. First trumpet Joe Forrester, in full jazz regalia (zoot suit with white spats and black fedora) stood, spotlighted, and graced the audience with the opening bars.
Musicals for high school bandsmen create an outlet for viewing and participating in the rigorous work of creating a gesamkunstwerk. It provides a glimmer of life as a professional, working musician in a way that can still be fun and challenging. And, despite the hair pulling and eye gouging that may occur in the week prior to production, most students return to perform year after year while in school.