I am not addressing these issues to "punish" or "demean" anyone...goodness knows, I get accused of that all the time (even when I don't say anything at all!). I simply want our parent and student community to understand the importance of commitment and the fact that our activity is not based solely on individual accomplishment...it is also heavily dependent on group effort and teamwork.
We schedule time for rehearsals based on our assessment of how many hours it will take to get all students performing at their highest level of proficiency. Not only do the individuals have to be able to do their part, but we must address the "teamwork" aspects...blend, balance, tuning, matching articulations, and the many other aspects of ensemble performance that can not be done alone.
We publish rehearsal and performance schedules well in advance. We have systems in place to communicate our information. We stress the importance of attendance, and we try to work around major school activities to avoid putting students in conflicting situations. Still...we have students missing from virtually every rehearsal and performance.
Now, I don't want to offend anyone, and I certainly understand that emergency situations arise... but when we get vague emails or notes asking for a student to miss a scheduled event, we must ask for specifics. We use the same criteria as the school district to determine excused or unexcused absences. "Important matters" is not considered specific enough for determination of absence requests. It is also difficult to compensate when the request comes in at the last minute...and typically these requests include the phrase "we planned this other thing months ago...". Well, if you planned it months ago, and our calendar was out months ago, the time to communicate would have been....wait for it...MONTHS AGO! One caveat: Just because we hear about an absence in advance does not guarantee that it will be an excusable reason. Other requirements exist.
In order to keep the level of performance high, we might have to reassign parts for missing students. We might have to reteach group concepts to compensate for the absence. We might have to change the rehearsal plan for that day if key members are out. It makes the music sound different to all the students who are performing when a part that they have grown accustomed to hearing is not there.
When you audition for an outside of school group, you should compare schedules BEFORE you get accepted and if the conflicts are too great, you might have to forego that outside activity. Every community/honors group that I have ever been associated with encourages the students to be a member in good standing at their own school first...then participate in the extra activity. Performances take precedence over rehearsals...in other words, a concert at the student's home school should always take precedent over a rehearsal for a non-school group.
I also must address the "but my kid loves music" clause. Yes, I know your student came to practices earlier in the year. Yes, I know that he/she is a wonderful person and easy to get along with. Yes, they have probably signed up and done something extra at some point...all of those things should have happened and should continue to happen...but that doesn't address the current situation. We are learning new material in every rehearsal. If they are out, they don't learn and grow. On top of that, the learning process is negatively affected for the students who depend on them as a part of the unified group. In marching band, they are not continuing the muscle memory and stamina building repetitions. In concert band, it changes the parameters for the entire performance.
There will always be conflicts. All we ask is that you plan as carefully as possible and only have your student miss when it is totally unavoidable. As a band director, I have rescheduled family birthday celebrations around rehearsal and performance obligations. I have chosen not to take on additional responsibilities when I knew they would create conflicts with already scheduled commitments. If conflict was unavoidable, I communicated it early and made arrangements for my obligations to be covered. I have compromised time between multiple activities so that one of them did not get totally slighted. It takes careful planning and communication, but it can be done.
Our goal is to provide the best musical opportunities for your student. We can do many things to help them improve, but we can't teach the empty chair when they are missing. We also can't "make up" the experience in context when that moment has passed. Please help us to help your student through your continued diligence in planning and communicating.