The push factor sending people out of band is several-fold.
1. Kids in 9th grade now had 3/4ths of a year of 6th grade band, effectively no 7th grade band (unless you were one of the VERY few schools that got to play on campus effectively during remote learning/hybrid learning) and a catch-up year last year that DID NOT prepare them for 9th grade band.
2. Similarly, kids in 12th grade band had *one* year of "normal" high school band, as a freshman. 11th grade band has had no full "normal" years.
3. We've had Senior classes for the past three years straight that have had their "real" school experiences stolen from them due to pandemic restrictions. Many schools had no prom, virtual graduation, and no real end of year activities in 2019-2020. Many had only partial in 20-21. And as much as last year was "back to normal" we ALL know it wasn't normal in any way.
4. Given the extreme downturn in the economy in people who couldn't WFH, many of our kids have had to seek employment to help their parents. Or they're just flat burned out on everything and don't want to "try" anymore.
5. Add ALL of that together and you get the declining band enrollments we've had over the past few years. In my opinion, it's not going to fully recover until EVERY kid in band who was affected by the pandemic *while in band* has graduated high school. We've got 3 years to go. At least.
Now, as to your "bassoon quartet" - I love it. Those kids' musical skills are JUST as valid as the trumpet player who can play Maria, or a euphonium duet. Those kids deserve to be featured (especially since technology allows it now!) just as much as anyone else, and marching band has for a hundred years done a disservice to our woodwind and double reed players.
Striking a balance? You know what the most widely appreciated-by-the-audience style of shows are out there? Show band. HBCU band. THAT is what the audience and students (in most cases!) want. They want loud, brash, in-your-face, aggressive band playing. And don't say it's just in inner cities or majority-minority schools - there are several rural schools that use elements of HBCU style performance if not marching full show style. How many times do we see corps style marching featured on ESPN commercials? How often do we see the swaggering high-stepping style? THAT is what the audience wants. Are you willing to give it to them?
Remember. For half or more of the "football audience" the band is there to "support the team" not to demonstrate artistry. We should be playing over the other guys, playing the fight song, the National Anthem at home games, and "keeping the crowd pumped up."
So, frankly, I don't give a flying (expletive) what the audience wants. They don't know any better. My job is to teach music. My job is to be successful at UIL. My job is to teach the band students and to a lesser extent band parents what's to appreciate about the music.
Could we pull away from art-for-the-sake-of-art shows? Sure. We could have more accessible shows. If we're playing classical music, we could play pops rather than deep cuts. But the fact of the matter is, until UIL starts including "content of show" as part of the rubric, we're going to keep having this argument forever. And personally, unless UIL decides to create a "compulsory" like ice dancing has, I don't think it's ever going to change - nor is that ever going to fly.