Strike up the band!

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Eccl. 3:1

Spring, fighting off winter’s rain and chills, brings baseball season.

Fall, basking in the loveliest weather of the year, brings marching band season.

Baseball season I view as a detached bystander; the sight of the diamond brings back no cherished memories of days in the sun. All I see when I look at the lovely red of the infield is how much of a pain it’s going to be to get those white uniform pants clean. (They wear the pants for two hours and you have to wash the damn things in hot water with bleach to have any chance of getting the red out. Not to mention the grass stains.)

Band season, though, is something else. I love watching marching bands. I love the color and the spectacle. I love the glint of lights off the brasses, the shimmer of brilliant cloth in the flags, the sharp artillery of snare-drum fire.

I appreciate how hard it is to put on a really top-quality show; my high school band did so itself. My eldest son is part of an award-winning marching band. It is a joy to watch them, not just as they perform, but as they develop, to see the progress they make over a season.

And it’s amazing how much ancient memories insert themselves back into your brain. I played saxophone in my high school marching band and my pulse quickens every time I hear a drum cadence. Not out of excitement, but out of some vaguely remembered sense of mild panic.

It doesn’t help that I am somewhat intimidated by the band director. It took me a while to figure out why I found her intimidating, since other people didn’t. I finally realized that she is the very image of the trumpet section leader and co-captain when I was a sophomore whose job (performed with terrorizing gusto) it was to whip everyone into line. I was so unnerved by the realization that I went and checked her bio to make sure that she had, in fact, grown up half a continent away from me. She still makes me a bit nervous, but I’m getting better.

Then there is the other band director. He is quiet, reserved, mellow. All of which masks the fact that the man is a freaking genius. He wrote the music that they are performing for their field show this year, and it is sublime: full of power and delicacy and richness, the last two being attributes not often found on the marching field.

My son is a drummer. In my day, the drummers were always cooler than anyone else. I’m not sure if that’s still the case — he won’t say; I think it would be considered uncool to talk about how cool you are. Last year he was in the pit, or the alternative percussion section. It seems to me that the pit people march — or don’t march, really — to the beat of their own drummer. At one competition last year, one of the bands dressed their pit in clown outfits, and my son was outraged: “That’s just cruel. Pit never gets any respect anyway, but to dress them up as clowns is just mean.”

I actually volunteer with the band. I am helping to iron uniforms. I signed up to chaperone a bus to a competition. And I signed up to do hair.

I did it last year. And I have no idea why I am doing it again, except… I want to help. I want to be at the competition. I want to be useful. Otherwise, trying to put the kids’ hair up so it is off their collar and under their hat is a royal pain.

And it is not the girls who are the headache. It’s the boys, including my own, who is steadfastly refusing to cut his not-quite-shoulder length ‘do for marching band season even though it is going to be really annoying to deal with. I even tried to convince him that it would be better for the health of his hair in the long run — fewer split ends. No luck.

One of the joys of having been in band is you can tell band horror stories to your kid, the band equivalent of “when I was your age I walked fifteen miles through the snow to go to school…” In my case it was “when I was your age, we wore black wool uniforms under the hot Florida sun, and they told us it was better to pass out than move in formation because you didn’t get docked points if you actually collapsed.” That, and his father (who had been a clarinet player in Georgia) and I were harrumphing that they just didn’t mark time like they used to in the old days. These youngsters today, they just shuffle their feet, not really mark time with their instep hitting their knee! Ah, the hours — probably just minutes but God didn’t it seem like hours — marching in place for disciplinary reasons. Hey, maybe running laps is a better sytem after all.

The band is just starting to pull things together, flags are being sewn, routines being learned. We have a good ways to go before the end of the season.

This promises to be fun.

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2 Responses to Strike up the band!

  1. Grandmère Mimi says:

    Pat, this post reminds me of my daughter’s days in the band in high school and junior high. I did what I could to help, but I confess that I was not as dedicated as you are. You put me to shame.

    My daughter played clarinet, and then for the concerts, moved on to the bassoon, while still playing the clarinet when marching. The bassoon was not all that easy, because you didn’t play all the time, so you had to pay attention to know when to come in, and you had little parts of the piece in which the bassoons were the stars of the show.

    The school provided the bassoon, thank goodness, but the first year she had the oldest instrument, which needed constant maintenance. By the time she got to her senior year, she had the best bassoon – which is the fair way to do it.

    Being in the band was so good for her, and the band members were, for the most part, a tight-knit group of pretty good kids.

  2. Pat Greene says:

    I love double-reed instruments! They’re so cool.

    Being in the band is wonderful for freshmen because it gives them an automatic peer group centered around a purpose.

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