Thoughts From Six Feet Away: And the Band Played On...
I’m going to need a hobby.
Up until now, people have known better than to make plans with me during the fall. It’s marching band season, and for the past seven years my primary role has been band dad, with the past three years being “Band Dad 1” (I have the shirt to prove it). My son is a senior, and his final contest was this past weekend. Marching seasons have gotten progressively more taxing as the years have passed, especially when occupying a leadership position. But now that it’s over, and the smoke has cleared, I can only use one word to describe it:
There will be no more ‘we’ll get ‘em next year.’ No more eager anticipation in the spring, wondering what the theme of next year’s show will be. No more nights of my son pounding drum rolls on the pad, striving to perfect his craft. (I don’t think my son realizes, even now, that the harder he practiced, the harder his instructor would write his parts for the following season). I now look back and realize that this journey began 37 years ago, and the past seven years provided an opportunity to scratch a long-dormant itch.
The seniors in the band this year have been presented with a unique opportunity: a scholarship, started by a couple who were both in marching band, with the only requirement being an essay to explain what marching band has meant to them. Upon hearing about this new program, it allowed me to reflect on my own past, and I’ve known for years what it has meant to me, but to my knowledge, I have never made my thoughts known.
When I got started in band, I didn’t know about the concept of inclusion. I just knew that I was an awkward kid who did well in school, and I was never considered ‘cool’ by any means. My shyness and self-consciousness forced me to be withdrawn, and I was misunderstood by others. I never thought I was better than anyone else, but I knew that I was different. Band was the first class where I felt like I was part of the crowd. It didn’t matter if you were a jock, a nerd, or a stoner; there was a place for you in the marching band, and labels had no bearing in that setting. I got to know upperclassmen before I even started high school, which makes the process of starting at a new school a lot less daunting. Marching band meant family, and we looked out for each other.
A lot is made about the character-building attributes of sports, but nowhere are these lessons learned better than in marching band, in my opinion. No one sits on the bench – in fact, there is no bench. If you’re on the field, you’re in the game. You learn that hard work and practice pay off, just like sports, and you learn accountability to your director (coach), as well as your teammates. But unlike sports, the fortunes of a marching band can’t be elevated by a handful of stars. You’re only as good as your weakest member, and no matter how musically gifted the one next to you is, they can’t overcompensate for you. Because there is no bench. You either win as one, or you lose as one. The team isn’t built to showcase the individual, the individual is built to showcase the team. The hours are just as long, the intensity of the work just as difficult. It works the right side of your brain just as much as the left. There aren’t many activities with such a combination; it reminds me of the old Mac commercial, where the guy is at a chalkboard doing calculus with his left hand, while recreating Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” in chalk with his right.
I remember my daughter’s reaction to being placed in band in junior high because the art elective she wanted was full – she was upset. “Give it a chance,” I told her. “Maybe you can get into art next year if you don’t like it.” But like it she did, and when the topic of marching band was approached, she didn’t think she’d like that at all. After meeting the high school director, she decided to give it a shot. She ended up being a four-year member of the marching band, then decided to march in college for a year. Liked it, she did. My son followed a short time later, and his natural abilities when it came to music were refined to a razor-sharp point.
Their interest reawakened my own passion for the activity, and I volunteered to help with the band, just to be close to it again. I gained new friendships (this time as a parent) and made memories intended to last a lifetime, like I did back then. You see, these experiences are about so much more than competitions, they’re about bus rides shared, laughter enjoyed, and the millions of small moments that, pieced together, build a mosaic of near perfection. And even though every single person with whom I marched is now eligible for a colonoscopy, we recall those moments like they were yesterday, in the rare instances we are together.
Tears were shed last Saturday, as they should be – it’s a sad moment when something that great, that pure, comes to an end. But I view their end much differently than I viewed my own. My tears, as the adult, were ones of joy at seeing a group of kids grow up before my very eyes. There were tears of gratitude for those who were friends to my son, as well as tears of pride for those who stood up and accomplished something when the odds were against them because, let’s face it, we don’t all grow up in ideal circumstances. Lots of kids came up to me for hugs, and I did my best to convey even a fraction of the love that I feel for all of them. But even more than love, I hoped that with each hug I gave, each hand that I shook, one sentiment was crystal clear:
Thank you for letting me live in your memories. Thank you for making me feel like it’s the late 80s all over again. And thank you for allowing me to see beauty in a world that seems so desperately lacking in it at times. Thank you for helping me believe again.
The Forest Park Marching Rangers gave me life, and the Bloomington South Panther Regiment allowed me to live it again. I love you all. Be excellent to each other, and…
Party on, dude!