My high school band is having a reunion over the 4th of July. The band director's husband, Bill Graham, who was also the drill designer and color guard instructor, as well as a fantastic math and science teacher, has been posting pictures from the 35 years of marching band. It has been great to walk down memory lane. What really sticks out in the pictures is that no matter the year, they show kids smiling, working together and loving it.
My high school band wasn't your typical band. In fact, our entire music program wasn't exactly typical. It was exceptional. And this isn't my memory enhancing itself. I've stayed somewhat involved in music throughout my adult life and I often run into people- 2,000 miles away from my hometown- who know my band director or have heard of the program.
We competed nationally against bands from New Jersey to California. Huge schools out of major cities. We played in the Hoosier Dome, the Silver Dome, at universities. And that was just the marching band.
I was fortunate to play in a percussion ensemble that played at the National Music Educators Association conference in Chicago. Ms. Wenzel our percussion instructor was amazing. She also directed our jazz band and it was a blast. (I still remember playing for a supermarket opening, getting stuck in the frozen food section and passing around fish sticks). I was in a brass quintet that could hold its own against any professional quintet I've heard. In fact, in college, when I had opted out of music, the instrumental music director found out I was there and begged me to play. Sadly, I had really let my chops go, but he had heard our quintet at a festival and remembered it 5-6 years later. And I went to college out of state. But he knew Mrs. Graham.
It's not to brag, but I want to be clear- this wasn't just a half-time, spring concert kinda group. It was and is an institution in my home town.
For me, it was life changing.
I didn't exactly want to be in band. I love music, but honestly, I wanted to be a basketball player. At 5'4" at 12, with a decent lay up, that was reasonable. The trombone was fun, but band was too intense. But then my asthma got worse, I didn't grow much more and that dream was put on the bench (I still play a mean game of Horse). I had actually quit band by junior high and Ms. Fiezli who had taught me in 5th and 6th grade asked me to come back, just for the contest. That was all. She needed a trombonist. I figured, why not- she was nice.
If you've ever played in an ensemble- sports, music or drama- when you're part of something bigger-- it's great. So I rejoined the band.
I really only wanted to do concert band. Marching was not my thing. We were the Marching Quakers and wore three cornered hats. No joke. With knickers. I kid you not. I wasn't exactly cool to start with, so this really pretty much sealed the deal on my inner nerd. Since I wasn't a partier, I figured why not? I wasn't exactly on the road to cooldom, so band couldn't hurt.
Then, Ms. Fiezli, sneaky as she was, convinced me to try out for field commander- or as many people call it drum major- as a sophomore. She thought it would be a good experience. Not very many sophomores were selected over the years. I thought I was safe. I liked to keep a low profile.
I made it.
Now not only was I in marching band, I was one of the leaders.
Unlike many of the prior field commanders, I didn't rush out and buy a varsity jacket with FIELD COMMANDER on it. In fact, I never bought one. To me, at first, it was something that I did so I could play in the quintet and jazz band. I also got a double knit polyester skirt in lieu of the knickers. A bonus.
But it was in marching band that I learned how to lead people. I learned to get over my severe shyness. I learned what motivates people. I learned how to get others to lead. I learned to be organized. I learned hard work. I learned that falling off the box (literally, not figuratively) does not break you. I learned that when the beat is off and you're losing control, focus on the 1-2 people who can really help you bring it back together (the snare line) and block out the rest. I learned that at 15, I could get 135 kids lined up, quiet, focused and lead them into an NFL stadium as the adults watched from the sidelines. I learned that sometimes adults don't play nice. I learned that everyone matters and one mistake, from one person not caring can cost you. I learned that there was life outside of my home town. I learned that absolutely anything is possible if you work together and dream big.
(I also learned more than there is room to type from the Graham's, but that's a story for a different day. Let's just say that if you think I'm a nice, good person, thank them.)
My senior year we won our class at Grand Nationals. It was a first for our school. We had a lot of second places. We won a lot of regionals. But my senior year, we won our class.
I am 42 years old. That moment still ranks in the top 10 for me.
We won. Our little rust belt, small town high school won our class and finished 10th in the nation.
For all the crap that I took for being a band nerd, for all the teasing I still get about having been a band nerd (and yes, I do have stories that start "and one time at band camp..."), I have this amazing moment that is shared with 135 other people that I still proudly call my friends.
At the end of the day, I'm just a hack trombonist who loves music.
But that feeling of accomplishment is part of my soul.
So laugh if you will, but one time at band camp, I learned that anything is possible.