Essay: Marching Band part I

Note:  I’m going to spend a few weeks of the essays dredging up details of high school band because I’m trying to remember things that have sunk into some mostly forgotten part of my brain.  Feel free to tell me any of your band memories, should you be lucky enough to have them.

Also:  I apparently never finished writing this, so it just trails off.
It was in high school that band changed.  Before it had always been an elective, as in: “Are you taking band next year?”  At the high school level it became, “Are you in band?”  In junior high band, we were segregated by grade, travelling through seventh grade band, to eighth and then ninth grade band.  Eighth and ninth grade band got to practice marching by appearing in the holiday parade the week before Thanksgiving, but otherwise didn’t interact with the other kids in band.  In high school there was just one class with all three grades.  We were an activity, like student council in that we had a class all to ourselves during the school day.  We were also a group, like the sports teams, in that for part of the year we had practice outside of school hours.
Marching Band started off the high school band calendar.  Our practices began the same time the football, volleyball and soccer teams started their practice, about two weeks before school started.  I remember them being incredibly early in the morning, although I think we started at eight or nine o’clock.  Unless it was insanely hot, eight to ten in the morning was a great time of day, before the heat really kicked in.  The football players had two-a-days the first week of practice, so they were there with us and then came back in the afternoon for a second practice.  I always admired the cheerleaders, who started early and were finishing up by the time we rolled into the parking lot.
The first day was usually all about logistics: getting the sophomores oriented, passing out the music, sketching out the plan for the season.  We had not very much time to learn music for both parade marching and at the same time start to work on the halftime show. We would begin to build the piece and have the first song done in time for the first game, and then build more onto the show as the season went on.  Mid-October was the competition, so that was our big date on the fall calendar.
As a sophomore, starting marching band was fairly overwhelming.  There was a lot of music to memorize right off including at least three songs to know for parades, plus the pieces for the show.  I wasn’t very good at memorizing and mostly floundered at this part of band.  Avoiding memorizing music—and the drummer boyfriend—were the main reasons I played cymbals the last two years of high school marching band. 
We also had to learn to properly march.  Our band director was nearing retirement, having been at my high school since the early 1960s.  By the early 1990s he was still a fairly cheerful guy, although a bit stooped in the shoulders, and he was happy to shepherd us through the high school band experience.  We called him by his initials, JP, rather than Mr. Perkins. 
JP had done his military service in the Army band and would now and again encourage us to go in as a musician if we were joining the services.  The reason being, according to him: “while the other guys are doing pushups, you will be doing this” he would say, wiggling his fingers to mime playing the trumpet.  An aside: I told that story to a friend who had gone into the army as a musician, and his reply was.  “Yeah. Unless there’s a war.”  So beware.
JP loved to teach us to march, especially the “roll step” that was necessary to carry out the smooth maneuvers on field and parade route.  A good Roll Step involves placing your heel down and then rolling to your toes which minimizes upper body movement.  He also liked to drill us on marching, especially at the beginning of the season when there was more time in practice.  We would begin in a big block of people and started off in step while a drummer beat a steady beat.  Then JP, or the drum major would call out the changes, “forward march” “right face” “left face,” “mark time” “halt” while we attempted to follow them as an entire group.  People who messed up stepped off the field and watched while the group got smaller and smaller until there were only a few.  

8 thoughts on “Essay: Marching Band part I”

  1. Band was a big deal in my HS. The band kids were part of the "cool crowd" and our band was one of the best in the state. Alas, I was not a part of it. I'd tried flute during junior high but, since it was a class for the masses, I felt stifled because it went too slow. My mom let me quit. I kind of wish she hadn't. Having that kind of camaraderie would have made a huge difference to me in HS.

  2. Our band was never cool, but my sophomore year the drill team was. I remember Sara and I observing senior year how our first year a lot of drill teamers were the kind of girls who dated football players. By the time we were seniors they were not at all the popular girls.

  3. We had a guy in my band who could never remember right and left. He had a very hard time with it. Finally, one day in extreme frustration our band leader Mr. Henry stomped on his left foot and said, The left one is the one that hurts. I still have my flute and piccolo, but haven't played in years. I stopped playing in High School, because I didn't have room with my electives. I was not cool in high school. Wallpaper always in the background. Thanks for the post. KMS

  4. The left one is the one that hurts! I love it. Matt just helpfully suggested that the band director could have put stuff on his shoes. If only Mr. Henry could wait several decades for that advice.

  5. Also my mom did not want to march for JP. Her sophomore year was at BHS and the Crapitol was built for her junior and senior years. JP stopped her marching band career path!

  6. Oh goodness. I LOVE THIS ESSAY!!! And the oh goodness comes from the reminder of whet it felt like to learn how to march. I could roll step like a champ, the rest of it. Not so much! Left and right have always been a challenge for me. I am sure that I received a bit of yelling at now and then for my false moves. I'm ever so glad I joined, even if it was not cool and even if it was because of a boy. I got much more out of it than a date with a boy. I mean there was that whole drummers phase that did take me through college! 🙂

  7. I forgot about your lack of Left and Right skills. How's that progressed in the 20 years since we left band? And you do make a good point of good things coming from liking boys. Interesting that she didn't like JP. Maybe she should weigh in more about that. We got him at the end of his career, so maybe that made a difference.

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