Essay: Marching Band Part II

More regurgitating of band memories.  Feel free to add your own in comments.
Marching band was a temperature slide—unbearably hot at the beginning and freezing cold by the end.  It was a lot of standing around quietly to learn something that was all sound and music.  Marching band was a dusty field, hideous unflattering uniforms and free admission (but sadly for me, mandatory attendance) at all the football games.
The first two weeks of practice we cranked things out.  To begin, JP would show us a diagram of what we were going to do.  He hand wrote our marching patterns on gridded paper shaped like the football field.  I figured out later he also hand-wrote arrangements of our music.  JP was one of those teachers who rankled me—his use of “gals” paired with “guys” came off as sexist and he was old and had that slightly jokey authority figure nature that was kind of hard to buy.  There was also a lot of imploring.  But when I think of the logistics of setting a hoard of musicians and dancers marching around a 100-yard field, my mind boggles.
With the day’s pattern in mind we would run through the music—we were supposed to be memorizing it, and ideally have it pretty much down by this point—and then head out to the field.  As with all large groups, this took forever, and thanks to the fact we all had instruments, it came to pass with a lot more noise than necessary.  The band room was separate from the school, tucked off the back of the gym.  Our practice field was across the loop of road that circled the school.  The football team’s field was further—they took up the middle of the track, and maybe another field off the side.  Sometimes they would cut through our field on the way back in from their own practice.  The band ignored them, though the drill teamers chattered with them.  In my school, football and band did not cross paths, except for the one guy who did both.
Once we straggled out and into position, we would make some attempt at pulling ourselves together.  Various attempts by various people were made to be more military and attentive in our practices, but they lasted a day at most before we devolved into talking and “horsing around” while JP used his megaphone to grab our attention long enough to get us started.
What I remember most about marching band practice was standing around.  We’d run a bit of the show, then screech to a halt—though there were always one or two in the bass section that just had to keep playing.  Then, most of us would stand at attention, while JP fixed something on some other part of the field.  “Attention” often had a half-life of three minutes before we would start to murmur to the person next to us, to quietly play a few measures, or start to spin or sway in our spot.  When the pause was very long we would resort to gymnastics—one guy could do a front flip with no hands and a lot of us did cartwheels, or pushups (meted out as punishment, but actually fun).  We also burst into song at regular intervals.  For decades now, I’ve been singing the line“the check’s in the mail, you’re beautiful” at appropriate moments, because that was in regular rotation for a time on the marching band field.  The boyfriend pointed out it was a line from a Werid Al song.

All that standing around must have led to something, because eventually, we had the entire program running.  I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s something magical about creating both music and patterns on a football field. And I had no idea of the incredibly brief lifespan of that magic.  After high school, I never marched again.  It’s not really an activity that lends itself to the adult world.

2 thoughts on “Essay: Marching Band Part II”

  1. I'd never thought of it before, but arranging a bunch of teenagers to march & play music together . . . yikes. It sounds like herding cats. I can't think of many things less appealing than working with children. I'm glad so many other people out there seem to enjoy it, or at least want to do it.

  2. Even though JP was JP, it is a pretty incredible feat. The fact that he had done the exact same show at least 10 times since it was cutting edge in the 60's might have also made it a touch easier. But from a teaching management perspective – YIKES! It is really quite amazing how it all coalesces into a complete and mostly correct show,

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