Memories of Marching Band

I always associate this time of year with new beginnings. There’s a certain cycle to the academic life, and even though the calendar year resets in January, for me the real new year begins in August. As I go through my usual preparations for the beginning of another school year, I can’t help but be reminded of an August many years ago, one that changed my life forever and ultimately set me on the path to become a professional musician.

It’s the smell that takes me back. You know, that combination of freshly mown grass combined with heat and humidity? Whenever I find that smell this time of year it transports me back to being that scared 14-year-old kid on the first day of marching band camp. What did I know about marching? I could barely play my clarinet with any reasonable skill, and now here was my rank leader staring daggers at me when I would inevitably step out of place. I think the scariest part for me were the seniors. The guys all looked like they were at least 30 years old and had full beards, and they all seemed to view shouting as their best form of communication!

As I clunked along and got better at both marching and playing, I began to feel the camaraderie of shared endeavor. There were fewer glares and more smiles as I got better and the band succeeded at the several competitions we went to that fall. In time, the freshmen were welcomed as fully integrated members of the group, and the feeling of isolation that I had at the beginning of camp was replaced by a feeling of belonging and ownership, although I certainly couldn’t have couched it in those terms at the time.

The lessons that I learned being part of my high school marching band were clear, concise, and memorable. They still resonate with me all these years later. Enthusiasm matters. Take responsibility for yourself and your section mates. Hard work is always worth it at the end. There are things larger than yourself. Beauty and expressivity are important things. Always make sure that you bring your water bottle with you and never lock your knees. And finally, the old band director maxim of “To be early is to be on time.” You know, this one is still so engrained in me that I’m always puzzled when I arrive at a meeting or some other scheduled event 15 minutes early and there’s nobody else there.

So as we are on the cusp of another marching season, I salute all my friends and colleagues who are sweltering in band camp as I type this blog. Some of them are already finished! My respect and admiration for you cannot be expressed fully. You are out there teaching music and passing on honored traditions that will become engrained memories for young people, even to the point that a mere smell will trigger a memory that will take them back to when they were in your band. Such a powerful legacy. Go Band!

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