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The Final Invitational
I groan, pull the covers over my eyes, and roll over. I don’t wanna go to school. I begin to let my mind fall back into my entrancing dream, but I find that I can’t fall fully; there’s a little fist knocking on the back of my mind that won’t relent. Cut it out!! ...Wait, I know what it is! Today’s Saturday! We have a marching invitational today! I let the light slip through my lashes and squint as my pupils adjust. Yawning, I jog down the hallway and snatch the neon orange towel for my shower.
Anticipating the frigid weather, I pull on long johns, underarmor, a marching shirt from last year, and pajama pants. I hurriedly eat a bowl of slightly stale Reese’s Puffs and rush to finish putting my uniform on. I finish with my black knee socks and tuck my shirt into my bibbers, our so-flatteringly-named overalls, and begin to walk out the door; I realize, I forgot my hat box! I frantically search through the computer room, Glancing at the clock I realize it’s 11:50. Shoot! I’m gonna be late! I finally look on the top bunk and find it sitting there grinning at me. I grab the black box and run out the door on the way to the school.
I finally relax when I walk in the door of the band room and weave through the groups of people talking. I step over some guard poles and maneuver through the cases to get to the instrument room. I walk in and laugh to myself as Kyle winces when Britt puts his hair up in multiple pony tails.
“Nice hair.” I comment.
“HaHa very funny.”
Ms. Roland has kind of gone on an all-of-your-hair-up-in-your-hat-or-I’ll-cut-it-off rampage the past two seasons; girls thoroughly enjoy listening to the guys whining, while making them look like their little sisters got a hold of them to play hair shop.
My eyes are drawn to Justin, one of our drum majors, partly because he’s half in white instead of the uniform black; he steps onto the conductor’s block, “Everyone to the field! Get in basics block!” he projects.
“Come on guys lets go!” Sarah, the trombone section leader, tells us. There’s commotion everywhere with the last minute scrambling to put hats together and don ourselves with gauntlets.
“You pumped?” Brian, a trombonist, asks as he playfully hits me in the arm.
“Oh yeah” I answer shaking my head and smiling.
“He’s getting his valve oil, but he’s coming.” I reply.
A giant foofy haired guy runs up to me, “Hey sorry I’m running a little late,” and hugs me.
“Come on lets go; we don’t wanna haveta run.”
We follow the mass of blue people migrating through the halls to our domain. I run through the days schedule: Let’s see, practice from 12:00-4:00, 4:30dinner, 6:00 busses leave, 6:45 invitational, 7:20 perform, watch other bands, and at 9:30 awards to find out if we go to states. Butterflies filled my stomach as I thought of our last chance.
Practice was long and grueling, but all in all I’d say it went well. The level of concentration was so high a person could taste it; we were as ready as we were ever going to be.
We all gathered around the podium as Mr. Lewis gave us the last few words. I stood next to Billy and watched the Mello player in front of me wipe the sweat off his face.
“Alright, you’ve got half an hour before we pull outta here. Bus assignments are on the board; we need to be pulling out by 6:00 so make sure you’re there. I know you all know, but load your own instrument, don’t let anyone else do it for you. You guys had a really nice practice today. I know you could give more on those hits, but we’ll save it for the show. Don’t forget, we compete to do the best we can and sometimes our scores reflect that and sometimes they don’t. It all depends on the judges. The places aren’t what matters. What matters is that you go out there perform your best, have a good time, and leave it on the field. I know you can do it because you’ve done it before. Take all your energy and put it in the audience, but keep it controlled. Remember, hearts on fire minds on ice. Take it all the way. Let’s go.”
After an appetizing dinner of Guido’s pizza and a candy bar, we all began gathering our hat boxes and the parts of our uniforms we didn’t already have on, and headed for the buses. The upperclassmen all grouped at the back of the bus, which left the rest of us towards the middle. Brian pulls out his i-pod speakers and we listen to whatever anyone feels so inclined to play; that ranges from modern day bands to ____________. Many dirty jokes are thrown about, but everything comes to a dead stop when it’s announced that we need to start getting ready. We take that time in silence. We get our minds to the right place. Where’d my gloves go?! Did I loose them? I panic as I pull everything out of my hat box as quick as I can. Fweeehhhh...why would I put them in the top of my hat?
We file out of the buses, hats in our right arms, and let the lady stamp our hands. We glanced around at all the other bands that were warming up or marching by, wondering how they were going to do today. Our real concern was West Bloomfield; we were in 11th place, as of the last invitational, and top 10 went to state. We needed to beat them by at least 3 points, which is pretty significant, to knock them out and take 10th place.
After unloading our instruments we walked over to a side parking lot to get loosened up and do some warm up block. We went through the basics: making sure our toes were three inches off the ground before rolling through our foot while going forwards, not letting our heels touch while marching backwards, and generally just getting our minds where they needed to be.
After warming up our marching we proceeded to another warm up spot to get our lips warmed up and ready for playing.
Before we knew it Lewis commands, “Line it up!”
We orient ourselves and pull ourselves up to attention without having to be asked. A person could have looked into any of our faces and seen how bad we wanted that spot; there wasn’t one person moving at attention.
“Mark-time-mark!” and one and two and three and four and step…The snare played a tap (hitting the drum to tell which beat is the left foot), and we began down the last leg of the road that would decide whether we would make it to state or just miss the ledge.
We were there. Inside the gates. Waiting for our time. We faced the opposite direction of the field and felt the nervousness build up inside us.
“Blow warm air! Run through the show with your mind. Go through where all those horn pops are. The time is now.” My mouthpiece might as well have been an ice cube. It made my lips burn. Gradually it began to warm and my mind progressed deeper and deeper into the state it needed to be in. do your own job and that’s all you can do. Don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t forget that hornpop in the third movement, the crescendos at the beginning of the second…
“Alright! Lets go!”
Horns flash as they’re raced to their positions, feet snap together, and heads raise above the horizon. Everyone is perfectly still, eyes are directed straight forward, and we heighten our hearing to listen to directions.
We begin to march forward. Tap…tap…tap………tap…tap…tap……….
“Left turn move!”and step together step together Justin commanded, “forward move!” and left…tap…tap…...
“Band hault!” Step and close.
The announcer’s voice boomed across the field, this is it! “Please join me in welcoming the Clarkston High School Marching Band! This years show features movements from Leonard Berstein’s Candide, including the Overature, Make our Garden Grow, and The Best of all Possible Worlds. Drum majors Nick Luibrand, Nate Luibrand, and Justin Benson, is your band ready for flight one competition?”
Out of the corner of my eye I watch as they reply with their synchronized salute. The crowd begins to cheer as the drum majors remove their hats and proceed to the podiums.
I stare at Justin waiting for his arms to begin moving and for him to give the marktime. On my left I can hear the judge opening his comments into his recorder. He’ll be walking around the field, dodging out of our way and commenting on our individual music or individual marching. I hate it when they start out that close to me…I steady my hands as they begin to shake; there’s nothing worse than the flash of light reflecting off a moving horn before a show starts. Everything rides on this one performance. We will do well, I know it. Please let everyone do well, please. There he goes…
“Mark time mark!”and one and two and three and four lift step…
I find myself breathing heavily through my nose; our lips are not aloud to part. My horn is at attention and my arms are burning with exhaustion. I’m in straight lines to the side and to the front. The last seven minutes are a hole in my memory. I can’t recall any of them. I was concentrating so hard there was an absence in my mind. All we have to do is finish it out. This is it. The closer. Going out with a bang.
“Mark time mark!” and turn two three four…
guide left - 45degree angle moving left - eleven and twelve and - guide right 45 degree angle moving right - hit hard line on 8 - seven and hit and – 16 to 5 steps 8 counts forward – keep the curve keep the curve – turn and face - follow the leader – horn up in 4 counts – nine and ten and eleven and twelve and up and fourteen and – come in forte – lots of air – hit the A flat – crescendo – fifteen and sixteen and switch and two – feet going backwards – stay on toes – don’t stay to close to Billy – crescendo crescendo more – traverse right 8 to 5 – halt and two and three and breathe and – small steps back – get in the line – guide right – accelerando – double time go! – straight across straight across – forward for the pin wheel – lots of air lots of air punch the note – leave it in the stands – back and two and three - get in line with Sam - come on Heather up a little farther! – horn pop – every ounce of air left push push!! – and down.
Satisfaction consumed my every atom. I felt the blood rushing through my arms and down to my toes. The sweat dripped down from under my hat down my cheek. We marched, heads held high, and passed in front of 500 people that were there just to see us. Not the football game — just the band.
After a congratulatory talk from Lewis and loading all of our instruments back on the trailer, we watched a few of later bands in anticipation for awards. We were standing at attention. They had just announced two bands in our flight that placed below us. The tension pulled us taught as springs.
“in 5th place, with a score of 71.35, is……”Not us Not us not us notus notus notusnotus…
“West Bloomfield!” Omygosh…we could actually go…we really have a chance! Come on just 3 points just 3 litle points…please please please….
“In 4th place with a score of 72.7….” Oh noooo…
“Novi!” What?!?!? Did we get disqualified? Did they forget about us?
“and in 3rd place with a score of 74.55 is….Clarkston!” Yes!!!! 3.15 points!! We did it!! We’re going to Ford Field!!
Everyone could feel the springs bouncing and their tension was released. The grins on peoples faces, the brightness in their eyes. There is no better feeling in the world. We had made it. We worked our butts off, sweated for hours, held our minds, and accomplished what we had been working towards all year. All that practice payed off. All of those long grueling hours, the Saturday practices, the strained tendons, the dented horns from guard poles, the talks about stepping up and getting it done, the countless times we had heard ‘one more time’ and knew it never meant that; it was all worth it.
Other sports may be slightly more physically taxing, but nothing….nothing compares to the level of concentration required during a marching show. We have to temember all of our music, where which dynamics are, what tempo our feet are moving at, what each form is supposed to look like, who we’re supposed to be in line with, when each set changes to another one, where the marktimes are, where the haults are, where the horns pops are and whether or not the pull in, and finally if there is a mistake made not to let it be noticed. All of this is needed to have a successful performance. Those who have never been to a competition don’t know. Many base their opinions on performances at football games, but to be honest those are just dry runs. If we can get the audience at a football game to be quiet, we know we’re doing our job. At a competition, everyone is there to see us. All marching bands are part of one community; we’re all connected. We befriend each other even though we compete against each other. I don’t know if that could be said about any other competitive entities. All of things give us the pride in what we do and the drive to do it well. Hearts on fire; minds on ice.
“Right box, feet backwards across the back at eight to five, halt at the end.”
I glance at Billy out of the corner of my eye and grin. Here we go!
“Mark time mark!”
and left and right and left and right and step – dig heels in – roll al the way through feet - and eight switch-right and two – shoulders flat front – feet moving right - and seven and eight switch-back and two and three – up on toes – don’t let heels touch ground – stare at a point – don’t drift - switch-left and two and – shoulders front – ankles pass on ‘and’ - five and six and seven and step and close.
“Dress right dress!” horn head “Band ready front!” head horn. “When you’re traversing make sure that you pull your shoulder forward to meet the other, not push the other one back. Remember superman, so your lines don’t do this,” He makes a squiggly motion with his hand, “Find that point to focus on when your going backwards so you don’t get out of line, and make sure to guide your lines while you’re moving.”
Time rolls past in a blur and everyone sighs with relief when we see Lewis walk out and hear the words we’ve been waiting for. “set up in the 3rd movement after the Drum break,” the speaker commands.
I let my horn rest on my side and stretch my arms out. It’s not easy to hold up a ten pound horn, play, march, and think about absolutely everything that’s needed. I weave through everyone and mark eight steps in front of the front hash on the fifty yard line.
I thrust my horn in the air, “Guide fifty!” Everyone in my line turns and looks to adjust their position and get in line.
One and two and - guide left - 45degree angle moving left - eleven and twelve and - guide right 45 degree angle moving right - hit hard line on 8 - seven and hit and – 16 to 5 steps 8 counts forward – keep the curve keep the curve – turn and face - follow the leader – horn up in 4 counts – nine and ten and eleven and twelve and up and fourteen and – come in forte – lots of air – hit the A flat – crescendo – fifteen and sixteen and switch and two – feet going backwards – stay on toes – don’t stay to close to Billy – crescendo crescendo more – traverse right 8 to 5 – halt and two and three and breathe and – small steps back – get in the line – guide right – accelerando – double time go! – straight across straight across – forward for the pin wheel – lots of air lots of air punch the note – leave it in the stands – back and two and three - get in line with Sam - come on Heather up a little farther! – horn pop – every ounce of air left push push!! – and down.
“Take it back one more time.” Ha…yeah right one more time; he means a million more times…
I watch the sweat drip down the face of the trombone beside me. My arms scream for relaxation, but are denied. Spam’s lungs are heaving with exhaustion. Finally Lewis calls us down.
“Bring it in.” We all immediately fall out of attention and feel the relief flood through our muscles.
“Come on guys bring it in closer.” We all look up at at the podium.
“Alright, you’ve got half an hour before we pull outta here but nice practice today. I know you can give more on those hits, but I understand you need to save your lips. Just leave it all at the show. We compete to do the best we can and sometimes our scores reflect that and sometimes they don’t. It all depends on the judges. The places aren’t what matters. What matters is that you go out there perform your best, have a good time, and leave it on the field. I know you can do it because you’ve done it before. Take all your energy and put it in the audience, but keep it controlled. Remember, hearts on fire minds on ice. Take it all the way.”