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Attaining Perfection

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November. The word itself snapped with the cold brittleness of the wind and weather it brought. The field at Annapolis was green, beautiful, when we first marched onto it in file lines, each of us brown and gold, the school's version of being Patriotic. Soon enough I crouched, waiting for the first downbeat of music, for the deep bass of the voice over the loudspeaker, for the first rich note from the tubas, for the nod that signaled the start.

I stood, not gracefully, not beautifully. Purposely. My feet moved, eyes and head straight ahead, staring unseeingly at the down-over-over-up motions of the drum major’s hands. We had been through this show so many times, Nationals was barely a formality. Come on, one more time. One more…

My feet settled into the time and I glided over the field quickly, heart racing until it seemed to match the 160 beats per minute. Right then, in the first set, mellophone held in front of me in a death grip, everything faded away until it was the band, the music, the hands, until nothing else was important.

Finally, I snapped the mello up, put the instrument to my lips, blowing, contributing the sound. Emotion that had been firmly suppressed until that moment, for fear it would overwhelm, burst up from some hidden place inside me. And the music! It swirled around, flowing through the air, so tangible and sweet and pure I could almost see it, the dark power of the forte, the beautiful pastels of piano...

The music was softer now, the artificial turf disappearing with each step. I passed a drummer, moving fast in the opposite direction, pulled by the invisible string that drew us from set to practiced set. Bass Five was the biggest drum they marched, and the boy-man carrying it had tears pouring down his cheeks, executing each count purposefully, carefully, hands and stick beating on the drum as if he had something to prove to himself as well as the judges. I pretended not to notice and glided by, laying a breadcrumb trail of notes and roll-steps and faultlessness behind.

It reached the pitch, the arc, the climax. This was it. This was the point of it all. A note hung, stretched through the stadium, as overpowering as a wish. As fragile as one too.

Six thousand people sat in the stands, watching. Six thousand people had no idea that they were watching a hundred hearts break right in front of them. Because when something reached this peak, this emotional pinnacle, a small, soft something inside dies, leaving behind an empty hole and accomplishment.

Looking to the left, the right, I noticed tears glistening, more beautiful than diamonds. They stung every person’s cheeks. They stung mine. Tears for what we had accomplished, for hundreds of hours in sleep-deprived oblivion, learning the show, becoming attached to it, loving and sweating and knowing every person in the band. After this, after tonight, the season would end, and that strange feeling that went beyond partnership, beyond friendship… that would end, too.

Feet still moving, my lips kissed the cold mouth piece. My hands were shaking. The band played on, into a ballad more lovely than ever, moving beyond the tears, because of the emotion, into a realm we hadn’t reached before. A new plateau had been hit, when a hundred people attempt and succeed at something bigger than themselves.

At the end of the show, when the pose was struck that that first black drum played its first black beat that signaled the end of the show…that was the first time I got to look around at everyone else, and see what had really been going on.

Everyone was crying. Not just one person or two or a section. Everywhere I looked were faces streaked with tears and frozen with awe and, for that one instant at the end of that one show, we had finally found our inspiration, our emotion, that unidentifiable, nameless thing which makes a show great.

We walked out of the stadium, and the spell was broken, that strange, powerful, moving emotion gone, but not forgotten, not close. Something had changed in all of us and we walked up the hill passing bands who had not yet had their chance for glory.

Slowly, the tears, the awestruck expressions…they turned to laughter, eyes glowing, dancing, hands itching for human contact as hug after hug was shared. A sound started, a hum from deep within all of us as he touched and congratulated and nodded and moved in closer so we could feel the heat of each other’s bodies. We weren’t alone; every one of us had experienced that emotion, that miracle.

Usually the directors talked after the performance. Usually they asked “who thought that was their best show?” Usually, they critique and speculatation and chastisment where necessary. But that day was different. I saw the director first, and I wasn’t the only one stunned by the tears in his eyes.

He said what we all knew in our hearts. Points don’t matter. Winning doesn’t matter. Beating other bands, settling petty scores…There are times when coaches tell you that it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said, it was how the game was played.

We played our game, we achieved a new level. If the judges didn’t realize that…so be it. We walked back to the stands, pressed against each other, hands intertwined with arms, legs close together, lines distorted until they no longer existed. Tears had turned to smiles of pure joy, to laughter and inside jokes and subtle innuendoes, but everyone stayed locked together, still needed that assurance that this was real, that what we had accomplished had actually happened.

When the scores were released we jumped into the air, yelling and screaming, making fools of ourselves. It didn’t matter that we had come in second place, it truly didn’t. In seven minutes, we had created a small pocket of beauty, had changed something inside ourselves for the better. From then on, everyone who marched that show on that November day at Nationals would be connected in some intangible way by the realization that, perhaps, we had really found perfection.



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Pumpkinscout said...
Oct. 29, 2011 at 7:23 am
WOW this is really really good! I love the imagry and emotion...surprised this didn't get into the magazine...
 
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