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Marching Band Memoire
It was amazing how a group of kids that went to the same school could be such strangers. Things were awkward for everyone, but especially for the rookies like myself. We all went around and introduced ourselves, although most of us already knew each other. This one room gathered the most popular kids, the least popular kids, a few kids from the middle school, the hipsters, the gangsters, the smart kids, the loners, the average kids; every social group in our school could be found in this one room next to the auditorium. I didn’t know what to expect, but in retrospect, I would never have been able to guess.
Starting in May, my Tuesday and Thursday nights were dedicated to marching band. My part revolved entirely around cymbal rolls and slams. Occasionally, I was privileged enough to play the wind chimes. My part seemed worthless, and I saw no direction to this marching band that my friends said was so fun. I never knew anyone could be bad at rolling a cymbal, but I most definitely was.
The section of the marching band that I joined is called the pit. When I first came in I thought every instrument was a xylophone. It turned out that this was not the case. There are xylophones, marimbas, guitars, bells, chimes, tympanis, vibes, cymbals, triangles, and accessories whose names I still can’t even pronounce. Every instrument was fascinating, and together they made a unique and magical sound that other instruments just can’t create.
There was no need to warm up for a cymbal part, so I would sit back and admire the flawless playing of the kids on the other instruments. The bells produced a cute, high-pitched ding on each note, their silver keys scratched and faded from overuse. The chimes were huge and brass, ringing deep, bellowing tones. My favorite was the marimba that produced bottomless, rich notes with a smooth and flowing sound.
Then reality would hit again and it was just me and my cymbal with endless crashes that always seemed to be out of time and rolls that were never the right volume at the right time. Soon summer came and the band director pulled out the old trophy from last year. He said, “You won last year, and you can do it again. Don’t allow yourselves to give this back.” It was nighttime, and the summer heat and the sound of crickets chirping didn’t distract anyone from the glistening gold trophy he held up. Although everyone had other things on their mind, deep down a little piece of everyone wanted to keep that trophy. The trophy was displayed more and more, its value diminishing to us, until it was almost an annoyance to see the thing.
Long nights followed, and soon a countdown to band camp began.
“You sound like this and you’re going to band camp in 2 months?!” We heard it all the time, and later it lost meaning. Two months turned into two weeks, which turned into two days. Soon enough we were all packed and ready to go.
Band camp was the best and the worst. It brought out the best in our playing, but it showed the worst in our spirits. I didn’t know it was possible to play so much music in one week. Our days started at the crack of dawn and ended at the last possible minute. I continued to hear stories about how last year had been so much more fun, about the great times they had, and I regretted not joining freshman year. This year seemed to go overboard on the work. One day our pit instructor, Dave, was fed up with all of us, and he blew up. “You guys don’t have to care about this. You chose to be here. If you don’t care, then leave. You know what? I was up till four in the morning going over this and here I am, ready to practice. I’m done.” He stormed out, leaving all of us looking around at each other. The silence hurt my ears and finally, Anna, a pit captain, said, “Okay guys, let’s start at measure seventy-four.” She was the most dedicated person I’ll ever know. I didn’t understand how a kid could be so devoted. I thought I had seen the worst of it. I was wrong.
It was a hot and lazy day at band camp. We played Catch Phrase and sat outside in the grass laughing and talking. When I went back into the pit house I saw how truly talented Dave and everyone there was. A few people were playing their own original song, Dave playing random parts that fit in perfectly, the sounds of the instruments interlocking and connecting in beautiful tones. We all joined in. It was a happy song; everyone was smiling and playing different instruments. There were three entire hours of that, a song that came from nowhere. But the happiness that comes from that was a rare kind of happiness. It was free and unstoppable, and filled a whole room. No one had done anything, no one had said anything, but all of us were just simply happy, laughing at nothing at all.
The sound of that music filled the entire room. The noise was exceedingly loud, filling our ears and making them ring. To talk, we had to scream at each other, adding to our laughter. Time passed but no one could feel it passing. It was as if we were frozen forever in time. Before we knew it, Dave had left the room. And soon after, Anna left, and then Lisa left. Everyone else was confused. So many things happened at once, yet the only things I knew were from other people. Some said that the pit captains had gotten mad at each other. I also heard that Dave didn’t think we were trying hard enough. Another story was that Anna was upset about having one year left in marching band. I’m still not sure which is the truth. People started arguing and gossiping and taking sides, and I was terribly confused. The next day Dave chose to ignore the situation, acting as if it never existed. It was horribly awkward, and I wondered how I would ever make it out of band camp alive. That day was a perfect day gone bad.
Fall approached quickly. Competitions were fun, the crisp air and the delicious smell of hamburgers on the grill, the bus rides, the red uniforms with sequined sashes, the bright orange color of the leaves upstate. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.
The last rehearsal consisted of hugging and laughing and good times. We were confident. Our scores were in the lead, and we were so ready.
“I love you guys so much!” Kayla, another pit captain, said as we all hugged in a big pit circle. We fell onto the grass and laughed and ate chocolate munchkins. Our drum major, Carly, promised us we would win that night, and I knew we would. She cried and we all hugged and realized how far we’d come.
It was Syracuse that the whole band had been waiting for: Our big state competition where last year we had come in first place for the first time. Everyone was nervous, and some began to have doubts.
“This is where it happens guys. This is it. Go out there and have fun.” We heard these lines over and over. Dave gave inspirational speeches left and right. Our motivation increased, as did our frustration. Things were tense, my cymbal rolls becoming more important, like life or death.
We were on the beautiful campus of Syracuse College. It was upstate; the weather was chilly and the air was sharp. We approached the dome we would be performing in. All year we had heard about the terrible echo in the dome and how hard it was to play, about the thousands of people that filled the stands, about how other bands would turn their backs to us while we played, about the thrill, about the suspense. And there we stood, just the pit, lining up with our instruments in our uniforms. The suspense was killing all of us; we could feel that uneasy feeling creeping up. We rolled our rickety instruments into the dome, and I was finally able to see the inside. It was crazy. The stands were filled with a cheering audience, there was a band playing and the echo was brutal. We waited, slowly moving further and further up, getting more and more nervous. We all wanted to win. Marching band was certainly not our entire life, but at that moment it felt like it was. I wanted to feel that feeling that everyone else had felt last year. I knew what it was like to be good at something, but I never knew what it was like to be the best.
Finally, Dave was telling us to go with a huge smile on his face, and all the excitement and energy coursed through my veins. I was ready; all of us were ready.
We took our positions, and I could see the band taking the field behind us, a huge mob of red with white feathers on top.
A deep, loud voice bellowed over the loudspeaker, “Madison Marching Band, you may take the field.” My heart was beating fast, the crowd was roaring and I was so excited. Before I knew it we were playing. The echo was confusing, and I tried my best to keep up. All of us were listening, all of us focused.
The crowds roared. I saw a long line of all our instructors, all the crazy band moms, Dave, all the supporters standing up cheering and screaming with happiness. In that moment, we were the best.
That image of the everyone’s faces and the standing ovation will always remain in my mind. The happiness I felt then made all of the hard work worth it. Soon enough we were back on the field waiting for our scores.
The band stood together, a true team. Hideous red uniforms uniting every member. The pit was in the back; we held hands and waited as the other divisions had their scores announced. And then it was time for our division. My palms were sweaty, and I felt bad for whoever’s hands I was holding. My mind raced, and I flashed back to all the times I’d had in the past 6 months. I remembered all the competitions, and the success we felt after finding out our scores had improved. I remembered when my friend Julie through a volleyball in the air and it landed right on a bass drum. I remembered playing red light green light in the pit house at band camp. I remembered the long Saturday rehearsals, the pit hugs, playing Catch Phrase. I remembered our cabin stealing the toilet seat that broke in our band camp bathroom just so we could burn it at the bonfire senior year. I remembered everything in an instant. We all waited for the first and second places to be called. Fifth place… not us. My heart raced and I thought I was going to explode. Fourth place… we were safe again. My nerves were running wild and my adrenaline rushed. Third place… Madison Union Free School District.
First, I was confused. I literally was trying to think of another school called the Madison Union Free School District. Then all our hands dropped and we looked at each other. The fact sunk in. We didn’t win.
Second place was called, and then first place, basking in its glory. We were crushed, devastated, shocked, and most of all, defeated.
Finally the tears came. It was Anna, crying onto Lisa’s shoulder. Not just crying, but sobbing. I didn’t realize how passionate we all were about this until that moment. I felt the tears well up in my own eyes, and in everyone else’s. Even the toughest, strongest kids that you I would never imagine crying were tearing up. I hadn’t felt such pure disappointment in a long time. We didn’t know what to say, but we all stood there and cried.
It was time to go. Everyone was depressed and it was miserable. I couldn’t believe marching band had ended like that, in a split second.
“We deserved so much better than that score! We went down so many points,” Kelly said, tears in her eyes.
“We went down?!” Julie asked, stunned.
“Yeah, and to make it worse, our scores were lowest in music and highest in the rockettes part of it.”
“Are you kidding?” Everyone was in shock.
The speeches we were given after that were all a blur. We were comforted and supported by everyone. Although it felt like we would never smile again, we did. We laughed again and we were happy again. We all realized that we emphasized winning way too much. When Madison won last year, the focus was on being the best the team could be while having fun in the process, not on winning.
I think back to that first day in the pit room where we all stood in a circle and introduced ourselves. The strangers we all were. We were a family now, as cheesy as it sounds. Some of these kids were people I would never have hung out with otherwise. It was amazing how far we had come in six months. It’s amazing how deeply the human heart can feel for something. It’s amazing how a group of strangers can become best friends. I never would have expected myself to become such a band geek, but the family that I made along the way made everything all worthwhile.