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The New Unknown
Sweat beads down my forehead as I make my way across the grass. It’s Day 1 of pre-band camp, and I don’t know anybody. Everyone in my clarinet section is laughing with each other and having a good time, but I am exhausted. Not just physically, though marching outside for 4 hours a day is taxing. But mentally, as this new program and setup and procedure is all unknown to me.
I’m an introvert and I know it, too. Being in a completely new program with over 70 people I don’t know and at a place I’m not very familiar with already intimidated me. It’s not like I can get the nerve to befriend someone, and I don’t want to look stupid if I ask for help and it’s a dumb question. I take a deep breath and keep my head down. It’s frustrating to be so shy that you have to figure everything out by yourself. I’m a perfectionist, so when I lag behind even in the tiniest bit, I get real upset. All I want is to fit in and be like everyone else, so maybe I can be approachable or liked. These thoughts are clouding my mind already as I walk across the grass, alone.
Flash to reality as I make it to our music rehearsal spot. The clarinets arrange themselves in a circle, and we start to go over the show’s music. But there’s a problem; I didn’t know we were supposed to print it out and already be familiar with it before we came. So, here I am sight-reading the challenging music as all the upperclassmen have it perfect, already detrimental to my confidence.
Everything seemed to be going way too fast. We run over a section 3 times, and are expected to have it memorized. But I can’t work at that pace. I can’t play 12 measures of music, right after sight-reading, perfectly after 5 minutes, not to mention have it memorized! This adds to the bundle of despair on my shoulders, heaving me down like a weight. We have to have the music memorized by the end of the week, and it just seems so hopeless and impossible right now.
I mess up the rhythm again, loudly, for the 3rd time and just want to give up. Doubts crowd my mind like unwanted visitors and tell me to quit. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe the directors overestimated me and I’m not as good as they hoped. If I can’t even get the music memorized, I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe I could compensate for my horrible playing and march my show perfectly, but I’m struggling with marching as well. I can’t help but feel unworthy and like a failure. Friday looms ahead and I know I’m not even close.
I trudge through the clarinet sectional like a ghost, pretending to play and when I do play, playing only the easiest parts and still sneaking glances of the music. I feel like every upperclassman knows I’m faking, can see right through my weak armor of insecurity. Something like paranoia sets in. Are they judging me? Can they tell I’m not playing the music? Are they going to gossip about how bad I am later? I tell myself I’ll practice the music when I get home, but Pre-Camp ends at 9 and I’d have to start playing at 9:30 or so. I could always practice in the morning too, but in the summer, my mom likes to sleep in past 10 and would throw a fit if I was making noise while she was sleeping. It’s a lose-lose situation and I am completely lost and hopeless. There is no time.
The sectional edged by ever so slowly, but it’s finally over. We’re in the auditorium now, with the full band. Now, everyone goes over big parts of the music as a full ensemble. “Okay, play with music, this time!” Mr. Haan, shouts, already clapping the tempo prep. I can’t read the music well, as we’re all standing up and it is sitting on the chair in front of me and printed on a quarter size of paper. Everyone around plays the part like a pro. I didn’t even know where we started.
“No music!” Uh oh. I pretend to play again, and loudly hear the upperclassmen belting out the notes with perfect rhythm and tone. I’m lagging behind, I’m lagging behind, I’m lagging behind. Tears form in my eyes for a second, and I fight to blink them away and make it look like everything is fine.
Day after day I come to marching band. Pre camp ends and I still want to quit and feel terrible about committing to something I seemingly hate so much. Band camp starts, and I’m stuck up at CMU for a week in 85 degree heat and still no real friends. But I marched my show correctly. That was the first twinge of hope for me, I remember. The first sparkle of confidence.
Everything was still so hard and new, but after finally doing something right, I felt like a new person. Reflecting on how I felt the previous 2 weeks, I decided a change was needed. This was the real deal now. Marching my first performance really made something click in me. I realized it was serious now, there is no backing out and I can only go forward and get better. I practiced the music every night, memorized it, and worked my tail off in rehearsals to nail the drill.
It wasn’t just music and marching, though. I told myself I’d strive to reach out of my comfort zone and talk to people first, and see if that might make me some friends. I was nervous. I was awkward. But day after day I made myself say hello to people, make small talk, and learn to socialize better. I think that was the biggest reform I made to my life, alongside the new commitment and feeling of pride I obtained. That was also the hardest change, but definitely the best. If I’d had never jumped straight out of my comfort zone and just talked to people, I probably wouldn’t have made it. My new friends made everything so much better.
Looking back at the horrid first 2 weeks, I will never forget how I felt. I sometimes think about the snapshot back into those helpless weeks of having no friends and struggling with the music, and almost laugh. I took things way too seriously, overthought about everyone’s opinions of me, and didn’t realize things take time. I couldn’t be more grateful for my freshman varsity marching band experience. I was so used to having things click with me instantly, that, when confronted with a challenge, I didn’t know how to deal with it.
The struggle taught me that to succeed, you need to go out of your comfort zone and do things you’ve never done before. If I never forced myself to be open and friendly and sociable, I wouldn’t have the great lifelong friends I do now. If I didn’t practice the show music every night for 3 weeks, I would still be insecure in my playing and detrimental to the band. I learned it’s the risks you take that define you, not natural talent. Because natural talent only gets you so far.
To conclude, being thrown into varsity marching band was my biggest struggle yet, but I can’t be anything but thankful for the experience and lessons it taught me.
Saturday, November 7th. It’s time to perform the show in the famous Ford Field, where the Detroit lions play. I huddle with my wide range of friends, nervously talking and passing the time. We’re in the tunnel under the stands. It’s almost time.
We’re on the field. My mind is concentrated solely on marching perfectly, making every dynamic, everything we’ve been perfecting for over 4 months. A saying Ms. Foss once said rings in my head again. “Heart of fire; Mind on ice.” I never thought I would understand that, until now. I love marching band. Heart on fire. I am passionate about it, but can’t let other thoughts distract me. Mind on ice. I perform my best show ever and the feeling afterwards is completely indescribable. I feel powerful, confident, just on a high. I just love marching band, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.