Heart racing. Stadium lights flashing. Crowd roaring with excitement. “Ladies and Gentlemen: IT’S SHOWTIME!!” Members of the marching band, bodies pumping with adrenaline, pour out of the tunnel and run onto the field, ready to hype the crowd with pregame. Everyone has seen a pregame show, but that’s all it is to most – a show. They rarely stop to consider the amount of work that goes into creating such a show. They fail to notice that we work just as hard as any other athletes.
“Marching band? That’s lame. Band kids think that they’re so amazing, but they just walk around on the field with instruments. It’s not that hard.”
Every member of a marching band has heard this claim from their classmates, in TV shows and movies, even from professional sports announcers. It seems like hardly anyone can let go of that outdated stereotype that marching band members are socially awkward dorks. It’s bad enough sitting in the background and hearing these accusations being thrown around, but as soon as band kids dare to stand up and defend the activity, they immediately get shut down. “Marching band is not a sport!” And perhaps it’s not. The definition of sport is so relative that it’s difficult to prove whether or not any activity is a sport unless it already falls under that broad category by mere tradition. “Is it athletic?” is a better question.
A dictionary definition for athletic is “involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina.” Football is easy enough to fit into this definition. Football players spend hours running across the field, dodging between other players, and taking down men twice their size. Anyone who watches football can automatically see how physically active and strong men and boys must be to accomplish these feats. But how does that definition transfer to marching band?
The athletic activity is marching. There are many different styles of marching: the typical roll step, where we roll our feet from heel to toe; the backward march, where we glide across the ground using only the balls of our feet; the slide, where our feet change directions but our head and torso stay facing forward; the jazz run, by which we travel a long distance quickly; the chair step, where we lift our knee to a ninety-degree angle; and the high step, where we lift each foot parallel with the opposite knee. Each of these marching styles must be done to the beat of whatever song or piece we happen to be performing. That’s not even including any visuals we may add to the show.
Strength, agility, and stamina: we’ve got all three. A sousaphone, the big shiny instrument that you wear on your shoulder, weighs 50 pounds. Tenors, the giant set of drums that percussionists strap to their bodies, weigh 55 pounds. Although not all instruments weigh that much (a piccolo is only 4.2 ounces), the ability to hold the instruments in the proper position for the entire length of the show is proof that we have some strength.
As for agility, most marching band shows include visuals. These visuals require specific types of motion that often require some sort of physical versatility, such as dancing, running, or moving the instrument in a specific way. And that’s not even taking the color guard into account, whose job it is to dance, and spin, and toss props.
And then, of course, there’s stamina. A typical marching band show is only twelve minutes. We should get through that just fine, right? Yeah, most marching band members can make it through the whole twelve minutes, but that’s because our stamina has been built up over the season. Our season starts, as many other activities do, with band camp. We spend at least a week, often longer, doing full day rehearsals. When the season kicks off, our practices become fewer and shorter, but we add in whole game days. Game days typically start with a morning rehearsal. In high school, you then sit through a full day of classes and attend another rehearsal or after school pep rally before you suit up and head to the stadium for pregame. A typical game day for a marching band runs from 7 am to midnight. It is our job to keep the energy running high at all times and always present our best. That’s stamina!
Imagine the JV football team. They’re small for football players. When they walk down the hall, no one runs over to them and says, “Congrats on the game!” Their table at lunch isn’t full of tough guys and pretty girls like the varsity and cheerleading table. Most of the school probably doesn’t even know they play football. And yet they get up early every morning and work out, and they stay at the school late working on plays and talking to the coach about the best ways to improve. They spend their Friday nights at the stadium cheering on the varsity team, and then turn around and get up early Saturday morning to prepare for their game. They work just as hard as any player on the varsity team, maybe even harder if they’re trying to make varsity next season, but they don’t receive any of the recognition for it; not because they’re not athletes, but because only varsity “counts.”
Marching band members experience the same lack of recognition for athletic talent and hard work. We, too, get up early and stay up late. We spend hours every day perfecting our performances. We work out. We give up our weekends, and our sleep. We cheer on our football team on Friday nights and then get up early on Saturdays for competition. But at the end of the day, we receive little, if any, recognition. Fortunately, most people who join a marching band don’t do it expecting to receive a lot of recognition and applause. We do it because we love it, just like the JV football team loves football.
It takes commitment as well as skill to be an athlete. An athlete can be anyone who puts forth the energy and will to do something physically demanding. If you break down the activities of a marching band, you see that we do many of the same things that athletes in other sports do, just a little differently. But what two sports are exactly the same? Creating and executing a successful pregame and halftime program takes a team effort like football, but personal skill like track and field (plus a little bit of theatrical talent). Like a JV football team, we in the marching band show up and work hard to do what we love, even if we don’t always receive the recognition we deserve.