Go to the Band Room

Go to the Band Room

I still remember the most uplifting, empowering experience I’ve ever had.

Back in high school, I was a member of the band. In the town where I grew up, you didn’t have to audition. Everyone who wanted to, everyone who could play an instrument, was allowed to be in the band. Some might say that’s a recipe for disaster, but we had a dedicated director and, somehow, we always managed to sound good.

The band wasn’t popular, though where were plenty of popular kids in it. I grew up in central Pennsylvania – football country. Senior year (though I missed all the drama because I moved just before) the homecoming football game rained out (and that must have been an epic flood because we played in pouring rain several times in years prior). The game was rescheduled for Saturday but the band didn’t attend due to a conflict with the homecoming dance. Apparently there was something of an uproar over the band’s missing presence, despite the fact that the football team always got the lion’s share of the school’s finances.

But I digress.

My sophomore year we hit on some magical combination of circumstances. The planets aligned. Our director put together an interesting show. The first half involved the traditional marching band movement and the second half involved more of the band standing in one place while various members sang rock songs and the band played in the backdrop. I don’t really do it justice in the description. One of my favorite parts was our entrance onto the football field. My first year we all stood in two lines and marched into the proper position (most bands do this). But our director’s vision for that year was different; he wanted the band to melt onto the football field, to sort of appear there. So the drum major and a small group of others played a rock song in the foreground and we slipped into positions in the background.

We were good. Everyone probably says that. I’m sure I’m bragging. But I don’t care. We were amazing.

I recall one away game; it was about a two hour drive to get there. This team always beat us. Always. It was their homecoming, so instead of playing the half-time show, we performed before the game. I distinctly recall the announcers as we marched off after our show declaring that you could go north, south, east or west, but you’d never find a better band than Selinsgrove (us). And of course their band, sitting in the stands while they announced this, were none too pleased. A few weeks later our director got a hold of an email someone circulated which basically insulted us as a show band and not a competition band (which we were). “It has the email address that sent it on the top,” he said, setting it on the chalkboard in front of the room. “I’ll just leave this here.”

Incidentally, we won that football game that year. I’m not saying the band helped but…

Near the end of marching season we were invited to a special event. It was a fireman’s parade that would feature several bands from the surrounding area. We marched for about a mile that day (and it was hot in those uniforms let me tell you!), but the highlight of the trip was the special concert we were to give at the end of the night, featuring only four bands. I don’t remember the location and only vaguely recall the field and the stadium. I do remember it was packed with people, hundreds of them certainly.

When we finished playing our show, every single one of them stood up and started screaming we want more. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal for high school marching bands. But my goodness was it ever intoxicating.

Our director gave us a lecture once, I can’t remember which year. He was trying to tell us that, in the future, if we ever felt our lives falling down around us, instead of turning to drugs we should turn to music. He didn’t say it very well though. Instead he said “Don’t do drugs, just go to the band room.” But when I think back on that night and all those people screaming for us to perform again, I can understand what he meant. There’s something in music that speaks to the soul, and when you hear good music it lifts you above your problems. More than that, if you’re the one who puts on a show that touches someone, or several someones… well, that’s more uplifting yet.

We played at a Montreal Alouettes game that same year. It was the most ill-conceived band trip ever. The buses broke down on the way out of Toronto and we sat around for about two hours, which made us late arriving to our destination. Instead of eating dinner, we had to practice in the summer heat in a park somewhere in the city (all the while avoiding dog poop). It was a bit intimidating to play at a professional game in the middle of a foreign country, but they loved us in Montreal too. We had red t-shirts we wore after our show, during the game, so that we didn’t have to wear our hot band jackets the whole time. When the parents started handing them out to us, the audience thought they were merchandise and started trying to bargain for them. One guy leaned over and promised us his hat if he could have one of our red shirts.

When I think back on my time in high school, truthfully it’s the band I miss the most. Some of my favorite memories come from band experiences, even if making music has never been my greatest passion. The idea of touching someone, uplifting them, sharing the connection of a masterpiece between its creator and its audience is something central to every art-form. Every artist, be they painter, singer or writer, wants that experience. And it doesn’t take hundreds of people screaming for more (though of course I don’t think any artist would complain).

On the bad days, on the hard days, I think about that experience and remind myself why I write. I’m never going to write (or read) to a stadium of hundreds screaming for more. But if I sell a hundred books and get a few excited comments, it’ll produce the same heady intoxication.

2 Replies to “Go to the Band Room”

    1. I played the flute. :) I was just a lowly woodwind. (Who often snuck back to the brass section during football games. XD That’s where all the fun is!)

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