I was talking to a friend about marching bands the other day. Her daughter is in her high school band, and they have some problems – their numbers have been shrinking, morale isn’t good, the sound isn’t good, and she’s thinking about quitting. I hope she doesn’t, and things get better, because marching band can be one of the greatest memories of your life.
When I was very small, we lived two blocks from the high school football field. The high school band would march from the school to the field, and they would come right by our house. I could hear them long before they came past – the first thing that I could hear was the drumbeat. Even at that age, 5 or 6 years old, it gave me a feeling in my chest that I still can’t quite describe – excitement, but more than that – it was a connection with the rhythm and music that resonated all the way through me.
I couldn’t wait to be in the band. In the fourth grade, we could choose an instrument and start getting lessons and playing in the grade school band. I picked the flute, and never looked back. We didn’t have marching band until 7th grade, but I still waited every fall Saturday for the high school band to come by. I couldn’t wait to be part of it.
In junior high, we started marching for football games. Our band wasn’t very good, and neither was the football team, but it was a good warmup for high school. High school band was great. Both of my best friends were in the band, and we had a great time in the stands, on the field, and in the bus to away games. Our football team was actually pretty good, and there were corn dogs in the concession stand. What more could you ask for? In my sophomore year, we came in third place in the big area band and majorette competition. That was a really big deal. I still remember hearing our name called and jumping up and down on the field – we were so excited.
College marching band, though, was the best. I went to Marshall University, starting in 1974 – our football team was still recovering from the effects of the 1970 plane crash that killed almost the entire football
team. It was the subject of a movie a couple of years ago with Matthew McConaughey – We Are Marshall. I was still in high school when that happened. Anyway, when I was at Marshall, the football team wasn’t very good – but the band was. We were great, if I do say so myself. By this time I was playing piccolo on the field (flute was for concert band). All my friends were in the band, and we had even a better time than in high school band. It was a great experience – even the time we were in Akron, in late November, in the freezing rain (really – it was 32 degrees and raining). That’s the coldest I’ve ever been. I was in pep band too, and we played for all the home basketball games, and that was fun too. But nothing compared with marching band.
When I was in it, Marshall’s band was known as the Big Green Marching Band. They’re now known as Marching Thunder. That’s a better name, and they’re still good. The football team has come a long way since then, too. They have an alumni band at one game a year, but I live too far away – I’ve never been able to arrange to go back. I haven’t played flute or piccolo for 15 years anyway – I’d never be able to get a sound out of it now.
There are people who wish they could go back and live their lives again. Not me. I’ve made too many mistakes, and I don’t want to repeat any of it. With one exception – if I could go back and do one thing again, it would be my years in the Marshall marching band. I’ve had a lot of other good experiences, but nothing else is like the band.