It’s not that I don’t like organized sports. I used to. I even used to play sports – imagine that! But, sometime between when I was cut from the ice hockey team in the winter of 8th grade and when I didn’t make the lacrosse team that spring, I decided that I just wasn’t cut out for the life of a team player. I traded my skates for shiny black uniform shoes, my helmets for a feather plume, my carbon fiber sport sticks for a brass horn. I joined the marching band.
It was the right decision.
I was a slightly chubby and definitely awkward high school freshman who lacked the machismo necessary to do anything involving aggression – or testosterone, for that matter. I was the kind of kid who could spend an entire weekend building plastic airplane models in my basement without once giving thought to the outside world. Thankfully, the rest of the band shared my dispassion for exercise and socializing, and we contented ourselves to make somewhat discernable formations on a field intended for the traditional American paragons of fitness and virility: football players.
In many ways, there wasn’t that much that distinguished us from our muscle-bound peers. We wore uniforms. We thought the cheerleaders were hot. We sweated (because our uniforms were wool) and, like most of the guys on the football team, we were at every game but never once got to play.
Much like the football team, we spent hour upon ungodly hour of our summer break on a hot field, rehearsing. (I think football players call it practicing. Whatever, it’s semantical.) But instead of learning to catch balls and fall on people, we had to stand up tall and walk in straight lines, all while playing our instruments. We even had to walk backwards. And you know those people that always talk about “this one time at band camp?” If the story that follows has anything to do with hooking up (or anything else normal people do), there’s a very strong chance it’s a lie. A true story about band camp is probably about standing at attention for an hour as punishment for messing up that one set of the show we’d been practicing all day or for sneaking out to get lunch at Wawa.
Marching band two-a-days started at eight a.m. with drill practice, which entailed marching in formation around the school parking lot until peoples’ soles (and souls) started to melt, or until somebody keeled over from dehydration. This was a particularly hilarious sight if that person played the tuba or bass drum.
Like they say in the band world, the bigger the instrument, the harder they fall.
Drill practice ended with a competition to see who was best at doing about-faces or standing still when the directors called the band to attention. As you might imagine, the competition was fierce between the brass and woodwind sections. Regardless of who won the competition, everybody got a 30 second water break. Because in the marching band – when everyone’s a loser – everyone’s a winner.
When the day got hot, we moved inside to the air-conditioned rehearsal room to rehearse the music part of the show. This was the time to sneak naps, rub aloe on newly acquired sunburns and pray that maybe, just maybe, we would get to stay seated for a few hours. But the joy of sitting quickly turned to sour resentment as we were forced to play the same four bars of music until the trumpets could figure out how to play at a normal volume and the saxes could shut up for long enough to actually start playing at the right time. The worst part was that, through the whole process, we were subjected to psychological torture in the form of the director’s jokes.
The final round of physical torture (at least that’s what it seemed like to a bunch of band geeks) was field rehearsal, which meant trying to do all the walking in straight lines stuff while simultaneously playing an instrument designed to be played sitting down. It was the ultimate paradox. Some called us crazy. We also called ourselves crazy. But we had already been fitted for uniforms and the show had been designed, so we were kind of stuck.
God pity the poor freshperson who didn’t know what they were getting into.
If you made it to the end of the day without getting skin cancer or spraining an ankle, you were lucky. The torture was over, at least for the day.
But the sad reality of being a band geek is that no matter how many days of band camp you survive, or how many solos you play, or how many years it’s been since you even had to go to band camp, you never stop being a band geek.