My Many Years Of Marching Band

With the start of the marching band season, I decided I want to write about my experiences with it. It’s something which has shaped my entire life and made me into who I am now. When I look back on my life I sometimes think about how bad things may have gone for me if I didn’t have the teachers and fellow members of the marching bands I’ve been in.

I first joined marching band in 7th grade. My dad and all my sisters had all been in it at the same school so it was obvious I would as well. My first couple of days were a “mini-camp” and I had decided to do the guard with one of my best friends. We had a few weeks off and when we all went back I switched to the drumline but he stayed in the guard. I was told there was a spot open playing second bass drum and I could still do winterguard still so I took it.

That season we had 2 snares and 3 basses. There were supposed to be 4 basses but one didn’t come back after the first couple days. I never met him.

During my first parade, I lost feeling in my arm partway through and someone needed to carry my drum for me. We didn’t have the best equipment so the harness was pressing into my shoulder just right to cut off the circulation.

During the next couple of years the drumline built up a little bit and we had enough to add a set of tenors. I started playing them in my third year. I didn’t know how to read music because I had learned everything by ear up to that point. Since I was going to be playing tenors and be a section leader that year I spent the summer leading up to it teaching myself how to read music.

At the end of my third year, I moved to the next town over. I was still enrolled in the same school and had assumed everything was taken care of with me living one place and going somewhere else. About a month into the school year I was told if I came back the next day I’d be escorted out.

A couple days later I started at the school I was districted for. I joined the marching band but since I had joined late I had to do front ensemble for the remainder of the season.

They had enough equipment that I was able to at least do drumline for parades. I also convinced the director to start a winter drumline program and played tenors for it. I also played tenors the next fall. I even got to use a set that I had built myself during my free time the previous few months.

We had a lot of fun with that line and would sometimes switch instruments for parades and football games. We’d even have a couple people from other sections join in. I don’t remember how much equipment there was because we always had a different number of players for each thing we did.

Shortly after my sister died I switched school again. It was too far in the year to do much with the marching band but they had a winter program for me to do. It was mostly just getting together to work on technique but there were a couple opportunities to perform warmups and cadences at things. When I got there it was a week or two from the talent show performance so I learned the tenor parts and played with them in that.

I played tenors again the next fall as well. It was the best high school drumline I had been in. It was also the only high school drumline I had been in that had a separate instructor from the band director. I don’t see the two as just a coincidence.

Years later that drumline instructor still brags about how good the line was that season. I agree it was a great year. Everyone put an effort in, whether it was because they knew how good they could get with the effort or they saw the effort everyone else was making and didn’t want to be the only one not doing so.

Instructing

After I graduated it was planned that I would help out as an assistant drumline instructor working under the guy who had been my instructor. It got to the day of the first rehearsal and I got a call saying he had quit and they needed me to come in and take over completely.

I said I’d do it. I already had some experience working with lines in the past. The first school I went to I was a section leader. The second school I was almost a percussion coordinator of sorts for the marching band. Then during my senior year, I would work with the bass drums during rehearsals as a technician.

It was pretty fun and I got the opportunity to write the show music after the first season.

I stayed there for two years but had to give it up when the rehearsal schedule changed going into the third year. The director wanted to have rehearsals during the school day. I don’t remember the reasoning. At first, I thought things were going to line up correctly with college but there was a class I needed to take which started a half-hour before rehearsal would have. There was no way I would be able to get from my class to the high school in time so I would be missing most of the season. So for the sake of the kids having consistency, I stepped down. My old drumline instructor was brought back in.

Looking back I kind of wish I had stayed. I ended up not being able to finish college. I didn’t have a job which paid enough money to pay for all. I had been told for years not to worry about saving because we had so little money I’d be able to get all kinds of financial aid but since my mother had found a rich guy and remarried right before I started, I didn’t qualify for any. I could have not worked with the marching band at all and gotten a job that paid more but since I was going to school for music education I wanted to have the experience when I graduated to have a bit of an edge when applying for jobs.

A couple years later I ran into a friend of mine at an opera audition. He had taken over the marching band I had worked with and asked if they could use the music I had written a couple years earlier because he wanted to do the same song. I said it was fine and sent it to him. Soon after I got a call saying the drumline instructor had quit again. I assume it’s because he saw my name on the music he was supposed to teach.

I was working a couple minutes away from the school so the odd rehearsal schedule wouldn’t have me missing as much so I went back. I ended up having to write the music for that season and had about a month before rehearsals started to get it done. Things went pretty well that season. The next year I wrote some really difficult stuff and I would say with confidence it was the best high school drumline I have ever been associated with. We got second place in our class that year.

I stayed there for 2 years again before leaving. There was a clear conflict of interests among the staff and I knew I’d be wasting my time trying to argue. I wanted to keep pushing the students to get better so they could go on and have better opportunities in life outside that program, not just for their musical abilities but for their work ethic. There were a couple others who agreed with my views. Unfortunately, the ones who made the decisions wanted to make everything as easy as possible so it would be easier to clean, knowing it would mean there would not be any improvement in abilities.

Their plan worked and they won the next year, then moved up a class the next year. But there has been a steady decline in overall ability. It worked out having players who were used to doing difficult things do easy things. But then training the new members to only do easy things made them only able to do easy things.

I haven’t gone back to work with that school, nor do I know if I ever will. Last I heard there are some questions as to whether they will have a program this year. And if they do have one this year, we aren’t sure how much longer it will last.

A few years ago I started working with another school in the area. I had helped them out in the past but nothing formally. A member of their drumline had reached out to me leading into our senior year asking for help with some things.

In my first year there the director had replaced almost the entire staff in an effort to improve the program. That proved to be a wise decision for him. The marching band won their first-ever state championship that season. After discussing things over the coming months we moved up a class and tied for third place. I thought it was pretty cool because the school we tied with was the one school where I was friends with almost the entire marching band staff. I had marched with some of them a few years before.

I was originally going to write about my experience in drum corps in this post as well. I didn’t realize I would have so much to write about marching band so I think I will have a separate post for drum corps next month.

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