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Why my marching band was bizarre and amazing

A piece in Alpha Mom extolls the virtues of a marching band.

I couldn’t agree more.

Just so we’re clear:

Competitive marching bands perform elaborate routines on football fields, typically during the halftime of football games, but also against other marching bands in competitive settings.

You may see a competitive marching band performing in a parade, but that is child’s play compared to what they do in competition.

I marched in my high school’s competitive marching band for six years, beginning in seventh grade. I played a variety of drums in the drum line because I had switched over from flute to bassoon when playing in the orchestra, but you can’t play the bassoon while marching. So during marching band season, I needed a new instrument to play.

Drums were the easiest to learn.

During my six years with the band, we marched in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, The Rose Bowl Parade, and down Main Street in Disney Land. We performed the halftime show for the New England Patriots in Foxboro Stadium twice. We were Massachusetts state champions for all six years, and we won the New England championship twice.

My high school took the marching band very seriously.

They apparently still do. Amongst many other achievements, the Blackstone Millville marching band won the US Band National Championship in 2019.

Here’s the crazy thing:

When I was a member of the marching band, our school didn’t have a football team. We had no football field to practice on and no halftime show to perform. Instead, the main parking lot of the school was painted with football field line markers, and cones were laid out so we could practice.

Bizarre. Right?

But Alpha Mom author Mir Kamin is right about marching band:

It’s great for kids.

I especially love that she mentioned the greatness of marching band directors. Our directors, Russ Arnold, Buddy Bibeault, and Tom Hessney, all apparently retired now, were absolutely committed to both music and the young people who they were teaching and leading.

Kamin lists four traits in every marching band director:

  1. A love of music
  2. A love of teenagers.
  3. An expectation of complete dedication.
  4. Zero tolerance for shenanigans

That is spot-on. Somehow those three men, plus a variety of other staff, took teenage boys and girls on dozens of trips around the state, region, and country every year while maintaining constant discipline through an expectation of excellence and zero tolerance for any behavior that got in the way.

We didn’t fool around because we had an important job to do. We were constantly trying to be the best.

This didn’t mean we didn’t have fun. Back in my day, the final night of band camp ended with a staff-sanctioned shaving cream fight. We celebrated championships with late-night parties at the homes of various band members. And there were traditions of hazing underclassmen that were hilarious, fun, and occasionally brutal, too.

Things that would never be allowed today.

But I learned discipline in the marching band. I learned the importance of operating as a highly effective cog in a much larger machine. I learned how to take pride in learning and executing a new skill. And I learned how to work incredibly hard – both physically and mentally – without complaint.

The memories I have from my marching band days are seemingly endless. The stories could fill the pages of a book. So many joyful moments. So much laughter. Neverending camaraderie. Even a little tragedy.

When I was a teenager, I wished that my school had fielded a football team. We played tackle football – absent any pads – in the fields surrounding the school, and I loved every minute of those brutal, informal games. I loved to hit and loved being hit. Honestly, I still do. The last time I played flag football with my friends, I ended up with a concussion, and my friend Shep, walked off with broken ribs, courtesy of my head.

But looking back, it occurs to me that I couldn’t have done both. If my school had fielded a football team, I probably would’ve ended up playing on the football team and missing out on the marching band.

I’m sure that playing football would’ve been amazing. I would’ve loved to hit and be hit every Friday night under the lights.

But would it have been better than the marching band?

I’m not so sure.

I think that things maybe turned out just right for me.

My teenage self would punch me in the face for uttering such blasphemy given how much I wanted to play football back then, but I was a teenage boy who didn’t know very much but learned a hell of a lot marching with that band for those many years.